Before the Tournament
Since this is my first tourney report, I figure I should give a little background on myself. If that’s not your cup of tea, feel free to skip ahead to your heart’s content.
I first got into Magic many years ago when I was playing a play by mail game run by a company called Adventures By Mail. The number of players in their games was declining, due to the advent of the internet, videogames, and other alternate means of entertainment. To supplement revenues, they decided to stock this a new, little-known, and unproved game called Magic: the Gathering. The first time I received an insert mentioning the game, I ignored it, but eventually I gave in and purchased a starter of Unlimited and some boosters of Antiquities. Soon enough, most of my friends were playing and this continued until well into Legends and Fallen Empires. But then interests in the game waned and everyone I knew pretty much gave it up.
Cut to a year or two ago. While bored and surfing the Internet, I stumbled upon a site called The Dojo. I knew nothing about the current state of Magic (or”savage beatings,” or”topdecking,” or”card advantage”), but it was fun to read the strategy articles and reminisce about the good times. It was also intriguing that my school, CMU, was apparently a big name in the game (CMU Blue or Team CMU, anyone?). For months, I read the articles but never actually touched a card or played a game. At one point, though, I realized the existence of a program called Apprentice (and later, one called Netdraft) that would let me rediscover the thrill of the game at little cost to me. And that’s how it all started.
Cut to now. I’ve played countless games of Apprentice and drafted countless times on Netdraft, working on my limited skills. I placed nineteenth in the Pittsburgh Planeshift prerelease (5-1-2) and in the Valencia Apocalypse Prerelease (yes, I was playing in Spain knowing only a few words of Spanish) coming in ninth with a 4-0-3 record. The draws in Valencia were heavily affected by the language problem, but it’s definitely true that I used to think a little too long and play a little too slow (I used to deny this vehemently…but how can you argue with five draws?).
So my goals going into this prerelease were to play quicker, avoid draws, and hopefully win as much as I had been.
This set was unique for me in that the spoiler wasn’t released until very shortly before the tournament. As much as I hate to ruin the enjoyment of a true prerelease by checking out the cards beforehand, my need for preparation is too strong. However, for Odyssey this was restricted to one or two Apprentice Sealed deck games Thursday night and then some more practice starting late Friday night (after a friend’s birthday celebration at Dave & Busters) continuing until 2:30 a.m.
Since the prerelease started at 10 a.m. and was forty minutes away, lack of sleep was definitely an issue, but not a big one. The biggest problem with my preparation came with the small errors in the unofficial spoiler and the Apprentice patch. Thermal Blast wasn’t assigned a rarity in the patch, so it never showed up in any of the test sealed decks that I made. This left me thinking red removal was pretty bad (I never saw Shower of Coals, either, so that left just Acceptable Losses and Blazing Salvo). Worse, however, was the fact that the spoiler text for Ghastly Demise referred to the creature’s toughness needing to be less than the number of creature cards in your graveyard. I was so convinced of this fact that I played the card this way for the first seven rounds, despite it sitting in my hand numerous times, I never actually read the stupid thing. It took a conversation with Eugene Harvey (yes, that Eugene) before Round 8 before I realized. Oops.
Quick Thoughts on the Format
There were two rules that everyone at the top tables pretty much seemed to agree upon: Play Green and choose to draw first. In fact, I don’t think I played against a single non-Green opponent all day long. As for drawing first, it’s absolutely key in Sealed play like this. It lets you take more risks in your mulligan decisions, it gives you a better chance of not being mana- or color-screwed, and you start with one extra card in the whole card advantage war. Whether that extra card is a land or a threat, it will almost certainly help you. The tempo loss of going second isn’t a big worry in a slow format like Odyssey sealed.
Flashback is not as impressive as I thought it would be. Off the top of my head, I can think of maybe four reasonably costed flashback cards that also have good effects: Firebolt, Elephant Ambush, Roar of the Wurm, and Sylvan Might. Combine that with the fact that there’s only twenty-some flashback cards in the entire set, and it just wasn’t something to be too scared of.
Threshold was a much different story. Especially in green (and to a lesser degree in white), threshold turns good cards into amazing ones. Decks that could get threshold quickly and take advantage of it were pretty scary. For this reason, I really like green-blue in Odyssey already (blue gets threshold, green wrecks house with it). It also added a lot of fun to the game when you had to worry about your opponent getting threshold at instant speed (which is quite possible, due to all the symbiotes, or whatever they’re calling them).
Broken Rares: 0 for 5 (adding to my previous 0 for 10)
Diligent Farmhand (format-defining one drop)
2 Muscle Burst (MVP)
2 Rabid Elephant (MVP)
Spellbane Centaur (great three-drop, definitely my best rare)
Notable Sideboard Cards:
Traumatize – When I saw this, I really wanted to build a green-blue-red deck that would Traumatize itself every game for instant threshold and flashback possibilities. Unfortunately, my threshold and flashback cards were weak at best. Traumatizing other decks in this environment was a pretty scary proposition, so I left it in the sideboard.
Leaf Dancer – Given the prevalence of green, these guys could have easily found a place in the main deck. I was a little wary of the 1GG casting cost, however. Regardless, I sided them in almost every single round, given the prevalence of green at the top tables.
Whispering Shade – A pretty good card, but it’s tough to pay four mana for a 1/1 when that pumps with swamps when black is your”splash” color. I sided him in against some of my black opponents, but he was never very good.
Execute – Obviously a great card in the right matchup. Only two of my opponents all day were playing white, but I sided it in when I could.
Patchwork Gnomes – Probably should have included these guys over, say, the Krosan Archer. Didn’t give them much thought, but Eugene Harvey mentioned they’d been great for him all day. In retrospect, having a three-mana creature that doesn’t require a color and regenerates wouldn’t have been a bad idea.
Woodland Druid and Chatter of Squirrels – I’m not a fan of one-power creatures without special abilities, but it could be argued that they belonged in the deck
Caustic Tar – The plan was to sideboard this in for game 2 if game 1 resulted in a creature stall, but this happened maybe once all day. It’s a good card for ending the game, but I left it out just because it didn’t affect the board.
Seton’s Desire – Good card, but I had enough solid creatures and tricks to not need it. Didn’t want to risk the card disadvantage.
Coffin Purge – Flashback just isn’t good enough (in most instances it’s much too overcosted) to warrant maindecking this.
This deck was all about laying down as many creatures as possible on turns 2 through 5 (although the Wild Mongrel had a bad habit of not showing up in my opening hand) and then swinging into the opponent’s creatures and forcing favorable trades with cards like the Elephants, Bursts, Afflicts, and Repel. Strict removal was provided by the Demise, the Morbid Hunger, and the Assassin. Blue added in fliers and the Chamber, which is a pretty insane card in the right situation.
The Rabid Elephants were amazing, allowing me to attack into huge armies and either get through for three or force a chump block. Afflict was essential in either straight-out killing one-toughness creatures or acting as a combat trick to force trades or save my creatures. It also was a great means of cycling into answers or land when I needed them. Muscle Burst was often cast at +4/+4 or +5/+5, and provided the means to deal with large creatures (which was needed, given the apparent weakness of black removal in this set).
Quick Aside on My Memory
Or lack thereof. Half the time I’ll finish playing Game 1, pull out my sideboard, and think,”what colors was he playing again?” So I’ve forgotten a lot of the details from the matches already, but it’ll be more interesting if I just mention the memorable bits from each match anyway. Also, I apologize in advance to my opponents if I say anything about one match that belongs in another. Here goes…
I don’t remember (it starts already!) how many players there were, but it was definitely more than 130 and less than 160. This, combined with the fact that there was no top 8, meant nine rounds of Swiss. Yikes. We were also informed that there’d be no land swapping, so everyone would have to play three colors. Fine by me. So I built my deck, registered it, waited, and sat down at some table or another to face…
Round 1 vs. Jeff Betten (W/G/R)
I don’t remember much about these games, unfortunately. He had a fifty-plus card deck, and told me that he didn’t like black and blue much so he had pretty much just put in his all his white, green, and red cards. I didn’t really see much that was suboptimal so I didn’t offer any advice, but maybe I should have. The games were uneventful and I finished both of them at eighteen. The only thing I remember is that the +4/+4 and +5/+5 Muscle Bursts were plentiful.
Matches 1-0 / Games 2-0
Round 2 vs. Jeffrey Boarts (G/B/?)
He was wearing a Team Fallen Empires shirt and mentioned that he hadn’t been playing in a long time, but he seemed to have a well-constructed deck. His play was good except for a few targeting errors (minor stuff that I let him take back). On turn four of game 1, he tapped four mana for Diabolical Tutor, which worried me to no end, as I knew I had to face the best card in his deck within the next few turns. On turn five he tapped out to cast Rabid Elephant – a good card in its own right, but hardly a bomb, and for the rest of the match I waited for something big, but it never came. He had a weak card pool I guess, but I’ll take it. I finished the games at nineteen and twenty respectively, so my deck must have performed well.
Matches 2-0 / Games 4-0
Round 3 vs. Eric (G/R/B)
Game 1 was fairly uninteresting… The scoresheet seems to indicate Rabid Elephant beatings, as his life went 20, 17, 14, 11, 8, 3, dead with mine stabilizing at 14. Game 2, I drew a one-land hand, mulliganed into another one land hand, and had to mulligan to five cards. I actually almost stabilized at eight, but my life declined by one point at a time (thanks in part to that painland which I had to keep using) and then dropped from three to death.
Game 3 was horrible. I think I had to mulligan again, but kept a two-land (island, swamp) hand that had a Diligent Farmhand. I drew the forest in time to play it on turn 3 and dropped the farmhand. Eric untaps, drops a fourth land, and Earth Rifts my forest. I frown and place it in the graveyard. He passes the turn, I untap and look at my hand as I draw… Oh wait, I had a syncopate. Oh, I had an island and swamp untapped last turn and he was tapped out. That was bad. So I look at the card I just drew in hopes of salvation… Nope, it’s not a land, and my Farmhand is now useless (I believe he rubbed it all in by killing the thing a few turns later). I continue not drawing land, and now have a terrible sinking feeling that I’m going to lose a match due to a combination of manascrew and a horrible play error.
Luckily, his draw is slow and my life drops in small increments, with me finally drawing a few lands and stabilizing at five, even sneaking some damage in while I can. Unfortunately, the mistake ruined my concentration and I’ve already made a play error or two. Then he casts Diabolical Tutor, which is bad because I know that his deck features a good amount of burn. However, I still have that Syncopate in hand, so I resolve to leave mana untapped until I can counted what he must have tutored for. Next turn he goes for the throat with a Liquid Fire on my Treetop Sentinel, dealing three to the Sentinel and two to me. I have Muscle Burst and Syncopate in hand. Worried that the Liquid Fire wasn’t what he tutored for, I decide to Muscle Burst to save the creature and leave the Syncopate for later, dropping to three.
We mark down the life loss, then I notice that the Sentinel isn’t a valid target for the Burst. Oops. So I’m forced to target my other creature instead, but luckily I still have enough mana to Syncopate the Liquid Fire, saving the creature and bringing me back to five, which I note down and theoretically he does too. Next turn he attacks with two one-power dorks into my one blocker. With blockers declared, he drops Rites of Initiation, discarding his whole hand (three cards).”Alright, the sentinel dies, I’ll take four, I’m down to one.” Apparently he hadn’t marked me back up to five and thought he had the kill. This mistake is enough to give me total control of the game, and I finish him off a few turns later. Phew. I didn’t deserve that one.
Matches 3-0 / Games 6-1
Round 4 vs. Steve Defelice (G/R/?)
I don’t remember much about these games, but Steve and his Lithatog definitely knew what they were doing. The first game I won at nineteen, the second game he won untouched (I might have been manascrewed), and the third game I won at seventeen.
Matches 4-0 / Games 8-2
Round 5 vs. Chris (G/U/B mirror match)
Game 1 was great. I think I was beating him down early, but then he slammed down a Chamber of Manipulation that ground my attack to a halt. Every turn for me went: Declare attack phase, he steals Aven Fisher, I decline to attack since the attack phase isn’t so appealing when it implies,”Your creatures fight and kill each other, your opponent draws a card,” then I drop a creature. The Chamber upkeep is slowing him down, though, then eventually I drop my own Chamber, and the game gets really interesting. For the first few turns we’re at a standoff, each of us using the Chamber to counteract the other’s use of it, but eventually I force him into a tough situation and make him lose a creature, tipping the balance towards my force. Finally, the balance tips enough that I declare my attack, he steals a creature, I steal it back, and attack with everything, forcing through lethal damage with him at seven.
Game 2 I spend the early part laying down critters, and then drop the Chamber once my hand is mostly empty. He untaps, taps a couple lands and pulls out the surprise Aura Graft for the Chamber steal. Ouch. Luckily I have creature superiority, and he’s forced again into using every turn for defensive purposes. Soon enough, he’s down to one card in hand and he has to discard it every turn, so he’s essentially Chamber-locked. Meanwhile I topdeck Leaf Dancer for some forestwalking goodness, and his life starts to drop by two a turn (it’s already at eight). Two topdecks later and I can’t help but grin after I see my draw… Seconds later, the rare Spellbane Centaur hits play and my creatures can’t be targeted by blue abilities anymore. In response, of course he steals something, so I wait a turn and swing for the fences on the next one. Great games.
Matches 5-0 / Games 10-2
Round 6 vs. Chas Tressler (G/?/?)
At this point I was starting to get scared at the prospect of facing another 5-0 deck, as the lack of bombs in my deck wasn’t confidence building. However I get paired down against the 4-0-1 Chas, who also happens to be my first CMU opponent. Sadly, these games were pretty uneventful, as manascrew takes him down in at least one game. The first game I guess we raced somewhat, as he got me down to twelve, but the second game I think I overwhelmed his mana-light draw with a good curve of creature drops (his life went 20, 17, 11, scoop).
Matches 6-0 / Games 12-2
Round 7 vs. Mike Magby (W/G/R?)
By now the top tables are becoming home and I’m surrounded by CMU on all sides. Turian, Harvey, Forsythe, and Rizzo are all recognizable at nearby tables. Soon, a lesser-known CMUer, Mike”Thieving” Magby, sits across from me with a 5-0-1 record. I’ve again managed to get paired down, probably due to the terrible tiebreakers that I’m developing.
Game 1 my deck comes out strong, and I overwhelm him with Rabid Elephants amongst other goodies. He’s got a Resilient Wanderer (discard a card for protection from a color of your choice) and one or two Krosan Avengers in his deck, so he has lots of”block target Rabid Elephant for a turn” cards, but I overwhelm him without too much trouble, winning it at nineteen.
Game 2 I sideboard in Execute for the first time all day, but he drops the Resilient Wanderer again and I’d really like to kill it. I wait for him to empty his hand but it’s not happening, so I content myself with forcing a discard each turn with Rabid Elephant attacks. At one point he has five creatures out, three of them with three power, and he still can’t block the Elephant and kill it – that’s how insane that ability is on a 3/4 body. Finally I draw into my Chamber of Manipulation and drop that to break the status quo. He has two cards in hand, so I target the Wanderer with the Chamber, expecting him to protect it from blue, but he gives it up. I take advantage of that to swing with some creatures and deal some damage, then I Execute the Wanderer while he’s still under my control and thoughtfully decline to give it protection from black in response. After that the game is pretty much over, and I win it at twelve.
Matches 7-0 / Games 14-2
Round 8 vs. Eugene Harvey (G/R/B)
This is getting a little sick. I’ve now lost two games to manascrew/mulligans, won the other fourteen, and I’m about to face one of the three US National team members… Who happens to be the only other undefeated player. Coincidentally we’re both Comp Sci majors at CMU, plus I’d introduced myself earlier, so we start talking before the round. Besides informing me of my idiocy with Ghastly Demise, he mentions the possibility of an intentional draw. I hadn’t thought about it (this being my third sanctioned tournament ever, I’d never really been in a position to intentionally draw before) but the more I do, the better of an idea it seems. Besides the fact that it guarantees us both Top 8 (a box of product), it also ensures that my terrible tiebreakers won’t have much of an effect (my tiebreakers are worse than most of the 5-2s and 6-1s). If I don’t draw, it’s possible for me to go 7-2 and tie with a bunch of people, dropping me out of Top 8. Another thing that’s probably on his mind is my low rating, as losing to me would hurt quite a bit.
So we ID. We then play a couple games for fun and I win the first one in a close race. I attack him down to three (I’m at three also) and have either Morbid Hunger or Muscle Burst for the finish. Game 2, I sideboard in Leaf Dancer and Whispering Shade and proceed to play my worst game of Magic all day, making multiple mistakes (especially using the Shade poorly) and falling to his better draw. Fatigue was definitely a factor, as well as the fact that I think my brain might have been taking a break while it could, given that the match didn’t matter. Regardless, we call it quits at 1-1 and I take a real break for half an hour.
As a sidenote, Eugene and I realized that the link between our decks was that we each had two Rabid Elephants. So basically, I’d now like to inform the community that we’ve broken the format of Odyssey Sealed. Open two Rabid Elephants and victory is assured. You heard it here first.
Sadly, however, he didn’t share my complete lack of rare bombs. He had a Vampiric Dragon that thankfully didn’t see the light of day in either of or games.
Matches 7-0-1 / Games 14-2
Round 9 vs. Neil Forsythe (G/R/B)
So now it comes down to me against Neil and Turian against Harvey. If Harvey wins, first place is his. If he loses, the winner of my match takes it, as Neil has better tiebreakers than Turian. The problem is, throughout the day I’ve been hearing about how Neil’s deck is even more broken than Rizzo’s camera. Here are some notable cards: Savage Firecat, Metamorphic Wurm, Elephant Ambush, Sylvan Might, Shower of Coals, Anarchist x2, Acceptable Losses x2. Eugene’s deck had beaten it, though, so I had reason to hope. Coincidentally, this is my fourth CMU opponent in a row.
Game 1 is somewhat brutal, as I just have every answer. Afflict kills his small creatures, Divert comes out to redirect an Acceptable Losses (how harsh is that?), and +4/+4 Muscle Burst (thanks to a Diligent Farmhand in his graveyard) on a Rabid Elephant kills the inevitable Savage Firecat with no creature losses. Even Morbid Hunger came out towards the end to smash a three-toughness blocker out of the way. He knocks me to eleven, the Hunger brings me to fourteen, and his life goes ten, three, dead.
I draw a six-land hand in Game 2 with perfect distribution (two of each land) and a Morbid Hunger. I know that mathematics say that I should mulligan, but I’m tempted to keep. I almost rationalize to myself that I’ll drop the six lands, draw some threats in time to stem the bleeding, and Morbid Hunger something to stay in the game… But deep down I know that my lack of threats will finish me if I keep, so I take a Paris and get a pretty good six-card hand. Unfortunately I’m playing first, so I’m starting down two cards. I survive the early game and then stall him completely in the mid-game with a Chamber of Manipulation that he hadn’t seen in the first game (so his enchantment removal was sitting in the sideboard). As soon as he has a favorable enough position, I take a creature each turn, keeping in mind the possibility of Chamber lock. Soon enough, he drops a Savage Firecat in an attempt to break the game wide open. Next turn, I don’t take a creature, so of course he sends with the ‘Cat. I double-block with a Krosan Archer and a Wild Mongrel and down comes the Burst again, this time only at +3/+3, but it’s enough for seven damage. He deals seven to the 5/5 mongrel and I let it die.
When he’s at twelve, I drop an Aven Windreader and start swinging for three through the air. Then an Aven Fisher comes down and I knock him to four, but he’s got a thresholded Chainflinger online. He taps 1R and targets the Fisher, though he doesn’t declare which ability he’s using. I say,”How much are you tapping?”; he looks down and taps another mana, and I let it slide because the intent was obvious. He lays down a Zombie Assassin and the Windreader knocks him to one. I’ve been checking the top of his library, so I know he has an Elephant Ambush and a Sylvan Might. He’s got a 7/7 Metamorphic Wurm that I’ve been stealing, but he only barely has threshold. I know that he has to use the Assassin to kill the Windreader before damage is on the stack, or he will die (I’m gambling he doesn’t have a burn spell in hand, but it’s pretty obvious). So I know that he’s going to lose threshold during the attack, and therefore I attack with a Rabid Elephant as well as the Windreader. He assassinates the Windreader and the Wurm (now 3/3) blocks the Elephant (now 5/6). He then Sylvan Mights it, making it 5/5, and then flashes back the Sylvan Might, making it 7/7. Oops, I forgot he could do that. Luckily the Chamber is still untapped, so I steal the Wurm in response and it’s not a blocker anymore, so both the Elephant and the Wurm live. The Chamber can be pretty insane sometimes.
Now he doesn’t have threshold and I’ve got the Chamber plus the Elephant (and another creature?) with him at one, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s over. In the meantime, Turian has defeated Eugene, so I’m the only one without a loss and therefore guaranteed first place and two boxes of product. It’s a feeling of exhausted satisfaction, as nine rounds of swiss is one of the most mentally taxing things I’ve done in awhile.
Matches 8-0-1 / Games 16-2
My sanctioned match record: 17-1
I’m surprised I didn’t see a Mortivore all day, as it seems to be a pretty damn strong Limited card. Four mana for a huge regenerator is pretty insane. I did see Aaron Forsythe busting out a turn five or six 10/10 Gorilla Titan with Seton’s Desire, though. I would have also liked to see an Upheaval played, as it’s one of the more interesting global reset buttons that I’ve seen. It basically reads,”All players choose the best seven cards out of their hand and their permanents on the board and put those cards in their hand. All other cards go to the graveyard. Start the game over.” I met pretty much everyone I wanted to, except for Aaron and Rizzo and maybe Andrew Johnson. A mumbled”Hey, it’s Forsythe,” as Aaron sat down next to me unsurprisingly provoked no response, and I didn’t have anything else to start a conversation with. As for Rizzo, I got in a”hey Rizzo, love the articles” as he was writing down the CMU standings, but that was it.
I was going to say some more, but it’s late, I’m tired, I’ve written ten pages, and I’ll be surprised if anyone’s still reading by now. If you are (thanks) and you have something to say, drop me an email, I’d love feedback.
So in closing, I’ll steal (and modify) the CMU finishing list from Rizzo:
First place: Sottosanti – no nickname, no fame, but I go to CMU so I must be good
Second place: Teabaggin’ Turian LOL! – was this close to making it back-to-back Prerelease wins.
Third place: Eugreen Harvey – oh, I do good at Worlds and all of a sudden I’m good at Magic?
Fifth place: Neilio Forsythe – hi, I never play Magic, but I always do good.
Sixth place: Jeremy Clearly I Remember Picking On The Boy – that’s a T8 in back-to-back Prereleases for chiefy.
Eighth place: Chiggitty Chas – that’s a T8 in five of the last 6 Prereleases.
Fourth and seventh place need to come clean. They must be from CMU too.
Props (hey, I’ve gotta do it)
Albert Tseng (CMU student) – for putting up with my persistent requests that we practice in Apprentice, plus placing in the top 32
John Yuen (CMU student) – for providing the ride and breaking even after not playing or thinking about competitive Magic for probably four years
Lenny – for busting open and handing me the winning cardpool
Eugene Harvey – for being friendly, helpful, and a great opponent
Mike Turian – for beating Eugene in the final round
My Tuesday night class – no Tuesday night Magic at the O for me this semester
Friggin’ Rizzo – hey, I attend the school and I get no lovin’ in the report? Okay, I understand. Hook a brother up next time, though.
Yegg on IRC