Every once in a while someone makes a comment that suggests I post lists a week before a big tournament as a form of misdirection. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and hopefully, after this last weekend, people will stop accusing me of such things. I’d like to think that I’m a brutally honest person, especially where my articles are concerned, but it seems like no one seems to remember that, and instead they focus on some tiny way that I could abuse the system.
From Indianapolis, I flew to Washington DC and got picked up by Calosso Fuentes, and then we drove to Roanoke. Matt Gargiulo and Ken Adams set up a nice little testing crew with us, Dan Jordan, Korey McDuffie, and Ali Aintrazi. Typically, not much tends to get done in these groups for a few days before a big tournament, but it certainly helped that I thought I knew what I was playing.
Dan J was set on R/U/G, and I don’t blame him, while Korey and Calosso were probably going to play what I did. Ali was brewing U/x decks, while Ken Adams was brewing anything from Welkin Tern aggro, Grand Architect aggro, U/G/R land destruction, and Necrotic Ooze/Spikeshot Elder.
In order to stop all that brewing from deterring us from finding the best 75 for Valakut, I asked Ken what he would need in order for me to convince him to play Valakut. The man has a strict aversion to playing the best deck, so he really wanted to brew, but I wanted it to end. He told me that if I could get him a live penguin before the tournament started, he’d play it. I told him if he gave me six months, I could make it happen, but two days was such short notice that even I couldn’t produce one. He thought about it but ended up playing what Ali played, I believe, which was U/W Control.
Matt, Ali, and I drove from Roanoke to Richmond, and, as tends to happen no matter who I’m riding with, a Ke$ha dance party broke out. Sadly, the drive wasn’t very long, but I got to see who was killing the trials. Korey and Patrick Chapin both lost in their respective grinders, but they met in the finals of the next trial, where Korey was victorious.
This is the list we settled on:
Pyroclasm over Lightning Bolt
Most lists play Lightning Bolt maindeck, as a concession to the aggro decks that are actually fast enough to race you, but if you’re going to go that route, I feel like Pyroclasm is the better anti-aggro card. Sure, Lightning Bolt can do things like kill Jace or Raging Ravine, but Pyroclasm is going to be so much better against aggressive decks that it’s worth it to play instead.
Less than Three Summoning Traps
Most lists play three, and Christian Calcano played the full four, but from my experience, the control decks were good matchups. You don’t need that many Traps main, especially considering how high variance they are. Over the course of the sixteen rounds, I missed something like six times.
Throughout the week, I was exchanging text messages with Jason Ford, who was testing Valakut for me. Quickly, he was on board with Overgrown Battlement. It didn’t seem very good to me, as Valakut has many cards that care about how many lands are in play, and it dies to Day of Judgment, but having another two-drop accelerator is key in the mirror. In addition, Battlement would be similar to Rampant Growthing for a Forest, so it’s not like it ever takes the place of a Mountain when it would be in play. Battlement is great against the aggro decks as well.
Three Avengers is too many. I took a lesson from Michael Jacob and cut one of them for a Rampaging Baloths. Ideally, you want to draw one of each instead of multiple Avengers. However, Jason quickly pointed out that Inferno Titan is much better in the aggressive matchups, and that’s where we needed help, so I played the Titan maindeck instead.
Rampaging Baloths was played in the sideboard as an additional fatty to sideboard in for various matchups. Unlike things like Gaea’s Revenge, Rampaging Baloths is good against Vampires, U/W, U/B, and many other matchups.
Some lists shave things like Harrow, Explore, or Expedition, but I didn’t want to do that. In the majority of matchups, I wanted to draw nothing but ramp spells, and each of them are good for their own reasons. When you mulligan, you want Cultivate. When you draw a bunch of Forests, you want Harrow to fix that. If you have excess lands, Explore is the best accelerator. Khalni Heart is what allows you to combo kill someone quickly and manually with Valakut. They all have their place.
I tried a Raging Ravine but never liked it. However, after playing against U/W Control a few times in the tournament, I would’ve liked to have it for those situations where I resolve Titan, but they Wrath it away.
Khalni Garden was for aggro decks and Gatekeeper of Malakir in particular. Verdant Catacombs was better than a Forest for Avenger of Zendikar and Khalni Heart Expedition. The one life wasn’t all that relevant, while landfalling typically is.
I wanted some sort of Disenchant for Kyle Sanchez Leylines of Sanctity, as those seemed to be getting popular. Acidic Slime seemed like the best option, as Summoning Trap made them not want to counter it, and you could search for it with the Traps. Nature’s Claim and Ratchet Bomb were the other options that were better against the more aggressive decks and far better at killing Sword of Body and Mind.
The additional Summoning Traps were no-brainers, but I wish I had more fatties to Trap into. Koth, while solid at surprising their Jaces, providing a solid threat, and ramping, would’ve been much better if it were any creature. Gaea’s Revenge, even though everyone is now prepared for it, would’ve probably been better.
Terastodon was like a big Acidic Slime, but if you Trapped into it in the mirror match, it was likely game over. However, without things like Joraga Treespeaker, casting Terastodon was likely not going to happen.
Most people just wanted to go up to four Bolts and four Pyroclasms, but I felt like drawing a mix of Bolts, Clasms, and Obstinate Baloths. Obstinate Baloth protects you from Mark of Mutiny for the most part, draws out their removal, and pads your life total from burn spells.
Onto the tournament!
Round One and Two: Byes!
Round Three: Joey Mispagel, B/R Vampires
Joey is a former SCG Open Champion, and from doing GGsLive coverage during his finals match, I could tell that he knew how to sling the burn spells. I expected him to be playing Vampires and wasn’t disappointed.
Unfortunately for him, he was plagued with mulligans and never really put me under and pressure.
3-0, 2-0 in games
Round Four: Matt Gargiulo, Valakut
Ah yes, being forced to play the mind-numbing mirror match against the man whose couch on which I was sleeping all week. How very fair. Granted, I knew a lot of people in the tournament, so that was bound to happen.
I won the die roll and played a turn 4 Primeval Titan, which is exactly what you need to do in this matchup. We briefly considered playing Joraga Treespeakers in the sideboard for the mirror, and Matt decided to go with them, so I brought in some Lightning Bolts.
Being on the play for the third game, I decided to take advantage of that and play another turn 4 Primeval Titan.
4-0, 4-1 in games
Round Five: David Sharfman, U/W/r Control
This was a GGsLive feature match but wasn’t all that interesting. In game 1, I cast Avenger of Zendikar, playing around Mana Leak, and he didn’t have a Day of Judgment, so he just died. He hemmed and hawed about his opener in game 2 and eventually kept, putting a Leyline of Sanctity into play and then playing Plains, Plains, Tectonic Edge.
Still, I didn’t have much in the way of gas, but I had Acidic Slime for his Leyline and then another for his second blue source, a Celestial Colonnade. He had the option of removing my Slimes with Day of Judgment when he was at fifteen or using double Spreading Seas on two of my three green sources, and he chose the latter. A topdecked Koth put him on the back foot, and he couldn’t recover.
5-0, 6-1 in games
Round Six: Dan Jordan, R/U/G
Round 6 and I’m already playing the end bosses? I see how it is. We had a pre-tournament split, which we upped slightly since we were already doing so well. Winning the first and third games was the standard procedure against R/U/G. I set up a fatty plus Summoning Trap or just played around Mana Leak and Spell Pierce as best I could. Eventually, he’d run out of Flashfreezes.
6-0, 8-2 in games
Round Seven: Lewis Laskin, U/W Control
Unlike most U/W decks, Lewis has an actual plan for fighting Valakut. Rather than feebly attempting to stop Primeval Titan from entering play, he doesn’t care if it resolves. Instead, he’ll Tectonic Edge your Valakuts, tap down your Titan with Tumble Magnet or kill it with Day of Judgment, and eventually cast Sun Titan. U/W is an easy matchup, but Lewis was actually a dangerous opponent.
In the second, I was out of it but peeled a Summoning Trap with no hand. He didn’t quite have the capability of killing me on his turn, and when he passed the turn, I Trapped into Avenger of Zendikar and killed him.
The last game was pretty awkward for both parties. I set up slowly, attempting to play around the Spell Pierces I knew he had four of and sandbagged my threats until I could pay for his soft counters. He dealt with my first few threats, and then I went for my big turn.
I cast Primeval Titan with three mana and a Terramorphic Expanse up. He Flashfreezed it, and I Summoning Trapped. He thought for a bit, and I started saying random gibberish, such as, “It could be anything, even nothing,” and, “No gambol, no future…” My rationale was that he was probably going to make the right play, so anything I said to influence his decision was probably in my favor.
In the end, he didn’t Flashfreeze it, and I found myself another Primeval Titan. With a Valakut and five Mountains, I fetched out two Valakuts, assuming that would put me far enough ahead to beat him. Instead, I could’ve gotten a Valakut and a Mountain, dealt him six, cracked my Expanse to deal him six, and then played my Mountain for six more, which I believe would’ve been lethal.
Instead, I put myself in a position where I needed to draw another Mountain or ramp spell to kill him but never did. Overall, not the best played match from either side.
6-1, 9-4 in games
Round Eight: Michael Pozsgay, B/R Vampires
Of the four people playing their Vampire list, all were in Top-8 contention until the final two rounds, so apparently they knew what they were doing.
However, that doesn’t really matter with my continuing streak against Vampires. In both games, Pozsgay mulled to five and wasn’t ever really in it.
7-1, 11-4 in games
If, before the tournament, someone would’ve told me that I’d be 7-1 at the end of Day 1, I would’ve been pretty happy. Instead, it was somewhat disappointing to have likely punted my matchup against Lewis; although if I won that, I would’ve had to battle Andrew Steckley in the Valakut mirror, a matchup I could’ve easily lost. I decided to be happy for what it was and make do with my situation.
I showed up for
ay 2 bright and early, ready to battle.
Round Nine: Ryan Rolen, B/R Vampires
Ryan was part of the Pozsgay crew, so I knew what he was playing. It certainly helped that Pozsgay de-sideboarded face up for me, so I could see exactly what they were packing.
In game 1, I went manual with Valakuts, having no Titans in sight. Pyroclasm took all the wind out of his sails. Second game, he started with a couple Bloodghasts, while I had a quick Titan. Mark of Mutiny would’ve left me at one life, so instead he attacked and played another creature, hoping I’d screw up on my turn.
Unfortunately for him, I could count to twenty.
8-1, 13-4 in games
Round Ten: Adam Cai, R/U/G
I saw Adam playing earlier, so I knew he was on the Michael Jacob/Patrick Chapin version of the deck, and he didn’t like his matchup. First game, I kept a hand with ramp and two Explores but never drew any gas.
Second game, I had six mana, a Khalni Heart Expedition, and three fatties in hand. The game seemed like mine to throw away, and sure enough…
I led with Inferno Titan, which was countered. A follow-up Rampaging Baloths surprisingly resolved. With him having only two Islands untapped, I could’ve made some beasts on my main phase, but then I could’ve lost one of them to Jace. I thought about Into the Roil, two Lightning Bolts, and all the things he could have and determined that he probably didn’t have any of those cards in his deck, so it was better to wait on his end step to make Beasts.
He drew a counterspell, bounced my Baloths, and double Bolted it in response to my popping my Expedition. Apparently, he sided out Lotus Cobras instead, which is one of his only ways to actually beat Valakut.
From there, it was all downhill.
8-2, 13-6 in games
Round Eleven: Larry Swasey, U/G Fauna Shaman
I knew Larry from following the SCG Open coverage for Boston and knew that he was playing the same deck that got him into the Invitational. We briefly chatted about his deck and the matchup before getting down to business.
For the third game, I set up a turn where I could play Primeval Titan plus Summoning Trap and completely whiffed. I drew no gas after that, and before I knew it, my back was against the wall in the tournament.
8-3, 14-8 in games
Round Twelve: Shiloh, Valakut
Game 1 was about the most interesting game I’ve seen in the Valakut mirror. I had the capability of playing a turn 4 Primeval Titan, but he had a Valakut, three Mountains, and a fully charged Khalni Heart Expedition. If I led with Primeval Titan, it would probably die, especially if he had his own. However, if I spent a turn ramping instead and waiting to see if he played his own Titan, then maybe I could kill his Titan with my own.
Although, if he didn’t have his own Primeval Titan, waiting to play mine was probably foolish. In the end, that was the decision that put it over the top for me. I cast my Titan and prepared to kill him next turn if I got to attack, but he had double Bolt to kill it, ramped some more, and killed me with his Primeval Titan.
Second and third games, I mulliganed appropriately and ended up playing a turn 4 Titan in all three games.
9-3, 16-9 in games
There was some speculation as to whether or not I could intentionally draw into Top 8 at that point, but it didn’t seem likely. It was probably more realistic to expect getting paired up and conceded to. I ended up paired against Tom Ross, who was eighth in the standings to my seventh. I thought if I drew, I’d make it, but Tom wouldn’t draw, so we agreed to a sizeable split and battled.
Round Thirteen: Tom Ross, Vampires
In the first game, I mulliganed to four after seeing several hands with no lands, but I couldn’t complain. He had four creatures in play by turn 3, but I had the turn 4 Inferno Titan to wreck him. If I had Primeval Titan, he would’ve stolen it with his miser’s Captivating Vampire, but thankfully, I had my own miser’s card!
10-3, 18-9 in games
Top 8 in three of my last four tournaments is a pretty awesome feeling. I was getting texts from people like Gabe Walls telling me to absolutely not split, but I wasn’t sure if I could do that. If I split the Top 8, I’d get $4250 compared to the $2000 for making Top 8, and the second $2k I’d gain by splitting was worth more than the additional money I’d earn if I kept winning. I also split away a large percentage of myself (which I should obviously stop doing), so splitting seemed like the best.
With pride on the line, I sat down in front of the GGsLive cameras to battle.
Top Eight: Keith McLaughlin, B/R Vampires
I won the die roll, led with Overgrown Battlement, and snap-blocked his Vampire Lacerator. I figured if he had Lightning Bolt, I would probably stop him from playing another creature. Also, he could just have a Gatekeeper of Malakir. Instead, he had the best possible set of plays with a Burst Lightning and another Vampire Lacerator, but Inferno Titan allowed me to stabilize at one life.
11-3, 20-9 in games
Top Four: Charles Gindy, Boros
Gindy and I are really good friends, and he defeated another good friend of mine, Pat McGregor in the Top 4, even after Pat’s plane landed during round 2 of the Invitational. It’s always awesome to share the Top 8 with friends.
I won game 1 because I won the die roll. Rather than kill me with three burn spells, he was forced to kill my Primeval Titan with them.
Onto the finals!
12-3, 22-9 in games
Finals: Alex Bertoncini, StarCityGames.com Player of the Year, R/U/G
How incredibly fitting is it that two of the three Level 5s meet in the finals, including the POTY? Ben Wienburg, where were you?
Game 1 was another one of those manual Valakut games. First, I stabilized with my land, but then I just killed him. Second game, he had some disruption and quick Frost Titans locking out my green sources, while multiple Summoning Traps rotted in my hand.
I resolved a Rampaging Baloths in game 3, which was probably the least respected card in my decklist, but it was more than enough to kill him.
Winning two large tournaments in a short amount of time feels great, but just like in Nashville, it hasn’t really set in yet. I just don’t think about how I’m in the finals or how if I don’t peel a land I’m getting second place; I’m just playing Magic until they tell me to stop. With that mindset, it seems like my head is in the game, but it also seems like it doesn’t allow me to process the fact that I actually won!
I’m in Japan right now, watching Nick Spagnolo and Korey McDuffie test Extended, and a lot of people seem to have their eyes on me for Worlds. Currently, there are three players in the world with more Pro Points than I that don’t have a Pro Tour Top 8 (and I don’t either, obviously). I’m very close to catching two of those players though, which will soon leave me and Masahiko Morita battling it out for the title of “Worst Best Player on the Pro Tour.”
Everyone is saying that I’m red hot, and “due” for a Pro Tour Top 8, but I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing and take it one round at a time.
P.S. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to Tweet from Japan, but you should
follow me anyway!