As I sit here, in my not-so-comfortable economy extra hellhole, hearing the buzz of the engine and sipping on a cold Baileys, I realize I have no clue what I am doing here. I mean, yeah, I understand I’m flying home to Chicago on a nonstop from Copenhagen, but I couldn’t begin to explain exactly why. I’m an idiot, I spent about two grand to play in a tournament that I could win about $1300 in, and here is my story.
It starts back on August the second, a Wednesday I believe. I was sitting at my computer, chatting with several buddies, sadly aware that for the first time this summer it seemed like nothing was going on this upcoming weekend. One of my conversations, though, was about anything but the devastating lack of parties coming up. It was about a little nerd game we all play called Magic: The Gathering, with my Scandinavian buddy Rasmus. He told me I should go to Swedish Nationals, since I had skipped my own. I thought about it for a minute… thought about how I wouldn’t be missing anything here… and booked a flight to Copenhagen. (The tourney was in Malmo, a half-hour train ride from Copenhagen, as opposed to around four hours from, say, Stockholm.)
People’s reactions when they heard the big news were about what I expected.
“Is you deck good?” I asked Tim.
“Because I need a list for Nats.”
“Why does this sound like it’s going to get you banned?”
“Don’t worry, I’m good.”
“Don’t you have to…”
“You know… be Swedish?”
And that’s a really good question.
I was going to play in Swedish Nationals, this much was established, but don’t I have to be Swedish? Well, for those outside the loop, I guess it’s just time for a little Szleifer family history lesson.
Both my parents were born in a poverty-stricken third world country called Argentina. Some of you might know this much. Some of you might also know that in the 1970’s there was a military dictatorship there, and suffice to say, it pretty much sucked to live in good old Argentina. So, my dear Mommy did what many other Argentineans were doing at the time – she moved to a real country. She rolled a twenty-sider, and the number that came up corresponded with that place, that special place where once a year the sun shines at midnight, home to IKEA and Blindside and Johan Sadegpour, the country of… Sweden. She moved there, and things were just dandy. She learned Swedish, went to school, and eventually became a proud citizen of the great nation. In conclusion, I automatically got Swedish citizenship and am thus eligible to compete in their National Championships.
So, on Thursday night, I took an overnighter from Chicago to Copenhagen. I planned to sleep after reading the Coldsnap spoiler, but as often occurs those plans fell through. I arrived to Copenhagen on no sleep. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I found out the airline lost my bag. My suspicions were all true: coming here was the stupidest move I’d ever made. Unfortunately, it was too late to back out now, so I had to plow on and try to make the best of it.
I took so long complaining to the airline about my lost bag that when I came out of the baggage claim area and met up with Rasmus, he said he thought I had tricked him into going to the airport and wasn’t actually coming. At that moment, I wished it were true. Alas, there I was.
We took a train to Malmo, and checked into the smallest hotel room I’ve ever seen in my life. Even for Europe, it was well below average. After buying some clothes to wear until I got my bag, we met up with Raphael Levy at the tournament site, to try and figure out what to play and such. None of us had any clue; I hadn’t played a game of Standard since Honolulu. Raph, though, had no excuse, as he claimed to have played a lot of Standard… yet he still didn’t know. After bashing Solar Flare against Zoo for several hours, we decided both sucked. With that in mind, Raphael settled on U/G Control, and I went with the following Tron list:
List ready, I went to bed for some much needed rest. Lately, I had been traveling enough that jetlag hadn’t really got me in a while. For the first time in at least a year, though, I woke up bright and early at about 4am, despite being completely sleep-deprived, and couldn’t fall back asleep for the life of me. After looking at irrelevant stuff online for a few hours, I went to the tournament site completely unprepared to play in a tournament, and soon sat down for round 1.
Round 1 versus Tobias Strom, with B/W Aggro
I sat down expecting one of the most awkward encounters in my life. Something along the lines of my opponent speaking gibberish to me, and me having to sheepishly explain that despite playing in this National Championship I don’t know a word of the language. Frowns. Judges called, and so on and so on. None of this occurred, though. I suppose word had spread, and most were aware of my presence.
Game 1 I kicked things off the right way with a mulligan to five. I promptly got Okiba-Ganged on turn 4, putting me out of it. I killed it with Demonfire, the card I had saved, and got prepared for an onslaught. It never came. We were, I guess, in some weird kind of topdeck war where he has a full hand of cards that are somehow useless, presumably along the lines of Mortify and Shining Shoals. Unfortunately, the miraculous comeback was not to be, as he drew some guys pretty soon and I did nothing and died.
Game 2 he played some guys and I killed them. I played a Keiga, which he Pilloried, and then he added some more guys to his side of the board. I drew a million cards, using Tidings and a pair of Compulsive Research, in search of Wildfire or, even better, a second Keiga. I drew blanks and died to his guys a few turns later.
Very, very nice. I travel halfway across the world to play in a tournament in which I should be one of the favorites, and get absolutely smashed in the first round. Now, I didn’t make the trip with a positive expected value or anything, but still, going 4-4 or something would just be so much more embarrassing than doing the same at an average Pro Tour.
Round 2 versus Joel Larsson, with Greater Gifts
This time, I did get my desired exchange where they address me in Swedish, but he was much less shocked than my opponents were when I played the scenario out in my head. Unfortunately, this would be my only opponent to even try talking to me in Swedish.
Game 1 I sat back on my counters for many turns and just drew cards looking for action. I stopped him from doing anything important, and eventually Blaze/Demonfired him over the course of two turns to seal the deal.
Game 2 I mulliganed and was slightly manascrewed for the whole first portion of the game. The way the matchup works out, though, means that isn’t as much of a problem as it could be. I am still able to cheaply negate whatever he tries to do, which is exactly what I did. Eventually I drew land, which turned into more land with a slew of enchantments. A key turn in the game was when I untapped with six lands, holding both Annex and Copy Enchantment. I wanted so badly to cast both, but obviously was a land short. If I could only cast one, it was obviously going to be on his only Black source, since he was Nightmare Voiding every turn. So what to do? I was almost settled on the safe play of just taking his Godless Shrine, but more careful consideration told me that there was no way he’d tap his Island in response if I took that, so I could be greedy and do both. My read was right on; he didn’t even think about tapping it for a second. I got both his lands, Wildfired his only four on the next turn, and went on to finish with Keiga.
Round 3 versus Rikard Elfgren with UGB Aggro
Game 1 he did exactly what I need people to do in this matchup: overextend into Wildfire. My only problem was that I couldn’t find a Keiga for my life. After many turns of countering random creatures and getting way ahead but not being able to finish, I crushed him with another Wildfire for his whole side. A few years later, Keiga decided to show up and take it home.
Game 2 he got out an early Plaxmanta that he backed up with as many counters as possible. When he added a Jitte, I faced a dilemma. I could let him equip it then kill his Plaxmanta with counter backup, but it would take both Pyroclasm and Wildfire to do so. The thing was that my alternative was countering the Jitte but continuing to take beats from the Plaxmanta, and I’d probably be unable to kill it (he was very obviously holding counters). Thus I decided to let the Jitte in, then spent the two Red spells and a counter to set him way back on my turn. The plan worked out – he didn’t have the combination of lands and creatures to recover and put pressure on me, and Big Keigs didn’t take nearly as long to show up this time.
We can take it, a 2-1 in Standard. I felt good at this point, since I was about to draft Ravnica. I had six drafts of that one under my belt (Worlds, GP: Richmond, PT: Prague), which at this point in my career is pretty much equivalent to complete and total mastery.
In my pod, I only knew Mattias Jorstedt (to my left). We had talked about the format earlier, and I had told him I almost always play Green/X, so sitting next to each other would probably benefit both of us. I kicked things off with a Vedalken Dismisser out of a very weak booster, and followed it up with Mark Of Eviction and Tidewater Minion out of even weaker packs. As I kept adding random bad cards to my pile, I could feel my draft was in absolute shambles. When a 7th pick Selesnya Evangel rolled around, I thought that would just be another card that would end up in my sideboard… but it’s not like there were any playables for me to take instead. When I got a second Evangel eighth, my hopes started to go up again just a little.
Unfortunately, the second pack went pretty poorly as well. The only thing to look forward to was pack 3, since I had settled into U/G/W (giving me two guilds in Dissension). That pack went about as well as it could, as I opened the bombastic Azorius Guildmage and got many more good playables. The mishmash I ended up with was only so-so, but the kind of deck I’ve taken a liking to in my limited experience in Ravnica block draft.
- 1 Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi
- 2 Selesnya Evangel
- 1 Tidewater Minion
- 1 Vedalken Dismisser
- 1 Battering Wurm
- 1 Dryad Sophisticate
- 1 Petrahydrox
- 1 Shrieking Grotesque
- 1 Silhana Starfletcher
- 2 Azorius First-Wing
- 1 Azorius Guildmage
- 2 Freewind Equenaut
- 1 Minister of Impediments
- 1 Vigean Hydropon
Yes, that’s two Wojek Sirens in there. That card is really underrated by the way. Usually it acts as the standard combat trick that allows your guy to live instead of die in a would-be trade. Other times it just wins the game outright. The latter occurs a lot more often when you have a pair of Evangels, sure, but in all seriousness the card is good anyway.
Round 4 versus Mattias Jorstedt
This was somewhat unfortunate, as I was looking to play against players I didn’t know. In a tournament where I only knew three players, too…
Game 1 he mulliganed and couldn’t kill my Azorius Guildmage. I was pretty flooded, but I had Azorius Guildmage. His hand he mulliganed into was good, but I still had Azorius Guildmage. It looked like he might make a comeback… but once again, I had Azorius Guildmage. Nice card.
Game 2 he hit the ground running, with the 3/3 for 1B [Drekavac — Craig.] and a bunch of follow-ups. I had everything I needed in my hand, but was a little land-light so I got beaten down to one until I could halt his beatings. Right when I thought I could turn it around, he had Azorius Guildmage. As demonstrated above, it’s completely and utterly unstoppable.
Actually, he didn’t… but he did have Drift Of Phantasms for Galvanic Arc to finish me.
Game 3 he mulliganed and started off with a turn 2 Karoo land and went to discard. Before he could even show me the card, I stopped him with a reminder of the mulligan. I am just too sporting. I respect the game too much, you know? Anyway, from that point on I don’t know what happened, but I won easily on the back of a very superior draw.
Round 5 versus Erik Grundstrom
We get deck-checked before the match, and luckily enough the judge soon comes and informs me that there is a problem with my list. Man! This hadn’t happened to me for a while – three years, to be exact – but I definitely didn’t doubt that it was possible; while I hadn’t messed up a decklist in three years, I hadn’t played a tournament this tired. They tell me they think I forgot to register a large chunk of my deck, and to please check what is missing and let them know when I figure it out. I do run through and find that I registered perfectly. I do another and get the same result. What is going on here? I go, find the guy and tell him that I do not find a problem with my own decklist. He says he will count with me. When he gets to the little box that says I’m running seven Plains, he only adds one to his running total. I stop him “That’s a seven” I say. He replied that all the judges agreed it was a one. He added that he’d let me off with a warning, but to cross my sevens in the future. Whew. I would have gone berserk if I got a game loss because the judges can’t read, but the drama was avoided and I sat down for battle.
Game 1 he thought it’d be nice to live the dream: the double Silhana Ledgewalker opening! I brought him back to reality real quick though by answering with double Evangel. As I was about to swing for the win with my tokens, the same genius judge stopped the match. “You can’t use those for tokens.” He proceeds to make me switch all my tokens before winning the game that turn. And my opponent wasn’t dumb as a rock or anything, because he conceded since he knew it was over to save the full minute it took.
Oh, wait, yes he was and no he didn’t.
Game 2 he played two Red Magemarks.
Round 6 versus Fredrik Thore
Game 1 was one I thought was over on turn 4, when I was sitting with Azorius Guildmage, Evangel, and Freewind Equenaut before he had anything but a Vigean Hydropon. How wrong I was, said Kindle The Carnage. I still had a lot of gas in my hand, though, but he just seemed to have everything possible and I got crushed.
Game 2 I kept a hand with a few Blue and White lands, Azorius First-Wing, Freewind Equenaut, and Green cards. Naturally, for the first ten or so turns I drew nothing but Plains, Islands, and Green cards. I thought I was down and out for sure, but his draw was unspectacular. I kept battling, because that’s what I do. Finally, almost at dead, I peeled the Forest that would get things rolling. I slammed it on the table extremely hard in my excitement, and I had overlooked how flimsy it was. The cards all flew up about three inches in the air, but luckily the decks remained as they stood. I played Silhana Starfletcher for more Green. Then I hoped not to die. I didn’t, unloaded my hand, and took it easily from that point.
Game 3 I started off very well, with Azorius Guildmage and Evangel. A few turns later I had could sit back, tap guys, and make tokens; or just go for the jugular by playing Vedalken Dismisser and putting Mark Of Eviction on it. I decided to go for it since he didn’t even have double Red, so even if he was holding Kindle, he would need to peel a Mountain. What I didn’t have in mind is what actually happened: he peeled the Kindle itself (a friend that was watching told me later) and played it off a Verdant Eidolon he was already holding. Problems. They quickly evaporated when the top two cards of my deck were Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi and a Gruul Nodorog I had boarded in. They won the game for me in short order.
Not a bad way to end Day 1, especially after losing the first round. My tiebreakers were the nut low as expected, but I was still in a good position to make a run at the Top 8 the next day. The slight problem was that I had literally not seen a Coldsnap card in my whole entire life, let alone drafted the set.
With that in mind to give me confidence, I sat down at a table with no one I knew. My draft started off inconspicuously enough, picking up a copy each of Bull Aurochs, Sound Of Call, and Surging Might. By the end of the draft, though, I had four, four, and six of those respectively, so that made up the majority of my deck. It was rounded out by a pair of Ronom Hulks, a pair of Aurochs Herd — one of which was fourteenth pick – three Goblin Rimerunners, Stalking Yeti, and Resize. I was unsure if my deck was sick or if this was just the run-of-the-mill good deck for the format, but after Asking The Pro, Raphael Levy, I knew I had a good shot to 3-0 the pod.
Round 7 versus Jonathan Bergstrom
Game 1 I mulligan into four lands, Rimerunner, and Surging Might. After getting my third turn Rimerunner promptly killed, I did nothing for several turns as he built up his side three creatures deep. Finally, I drew a Bull Aurochs and played it. It hurt to add Surging Might against his U/B/R deck, but I had no other choice. I cast it, Rippled into four more, and all of a sudden he was staring down a ten-power trampler and was so shaken into attacking with some creature that I just blocked. A few turns later, he hadn’t drawn an answer and a very, very angry Aurochs ate him alive.
Game 2 I had the Aurochs on turn 2 and he kept mana up, so I didn’t put a Surging Might on it. He killed the Aurochs when I attacked, so I made another one. The next turn he again kept mana up, so I again just attacked. He killed that one too, so I made a third. On his turn he finally played a guy, so I put Might on the Bull Auroch. The singular might quickly became quads, and I won two turns later.
Round 8 versus Patrik Thor
Game 1 I got landscrewed after keeping two on the draw, and lost to a horde of Krovikan Mists.
Game 2 I kept a hand with Bull Aurochs, two Ronom Hulks, and four lands. I proceeded to quite literally draw all lands for the rest of the game. I still almost beat him with turns 4 and 5 Hulks, but he was able to hang on to one measly life point and kill me with War Cry. This match was very frustrating, because it went to show just how unlucky I had to get to lose with this deck, even against a good deck and an opponent who seemed fine.
Round 9 versus Oskar Skold
Game 1 all I know is that I was crushed by Sunscour on turn 7. I still had some game left in me but it came down to a race that I lost to Krovikan Mists. Unreal, could I actually go 1-2 with this deck?
Game 2 I boarded in my pair of 3/3 coinflip Minotaurs, along with some extra Mountains to cast them. I got a Sound Of Call and one of those guys out, and just held the rest of my guys. My recollection of this game is really weird. On one hand, I remember it was close. On the other, I don’t remember what actually happened, and usually that is only the case if I crushed or got crushed. Shrug. I won, though.
Game 3 I do know what happened: my opponent got slightly color-screwed, and my draw was very good.
So, so, so much worse than 8-1. Now I had to 2-1 Standard again – not an easy feat. On the other hand, if I had had one more win, I could have 1-2ed in. While 2-1 may be hard, 1-2 is a guarantee; I’m pretty sure it’s literally impossible to lose three matches in a row.
Round 10 versus Martin Jordo, with U/G/B Aggro
Game 1 he started with a Llanowar Elf on the play. I played Island holding Spell Snare, just to see him cast turn 2 Dimir Cutpurse. I was unable to will the Spell Snare into a Force Spike, so big Cutz was in. This pretty much sealed my fate, as I had to start doing stuff on my turn. This, in turn, let him get a second Cutpurse into play. If he had not had that plus additional random guys for damage, I might have been able to live to force through Wildfire. As it was, though, I had to cast it without backup. Obviously, he countered it and killed me.
Game 2 went pretty normally for a while. He played some guys, I killed some, countered some, took some damage, and tried to gain an advantage. Finally, things reached a point at which I was at six facing a Trygon Predator and two Llanowar Elves. I tapped out to cast Wildfire, since he was tapped out. This put me down to just two lands though, and of course he peeled a creature right away, which didn’t let me untap to use my counters. In hindsight, maybe I should have cast Keiga when he was tapped out then went for Wildfire later. The problem was I really wanted to get the Wildfire through when he was tapped out. I’m really not sure how the game would have played out… it really depends on what he had in his hand, but in the end it was just a judgment call.
Round 12 versus Raphael Levy, with U/G Control
Nice Swedish Nationals matchup. We had been joking all weekend that the squad should be the two of us plus a flag-bearer, but I suppose it was not to be.
Game 1 is one of the weirdest games of Magic I have ever played. I did not draw a single counter, but I had to sit back as if I had them. Eventually it got to a point where I just had eight big cards in hand and would have to discard, so I started cautiously laying some threats while still representing counter backup. Eventually I got a Keiga through, which just killed him as he didn’t have one of his own (or a Boomerang). I feel bad that I can’t do this game justice, because I’m pretty sure it’s the best one I played all tournament. Just think of it next time you don’t have any counters in a control mirror; representing them is truly almost as good.
Game 2 was frustrating, because he started off manascrewed. Despite boarding into a “land-steal” deck I couldn’t capitalize, because this time I had nothing but counters. As he drew more and more land, the tides turned consistently in his favor. I actually conceded the game, ahead on life 19-13 but absolutely sure that I couldn’t win as he had Ghost Quarter/Life Of The Loam going and a full grip at all times. Obviously neither of wanted a draw, and it would have been hard for a bad player to screw up Raph’s position, so I’m pretty sure my decision was a safe one.
Game 3 he had the upper hand early, getting a Trygon Predator in play when I tapped some lands to do something only somewhat relevant. I managed to get a Keiga into play, but couldn’t really attack since I needed my Signets for mana. Raphael added another Predator to his side and I took the opportunity to Wildfire. This got through, and put him in bad shape. When I drew lands that allowed me to cast the land-stealing spells in my hand, it was all over. This game also is a blatant oversimplification. Sorry guys, but the details of the maneuvering between two Blue decks just don’t stick in one’s head.
So this was it. It would all boil down to one match to make the Top 8, to have the chance to represent my country at Worlds. Well, represent a country at Worlds. You know, kind of my country, but not all that much really. I had done some scouting and was pretty pumped about my odds to play a control deck. There was only one deck out there I was really afraid of, a Blue/Green aggro deck that just seemed like the absolute worst matchup ever…
Round 12 versus Joakim Delerus, with U/G Aggro
I got absolutely smashed.
Worst matchup ever.
Not even talking about it.
As much as I wanted to just bolt from the site and not think about Magic until I landed in Phoenix, I had heard the prizes went down to Top 16. Sure, they couldn’t be much for 9-16, but I might as well stay and get whatever it was, right?
The final standings come out, and they start announcing the names from sixteenth on down. Everyone is clapping for everyone like they just won Worlds, but I can’t really see what the guys are getting. Finally, I get called in 13th. The TO shakes my hand, and presents me my prize: Two RGD draft sets, a deck box, and a lanyard. Not kidding.
I was kind of surprised, but managed to get a nice little fist pump in for the crowd. Later Tim suggested a mock bow, and I’m still kicking myself for not thinking of it at the time.
In all seriousness, though, I want to publicly acknowledge how great everyone was to me – from my opponents, to the judges (other than the ones that couldn’t read), to Linus the TO, to my hosts (Rasmus for a few days, and Christoffer later in the trip). Despite being somewhat depressed about the close miss, I still had a good time overall… and it’s thanks to all of them.
So, anybody want to know what inside the Kamigawa deck-box I won? Do ya? Do ya?
I’ll tell ya next time, when I write about probably getting 9-32nd at Grand Prix: Phoenix. Until then,
I’m Gadiel M. Szleifer. Peace out, people.