Playing Zoo in the Team Qualifiers: A PTQ Report

It’s safe to say that Craig Prof Jones has had an excellent run of late. Who can forget the $16,000 Lightning Helix? However, his quest for glory in Team Constructed has thus-far been fruitless… His report today sees him journey to Ireland in search of the Blue Envelope. Does he succeed? Read on to find out…

In which our hero, after his heroics (or rather extreme good fortune) in Honolulu, goes to Ireland on a slot raid and gets brought down to earth with a crash and has his Zoo closed down for public safety issues.

It’s odd. About two or three weeks after saying I wouldn’t need to play in a PTQ until the end of 2007, here I am, playing in a PTQ. Well, it is the Team Season.

I’ll let you in on a little confession. I wasn’t too chuffed when I saw the Pro Tour schedule for 2006. Yes there was Honolulu, and also Prague, but where had the Block PTQ gone? Block Constructed is probably my favorite format for the Pro Tour, and all of a sudden it was gone, taken away and replaced with some foul team imitation.

Teams, fah.

My record on team events is less than stellar. I’ve never actually qualified for a team Pro Tour, ever. This is partly because finding one person good at Limited in the UK is a hard enough task, let alone three. And the guys who are actually good at Limited wouldn’t want me on their team anyway, if they’ve got any sense. (In the UK I’m regarded as a Constructed specialist. That’s nice, but what it really means is that you should close your eyes if you ever see me play Limited, as what you’re going to see ain’t going to be pretty).

The Team Limited format is usually the time of year when I can stick my feet up and take a break from Magic for a month. But not this year, oh no. They had to go and steal my Block format.

Before Honolulu, I’d already agreed to team up with Chris Clapton and Pete Norris. Both are very good British players, although they both have real jobs and don’t play the game as much as they used to. It’s actually rather interesting, as Pete has never failed to qualify for the Team Pro Tour, whereas I’ve never made it. Should be fun to see which record wins out of over the season (Not that I’m pessimistic or anything).

Then Honolulu happened, and all of a sudden I’m Mr Popular. Overnight, everyone wants me on their team (Hah — reading this will give them second thoughts). Actually there was some surprise when I mentioned who I was actually teaming with, as both Chris and Pete had been quiet on the UK Magic scene of late. This was the same level of surprise when people saw me writing coverage at Cardiff rather than playing (generally the people who haven’t seen what atrocities I can inflict on a perfectly good card pool). The truth is when I agree something in advance, I don’t back out on it. Yeah, I suppose I could go look for some more recognized names (who am I kidding, everyone knows I’m just the random lucky guy with a Red deck) but the truth is I’d much rather play with friends and have fun.

I must admit I was having some second thoughts with some of the ideas that my team was trying out.

Chris: “Craig, I need a Temple Garden for my Blue/Green/White control deck, so I can Farseek for it.”

Me: “Are you f***ng crazy? My manabase is dodgy enough as it is! I need the Forests for Kird Apes.”

And a couple of days before the tournament:

Me: “Have you tried out Teysa in the Black/White deck. It has a really good interaction with Plagued Rusalka.”

Pete: “What does Teysa do?”

Because I was reporting on both Grand Prix Manila and Grand Prix Cardiff, there wouldn’t really be any time for me to practice. We made the decision to leave me with Zoo, while Pete ran a Black/White aggro deck. Chris was going to play a rogue Blue/Green/White control deck of his own design. Both of them put in plenty of hours of practice and were happy with their decks.

Ew, icky!

The next problem was finding out when the PTQs were actually being held. North American players reading this might find this is a little strange, as usually all the dates are up on the PT information page about a month before the qualifiers are scheduled. In the UK more complex means of divination have to be used, usually involving chicken guts and full moons.

We’d learnt that the London PTQ was being held on the 1st of April, but unfortunately that information wasn’t too helpful as both Pete and Chris were attending a friend’s 30th birthday party that day. Before the season had started we’d always planned to do one of the Irish PTQs. Fairly or unfairly, the Irish PTQs are regarded as a softer touch compared to the English PTQs, and are fair game to be taken by raiding parties (although in recent times Stewart Shinkins and Eoin Brosnan have reversed the trend and successfully carried off whatever our equivalent of a blue envelope is from English PTQs). Pete is again a specialist at this, having qualified over in Ireland a total of five times. I’m always happy to visit the Irish, as the players are a fantastic bunch to hang out with. While I’m covering European Grand Prix the last email I send for the day usually ends with “That’s the lot, I’m off to get pissed with the Irish.”

First we had to find out when it was. I asked around my friends at GP Cardiff.

“The Irish PTQ? Yeah, it’s in Dublin on Sunday the 2nd April. Why are you interes… no, hold on. It isn’t then. No, it’s really in Galway, on Thursday, at midnight…”

Unfortunately that was really short notice and the day after London. That turned out not to be a problem, as both Chris and Pete could get away in time. The bigger problem was finding a cheap flight and hotel at short notice. Also, both Pete and Chris had to get back for work on the Monday. This meant that rather than a social excuse to hang out in Dublin, we’d be treating the PTQ as a smash and grab exercise.

One late flight and we arrived at the hotel where there was only time to put a few tweaks onto the deck and sideboard before crashing. The biggest clash were the Jittes, between the Black/White deck and Zoo. The Black/White deck gets the Jittes, as it needs them more (it plays them maindeck rather than sideboard), but this means I need to find a replacement. The assumption with Zoo is that your creatures are much more efficient than your opponents, and that in a straight scrap you have the advantage. In Zoo, Jittes are deployed primarily as anti-Jittes to stop the other deck pulling back into the game through the broken pointy stick of doom. In which case we planned to replace Jittes with Manriki-Gusaris. In the mirror they’d also boost the toughness of our critters – always good when there’s plenty of burn flying around.

This is the list I ran. It is relatively unchanged from the list I ran at Honolulu (It’s another one of my flaws in that I don’t update a successful deck in light of changes to the metagame. I did the same with the Grave-Troll Tog deck, and got flattened at Worlds). The only change is the enforced Jitte substitution, and the replacement of a Burning-Tree Shaman with Bathe in Light.

Without the Jittes, the other option is to have a transformational sideboard that brings in Glare of Subdual for the mirror. I haven’t really tested this, and I’m not sure it helps in the tricky Black/White matchup either.

Pete ended up playing a Black/White aggro deck, while Chris ran his Blue/Green/White control deck.

The plan was to put me in the middle seat. We reasoned that most teams would put their best player there, and the best players tend to play control or complicated combo decks like Heartbeat (I dunno why — must be an ego thing). These are matchups I usually feed my critters on every morning.

The next morning, and we were off into Dublin for the PTQ. During the taxi-ride, Pete said we were going to a poker tournament. It saves all that unnecessary explaining and there’s no need to mention wizards, elves, and other fantasy weirdness.

There was a brief panic at the venue as I was still short a Stomping Ground. Fortunately I’d stashed some brass knuckle-dusters and was able to fight my way through to take the last one. The turnout was actually a little higher than I expected, as I think there were sixteen teams. The tournament organizer, Jim Brophy, was also running a Yu-Gi-Oh tournament at the same time. From his point-of-view that makes sound business sense, as it fills the venue, but it did mean there were a lot of very loud kids were running around. This was not necessarily a bad thing, as we could probably catch one and roast them for lunch.

Out of the teams there were a few that could challenge us. Shinkins was around with his team, and Oli Bird’s team also looked fairly useful. One of the pleasant surprises was to see that Darragh Long and Cormac Smyth had dragged Robbie McKeon away from online poker. I hadn’t seen Robbie in ages; hopefully someone will get him going to the Pro Tours again.

So there were a couple of teams with solid players, but the Swiss should really be a formality. The question was hoping we didn’t get the matchups wrong in the elimination stages.

Apparently, Urza loves to bungie

You know how they say Pride comes before a fall … well, I guess someone forgot to bring a parachute.

So on with the report, and firstly an apology. The team format meant I got the team name but not always the name of the player I was drawn against. For this I apologize to any of my opponents whose names I’ve omitted or got wrong.

Round 1. ???: Antonette — Ghost Dad.

Ghost Dad, a bad matchup… huh? What bad matchup?

Actually, this was the first time I actually got to play this matchup. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, as from what I’ve heard Ghost Dad is a fairly persistent molester of small cuddly animals. As I looked round I had a horrible feeling we’d got our seats horribly wrong, as Pete was paired against a Firemane Angel control deck and Chris versus a Heartbeat deck. Hmm, this could be a bad start to the day.

Fortunately our opponents, while very pleasant, were slightly lacking in experience. Antonette was not helped either in our games by some very substandard draws on the part of her deck.

In game 1 she got out a couple of early Tallowisps. The first obligingly blocked an Isamaru and was rather shocked by my, well, Shock. The second was disposed of with a Lightning Helix (off the top, of course), although an au naturel Pillory slowed down beats. I continued my theme of playing badly for the first round of the day by falling into the instinctive must-protect-my-guy Bathe in response to removal error. Bathe doesn’t always apply to all of your guys, only the ones that share a color, and I would have probably been much better off just saccing the Kami of Ancient Law to kill a Pillory on a Kird Ape. However the Sickening Shoal pitching Sickening Shoal had left her with no cards in hand, and as her deck was not in an obliging mood her Pillory was not going to race my second angry Ape.

I guessed we’d be having a Jitte war at some point, so it was off to the board for some Manriki-Gusaris. I wanted to keep some Flames around to counter her life gain, and so dropped the Shamans and a Char. The presence of Pillories meant Bathe and Kami of Ancient Law had to stay in.

Game 2 of my supposedly bad matchup, and Bathe in Light again decided to show up at an obliging moment to get rid of a Pillory and put me through for five damage. The game then went into an odd phase where I had a Char in hand and just needed to get an Isamaru through or draw another burn spell. Instead I drew Manrikis one, two, and three while she kept drawing creatures to chump with. This was only a temporary measure of course, and it was eventually crispy Irish lass.

Me: 2-0, 1-0.

As Pete had also dispatched his opponent fairly swiftly, Chris conceded his match after leveling with his sneaky Biorhythm tech.

Team: 2-1, 1-0.

So then, as we hadn’t had a chance to grab it yet, we headed off in search of breakfast. At this point, the Yu-Gi-Oh kids were being carefully watched by their guardians. But there would be opportunities later, oh yeah.

Unfortunately the bar was shut and didn’t open until just as round two was about to start. Curses.

Round 2. G.I.M.P: Damien Murphy — Ghost Dad.

A glance around the room had revealed that everyone and their pet dog had put B/W (and Ghost Dad in particular) in their seat B. Hmm, so maybe Zoo in seat B was not a good plan. I suppose I could get lucky and be drawn against the team with the… erm… Firemane Angel control deck. Ulp, this was probably going to be a long day.

But hey, Ghost Dad can’t be that bad a matchup. I beat it last round…

Ah, but Antonette never drew Shining Shoal, or Descendant of Kiyomaro.

Game 1 looked to be going to plan, but then Murphy found a second Plains and dropped two successive Descendants. I kicked myself for laying a fifth land I didn’t need, and then he kicked himself for laying a land he didn’t need. Unfortunately I only realized at end of turn and took extra damage I could have blocked, but it meant his life was still around the halfway mark rather than back up to an unassailable 20. Fortunately I managed to get a couple of cards up and was able to Helix both the Descendants away. After that, my deck decided to go on strike, and he found monsters while I found land.

Game 2 was a perfect example of how devastating Shining Shoal is against Sligh-type decks. I attempted to Helix a Thief of Hope only to find it thrown back at my Isamaru instead. As this was the only critter that had bothered to show up this game, this could be classed as a fairly severe setback. My burn was not as efficient as his creatures, especially as they also gained him life.

Me: 0-2, 1-1.

Oops. Fortunately, their Zoo deck also took a battering from our Black/White deck. Hmm, spotting a theme here.

I was a bit concerned in the other matchup, as their third deck was URVore. It looked even worse as Chris’s opponent had found a Boseiju and was happily Demolishing lands. Fortunately his opponent made a number of mistakes. Boseiju doesn’t stop an opponent from countering creatures, and when you’re on low life, keeping Boseiju and a Shivan Reef after Wildfire is not a good idea. A Sakura-Tribe Elder, of all things, administered the coup de grace.

Team: 2-1, 2-0.

The Yu-Gi-Oh kids were still being guarded, but the baby-sitters had to tire eventually. I felt fairly confidant we’d be able to have kiddie barbeque later. In the meantime it was off to the bar for a swift pint and some ham and cheese sandwiches.

Round 3. People’s front of Judea: Matthew — BUG.

Yay, a good matchup at last. Unfortunately my deck decided to chuck a fit.

Game 1 was fairly straightforward. I made a couple of guys and fried his Hypnotic Specters with Lightning Helixes. As I wasn’t totally sure what his deck was I switched Kami of Ancient Law out for Hooligans. Flames became Guerrilla Tactics, in case more discard appeared.

Second game, and I kept a risky hand with three Kird Ape and no Forests. By the time the Forest arrived all the Kird Apes were toast. But I could finally kill his bloody Jitte with the Tin Street Hooligan I’d had in my hand since the start of the game. So he obviously made a second, and then Meloku, and then Ink Eyes. This was rather surprising in a deck featuring Bob Confidant. Bob, why do you always hate me and give my opponents land (Oli Ruel excepted)?

No matter. I’d get my revenge in the third. In with the Jitte-snappers.

In seat A Pete was busy demolishing another Zoo deck. Hmm, Black/White… animals getting butchered … can’t shake the odd feeling there’s some sort of pattern I’m missing here.

In seat C I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, as Chris’s unconventional control deck had also bumped into another unconventional control deck. Thought Couriers, Gelectrodes, and Niv-Mizzet. Interesting.

Game 3 I started with a fairly strong hand. I slow-played a forest so he’d use Last Gasp on an Isamaru (I had a spare in hand) rather than Kird Ape.

“I got you to fall into my trap”.

He then allowed me to untap so I could use Bathe in Light to save Burning-Tree Shaman. Or would have, had I drawn one. Rather than the savage killing machine of savage savagery of a month ago, my Zoo deck was behaving rather, dare I say it, domesticated. No matter; I still had plenty of gas and a Hooligan for any stupid pointy sticks that might appear.

Then he drew a Nekrataal and I drew a land. He drew a second Nekrataal and I drew a land. He drew a Jitte and I drew a land. I killed silly pointy stick with a Hooligan. He drew another Jitte and I drew a land. He made a monster and… yes, you guessed it… I drew another land.


Me: 1-2, 1-2.

“It’s variance in action,” as Robbie McKeon rightly observed. I suppose it’s only fair that stupendous lucky draws have to be balanced out with some fairly horrible land gluts.

So it was down to Chris’s match, and as he was 1-0 down with only fifteen minutes to go the prognosis was not good. He managed to level, but there was no time for either player to get a result in the decider.

Team: 1-1-1, 2-0-1.

Round 4. Of Monkeys: Stewart Shinkins — Husk/Bunrei

Despite our draw we were still paired up against the only team with nine points. As this was Stewart Shinkins’ team, I guessed we were in for a tough scrap. I knew my match against Shinkins would be hard, as he’d be playing something similar to the Black/White deck he ran in Honolulu. In testing, that had been around 60% against Zoo. Fortunately our other matches seemed good, as Chris was against Wayne Kwan with Heezy Street while Pete was up against Sean Fitzgerald’s Greater Good deck.

My chances against Shinkins dropped when he won the die roll. They got significantly worse when he made a Nantuko Husk, and I realized he’d gone for the Husk/Bunrei deck similar to Michael Diezel’s deck from Honolulu. I’d only managed to beat that because of his flood and my Jitte. This time I didn’t have Jitte.

After losing game 1 I had some hope when Shinkins kept a one-lander and missed his second land. He managed to recover, but my early damage had dropped him to one life. All I needed to do was draw a burn spell. Land, land, Red spell… no, it’s a Kird Ape. Land, land… A combination of Bunrei tokens, Nantuko Husk, and Orzhov Pontiff allowed Shinkins to complete the comeback.

Also for the record — Manriki-Gusari, not a good substitute for Jitte.

I made a mistake in delaying casting a Hunted Wumpus. My board was dominant to his and I didn’t want him to get something warped like a Ghost Council for free. But there was a reason why he’d kept a one-land hand, and once he hit more land he was able to keep pace with two monsters a turn to stay alive until he set up the Bunrei/Pontiff win.

So my Zoo deck failed to win after going first against a deck that missed its second turn land drop. The animals were really unwell today.

Me: 0-2, 1-3.

Remember what I was saying in my last report on how things balance out. Well here you go. Variance.

Ah, but I don’t care now, Fate. You can screw me over this tournament if you like. I already have a big pot of cash on the way to my bank account. Of course, this was of little consolation to my team-mates as they struggled to compensate for my whacked-out Zoo deck.

This round we finally got punished for my deck’s non-performance as double Kokusho, double Goryo’s Vengeance took Pete down in game 1, and then he was quickly Yosei-locked in game 2.

Team: 1-2, 2-1-1.

No matter. We’d just have to win out. Get the bad draws out of the way now so we’d get our revenge in the Top 4. Our cause was helped dramatically as only one member of the next team showed up in time for the next round.

Round 5. I only picked up the chair: Zhong??? — Firemane Angel Control.

Hurray, I wasn’t paired against Black/White. Unfortunately I was up against Firemane Angel Control instead. As I have boasted previously, Wrath and Fetters is not enough to beat Zoo. But Lightning Helix and Firemane Angel as well… eep! Thankfully, Pete and Chris were both already 1-0 up thanks to their opponent’s tardiness. If, or rather when, I got crushed the team should still be able to pull through.

Despite the matchup basically being, well, completely impossible, I think I might have taken game 1 with an early forest. It meant my Kird Apes didn’t hit hard enough early and his life was still out of burn range when he stabilized. Unfortunately, another of the big weaknesses in my game put in an appearance. Pete’s first round opponent had forgotten to gain four points of life from the Firemane Angel over the course of the match, and that proved important. The turn after the first Angel hit the graveyard my opponent was just about to draw a card. Unfortunately I’d automatically picked up my pen in readiness to record the life change. This was incredibly foolish, as it tipped my opponent off that he might be about to forget something. If he’d forgotten that turn (the effect is “you may” rather then mandatory) the chances are he would have forgotten in future turns, but once my actions had tipped him off there was never any chance of missing a life point. As I’ve stated before, Magic is more than just the game.

I was getting an understanding of how Antoine Ruel must have felt in that quarterfinal. Being on the losing end of an impossible matchup is not much fun. I think I was also on tilt from the bad draws/matchups I’d faced already. I said before how I get irritated by people who think Red decks are brainless. I don’t think I was playing optimally at all today. A degree of playing on autopilot had crept in. I kept running cards into Mana Leaks when I didn’t need to, and not leaving responsive mana available for their Faiths Fetters.

When a second Angel hit the bin, the game started to feel like I was trying to run up a down escalator. A Gifts Ungiven gave me the dubious “choice” of Faith’s Fetters, Lightning Helix, Wrath, and a third Angel. Even though the game now looked impossible, I still had a possible out. I gave him the Angel and Fetters. In his upkeep I put both Angel triggers on the stack and cast Flames of the Blood Hand, which would have negated the Fetters life gain as well. Unfortunately, he had a Mana Leak (his third of the game!) and he locked the game out with Zur’s Weirding soon after.

The second game he ripped Helix, Wrath, Helix and then a fifth land for Meloku. So of course I won.

What, you believed that? How gullible are you! No, I got thrashed. Utterly. If I had a Char for Meloku then I might have been able to prolong things, but sometimes you have days when the answer is shining in gold on top of your library. Other days you just never seem to have the right card at the right moment.

Me: 0-2, 1-4 (ouch!)

As Pete had picked up the one win he needed, the whole match was now down to Chris’s match. The game looked very evenly poised. Chris had a Meloku in play, but was on dangerously low life and steadily being drained by a Ghost Council. At one point his opponent had enough creatures that the drain plan would be a formality over the next couple of turns. Chris was able to put a spoke in this plan by successive Repeals that forced his opponent to sac an extra creature each time or have the legend back in hand where it might possibly get countered on the return (except Chris had no countermagic, not that we were about to tell them). Chris was also getting to the point where he’d be able to go “all in” with Meloku for the win.

Team Limited (and Team Draft in particular) has often been referred to as the most skill-intensive Magic format. An average player might get lucky and beat a better player. But for an average team to beat a better team, it is much harder. The average team basically needs two of their opponents to be unlucky to win, and that is much less likely. However, in Team Constructed players can help each other. This actually narrows the gap in skills between teams. Whereas before a player might have been free to make mistakes on his own, now he has the backup of his team to act as safety net.

This game was a perfect example. Chris was down to two life and about to end his turn. His opponent had a Ghost Council, but only one creature in play: a Dark Confidant. He needed to sacrifice the Confidant to the Council at the end of Chris’s second phase, and then hope to draw a second creature, otherwise Chris would return all his lands and swing in for the win with an army of illusions.

“So what do I do, just draw?” his opponent asked, going to put a hand on his library.

“No, wait,” Garth Middleton said.

It was a crucial intervention as the team then made the correct play and sacrificed the Confidant. He then cast Ink-Eyes, Chris didn’t have countermagic, and that was game.

It came down to one game to determine whether we’d stay in the tournament, and unfortunately Chris’s opponent made an unanswered Phyrexian Arena on turn 3. So that was it. We’d come all the way to Ireland and had failed to make the elimination stages.

Team: 1-2, 2-2-1.

We decided to stay in. As the team format is brand new, a combined ranking of only 1700 is needed to qualify. That was enough of an incentive to try and grab a win.

Round 6. Team Teamy: ??? — Enduring Ideals.

Another guy I forgot the name of who deserves apologies for that – and more, as you’re about to find out. When I saw an early Izzet Signet I was praying for a Tron matchup. Then I saw Plains, and had the sinking feeling it was yet another Angel control deck.

I was totally on autopilot at this point, and shockingly over-extended into an obvious Wrath. Worse, the creature I’d overextended with happened to be a second Kami of Ancient Law. The full repercussions of this bone-headed play became apparent when he made Form of the Dragon. The Savannah Lion that should have gone out first instead of the Kami sat rather uselessly on the table.

So, Ideals. This actually should be a fairly straightforward matchup, as making the Form is often very risky as it makes it very easy for me to burn them out. Unfortunately, while I had Char and Helix, my deck was stubbornly stuck on three land. It looked like I was gonna lose, and then he drew Meishin, the Mind Cage, which was absolutely irrelevant.

“I can play this without taking damage,” he said, tapping eight mana.

Meishin costs seven. I waited until he went to his end step, and then pointed out he had a spare mana in his pool. Then I Charred him to a crisp.

I am a bastard.

Before the game he’d said how he hadn’t played a proper pro before. Well, there’s an important lesson in this. We’re all complete swine. Screw up against us and we’ll drag you out, flay the skin off you back, and leave you hanging for the crows. Actually, I’m normally not so mean, but I’d had rotten luck and matchups all day. My evil side needed appeasement and I was going to get it by stomping over some poor kid.

I figured I’d give him a third after I thrashed him in the second game to prove that it didn’t matter. Except he got a fast Signet draw and ramped up to Enduring Ideal before I’d found a Hooligan or Kami of Ancient Law. Ivory Mask came out and my burn-heavy hand no longer looked quite so hot.

Game 3 was a bit more like it, as a Hooligan smashed his early Signet and he stuttered on land.

Me: 2-1, 2-4.

Pete had already beaten his opponent’s Glare deck, and so that was the match to us. Inexplicably, Chris had lost the first game against Heezy Street, mainly through messing around.

My opponent afterwards said he’d talked to the judge and said that he shouldn’t have taken mana burn as he’d announced the spell first, or something similar. He was young and I think vainly clutching at straws. It transpired that we’d been paired up, and these guys had an outside shot of Top 4.

I am a bastard squared.

As I explained to him, I hadn’t pointed it out when he cast the spell, only when he’d passed priority and gone to his end step. I’ll take advantage of an opponent’s mistake, but I won’t cheat against them. Still, it felt like a very crappy way to win.

It was irrelevant anyway, as Chris’s deck was something like 20-1 against Heezy Street in testing and the other two games were a formality.

Team: 3-0, 3-2-1.

Irrelevant was a fairly accurate description of my contribution to the team. The rounds I won didn’t matter, as both of my team-mates won also.

So how to do a post-mortem on this mess?

Oh incidentally, you may have noticed I deliberately put on an arrogant tone for this write-up. It makes for a much better story if the arrogant pro gets his teeth kicked in. I like those kind of stories. Oh wait… it’s me getting my teeth kicked in. Damn.

I feel a little disappointed that we came all the way to Dublin and failed to even make the Top 4, but sometimes these things happen. My opponents made mistakes, but so did I. Just because I’ve picked up a bit of recognition, it doesn’t mean I have a divine right to beat all the “lesser” players. I played sub-optimally and my deck didn’t perform, and so I was punished for it. Unfortunately, it totally scuppered my other team-mates, they’d only lost one round each in the tournament.

After Honolulu I’d been asked which matchups I feared with Zoo, and I’d jokingly said “other Zoo decks”. The deck can get the pig on it, as I found at this PTQ, but if you get your draws I think it is the most powerful deck in the format. At least in the Honolulu metagame.

Now the metagame has moved on and the emphasis is more to beat the aggro decks that performed so well in Honolulu. Ghost Dad and Ghost Husk are both poor matchups. The former is already popular, and I imagine Ghost Husk will also rise in popularity after Osyp’s article (Shh man, you’re supposed to keep these things quiet). The Firemane Angel control deck is also rising in popularity, and this is also a really bad matchup.

We made a number of errors in our deck selection, and even taking into account my poor draws I think Zoo was clearly a weak link.

The first mistake was not paying close enough attention to GP Madison. Three of the top four decks from that tournament all put their Black/White decks into seat B. A lot of teams simply copied this configuration. This meant I had bad matchups against over 50% of the field.

The other big mistake was undervaluing the offensive role of Jitte in the sideboard of Zoo. Yes, it’s primarily defense against other Jittes, but it is also clearly a useful offensive weapon against the Black/White decks. I would not have lost the second game against Shinkins had the Manriki-Gusari been a Jitte. After boarding I felt like I was going into every game against Black/White with an arm handcuffed behind my deck.

The message is clear. If you have two decks that use Jitte, only play one of them. Don’t try to work the other one around it, as you’ll only be handicapping one of your decks. I imagine the same is true of any decks where there is a clash in cards. Find other decks rather than weakening two decks to squeeze them into the Team format.

Overall, I’m not sure what to make of the Team format. Being able to consult with other team members feels a little strange. I’m not sure I like it. I can see how it makes the Team tournaments a little more social, but I’m not sure that the comparisons with Two-Headed Giant hold up. That has one single game in action, while Team Constructed has three separate games. Chris’s comment was that he found it interrupted the flow of the game. He was playing the control deck – always last to finish – which meant the game would then slow down even further as other team members arrived from their matches to give advice. For most of his rounds there would never have been time for a third game. There is provision to treat this as slow play, but I imagine it will difficult to enforce.

The other comment on the Team format is a few words of advice: When shuffling, be very careful not to show your deck to other members of the opponent’s team. In a few of the rounds I could see the bottom cards of my team-mate’s opponent’s decks as they shuffled.

So we went on a raid to Ireland and were savagely repulsed. Fair play to the local lads for defending their slot. It was a shame that we couldn’t hang around and share a few beers.

We might have left with our tails between our legs, but don’t worry… we’ll be back.

Until next time, may you all take great pleasure in battering the local pro players at your tournaments.

Craig “Prof” Jones