Positive EV – Pro Tour: Austin

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Wednesday, October 21st – Manuel Bucher played a Combo deck at Pro Tour: Austin. It wasn’t Dark Depths, it wasn’t Hypergenesis… his intriguing choice involved Scapeshift and Valakut, a combo that promised much on the set’s release. Today, he tells us how he did, and touches on Zendikar draft too!

Last weekend, the Pro Tour was held in Austin, Texas. Today you will read about how I prepared for the event, and the thought process behind my deck choice for the Extended portion of the tournament.

Last year’s Extended season ended with Naya Zoo and Faeries/Wizards dominating the format. Therefore, I expected a lot of people to run one of those decks, as they don’t need a lot of testing. Both decks have already proved that they are very powerful in a wide format. The only card the Blue deck lost in the rotation is Riptide Laboratory (and of minor concern, Stifle), while the Aggro decks lost a fair bit of quality because the enemy-colored fetchlands are worse than the friendly-colored variety. However, Aggro gets a huge boost with several possibilities from Zendikar and M10. Other decks that survived the rotation – Burn, Dredge, and All-In Red, among others – were expected, but not in any great numbers. Therefore, beating these strategies would be a nice feature, but not a must-have property.

Dark Depths Combo and Hypergenesis represented the new style of combo that everybody was expecting for the Pro Tour. I expected to see a fair amount of Hypergenesis at the tournament, as even though almost everybody would be prepared for the deck, its power can be overwhelming. (Very much like the Dredge deck at the Pro Tour in Valencia.) That the Dark Depths deck would see a fair amount of play was clear, at least late in the day before the Pro Tour. Everybody was talking about the deck, and the card Dark Depths was selling for $25 at the site. Another deck that made an impression, after it showed up in some online tournaments, was Martyr Life. But as this is usually a deck people tend not to play, I didn’t much care if we couldn’t beat it.

With that idea of a metagame in mind, I submitted an almost Mono-Green Scapeshift deck for the tournament:

Some of my predictions were correct; there was a fair amount of Zoo and Faeries. My predictions were wrong when it came down to the unfair decks. There were far fewer copies of Hypergenesis than I expected to face, and the number of Dredge decks was far higher than predicted. We also didn’t think about the Punishing Fire / Grove of the Burnwillows late-game plan, which can be dominating.

My pairings for the first five rounds didn’t work out that well. I was paired against Five-Color Zoo, which I crushed after losing game 1 to mana problems. Aside from that, I caught nothing but horrible matchups: against Life, where the games were not very close at all; against Hypergenesis, were I failed to draw a Red source in game 3 after casting Chalice of the Void and Negate, yet I died to a Vendilion Clique; and twice against Dredge, where I was lucky enough to win against one.

The sideboard definitely needs some adjustments depending on how the metagame is going to grow. Ravenous Trap seems to be the best choice to fight Dredge, as you are able to fetch it with Peer through Depths, while Leyline of the Void is a blank unless you have it in your opening hand. It is also less predictable than Tormod’s Crypt, and you draw it more often thanks to Peer.

I ended up with a fine draft deck, where I had an interesting decision after first picking Punishing Fire. The pack featured Hellfire Mongrel, Zektar Shrine Expedition, and Murasa Pyromancer as viable choices — and I’m still not sure about the pick. I went with the Hellfire Mongrel, hoping the Zektar Shrine Expedition might wheel. It didn’t. After third-picking another Hellfire Mongrel, I received a Vampire Lacerator as pick 4, which I interpreted as a signal that Black was probably open. Sadly, the guy on my left ended up playing Black, even though I didn’t pass him a lot in the first pack.

11 Mountain
7 Swamp

Vampire Lacerator
Plated Geopede
Highland Berserker
Blood Seeker
Hedron Scrabbler
2 Giant Scorpion
Goblin Ruinblaster
Ruinous Minotaur
2 Hellfire Mongrel
Nimana Sell-Sword
Heartstabber Mosquito
Shatterskull Giant
Kazuul Warlord
Hagra Diabolist

2 Soul Stair Expedition
Punishing Fire
Zektar Shrine Expedition
Magma Rift
Elemental Appeal

Notable sideboard cards:
Giant Scorpion
Quest of Pure Flame
Akoum Refuge
2 Piranha Marsh

I ran Hedron Scrabbler over the third Scorpion, due to curve concerns, which I believe are very important in the format. I won a close first round, but it got pretty sad for me the round after. I was able to kick Elemental Appeal, but my opponent controlled Kazandu Blademaster so the spell wouldn’t have any impact on the game. I never drew a solution to the guy, and eventually died to it.

I dropped…

… Until Olivier told me I should un-drop, as I would have a small chance to end up in the Top 200 if I won the next round, and therefore pick up the essential Pro Tour Point I need in order to stay on the train next year.

I was paired against Paul Rietzl, who immediately conceded as the Pro Point wouldn’t help him this season, and I am very thankful for that. The plan didn’t work out, and I ended up with yet another disappointing finish at the Pro Tour.

For those that are interested in the matchups of the Scapeshift deck (hell, I might pique your interest in it, as your expected metagame is mostly Zoo or Blue), I will now talk about the most important matchups in the format.

For Scapeshift, the difference between Naya Zoo, Five-Color Zoo, or a Rubin Zoo List like the one played by Brian Kibler, is very marginal. Your removal, combined with a lot of chump blockers like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Solemn Simulacrum (or the amazing Kitchen Finks), buys you enough time to survive until you can release a lethal Scapeshift. The sideboard offers more removal in the form of Engineered Explosives, and tempo-winners like Selkie Hedge-Mage.

Blue (Faeries)
The only threat the Blue deck has to counter is Scapeshift. As easy as it sounds, it can still be hard for them. Spell Snare is unable to counter Scapeshift, and neither is Mana Leak or Spellstutter Sprite. This leaves only Glen Elendra Archmage and Cryptic Command as solutions for the game-winning sorcery. But as your acceleration is very hard to handle, and you also have about the same number of card advantage spells as them, they have a really hard time dealing with two Scapeshifts in a single turn. If they choose to tap out for the Archmage, you should be able to kill the Faerie Wizard before you play the sorcery, as you are very likely to be stuck on Lightning Bolts and Firespouts. You can also easily smash through Cryptic Command if you have access to two Scapeshifts, and are therefore able to play both in a single turn. This is were the Blue (with Peer through Depths) really shines, as you shouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding the first, and even the second, Scapeshift. After sideboarding, Negate makes it even easier to force through the game-winning spell if they don’t have Flashfreeze, and if they do, you have a very similar game plan as you had in the first game.

Your game 1 is really difficult. Both Sakura-Tribe Elder and Wall of Roots can buy time as you have a solution to Bridge as soon as it starts to get annoying. Just remind yourself that you should make mana with the Wall every single turn until you have it down to one toughness. Lightning Bolt is able to buy you some time against the Crab, but these are your only ways to slow their deck down, which is not very much. If you expect a lot of Dredge, you should either skip this deck, or at least have a sideboard plan for it (we didn’t).

There is not a lot to say about the matchup. They almost always win game 1, unless their deck screws them, or they let you untap after resolving Hypergenesis and you have enough lands to kill them with a Scapeshift. After boarding, we decided to have lots of hate in the form of Chalice of the Void, which can be used against Burn as well; and Negate/Spell Pierce, which both are fine cards in several different matchups.

Dark Depths
This is by far the worst matchup you can face. Not only does their main game plan give you a lot of trouble, as you are not able to deal with the 20/20 indestructible token, but their disruption also gives you a very hard time. Even though you are able to fight their main strategy with Pithing Needles and cards like Repeal, their disruption slows you down by so much that they have enough time to assemble the combo again, or get past your disruption.

I don’t expect this deck to be played a lot in any tournaments, but there will be always people that play the deck. As they will name Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle with Runed Halo, you absolutely must draw the Engineered Explosives to have a chance in the first game. If they don’t draw Ranger of Eos, you can win if you are able to kill him around turn 5 or 6 — as soon as he gets Proclamation of Rebirth online, you are pretty much doomed. Pithing Needles help a lot after sideboarding, as you now are able to win more games in the early phase. I don’t think there is a good solution for the matchup, especially when the games go longer.

Very Similar to Zoo. They have slightly more equity than Zoo, as they are able to finish you off with a Soul’s Fire, against which you can’t do a lot before you hit your combo. But your removal, and the huge amount of blockers your deck features, should stop them being able to kill you as early as turn 5… a turn on which you should be killing them. What Affinity does better than Zoo, though, is avoiding the “18 life or less” start. You actually need to either have one more land in play before you can Scapeshift, or you’ve gotta Lightning Bolt them first.

That should give a good overview on where the deck stands in the format, and if it might be the right choice for your upcoming Extended tournaments.

Sadly, I didn’t get chance to discuss the Zendikar draft format with Olivier, as we had different flights with the same destination: Tampa. My plane apparently almost crashed, but I only know that from stories, as I was sleeping for the whole flight. I am sure that we’ll be able to find time this very week, so look forward to the Zendikar draft series soon!

Thanks for reading…

Manu B