Every story has a beginning, and mine lies in the depths of a long-forgotten tournament eight years ago.
2002 was the hardest year of studies in my life — and as a result, I hadn’t been able to play much Magic. I played in Grand Prix: Biarritz, where I got quite lucky and managed to finish ninth despite the fact that I hadn’t won a single game in the Limited format before that. I skipped the following Pro Tour and French Nationals later that year, just to be able to cram a little more.
But because of my record at GP Biarritz, I had a high enough rating to qualify for the European Champs scheduled in Amsterdam in early July.
My studies were basically done for the year. I just had some meaningless interviews left â€” the kind of things you don’t have to cram a lot for. So I decided to go to Amsterdam, not only for the tournament, but to get a break from the stresses of school.
By the end of round 2, I had a 1-1 record â€” and when I went to see the pairings for round three, I found myself paired against another Guillaume:
That was the first time I even heard that name. He was playing a strange control deck based on Holistic Wisdom, splashing red for Prophetic Bolt. And he was only playing foils, which I thought was quite cool. I basically got destroyed, getting outplayed on many occasions. While he was making short work of me, he didn’t even smile once, as if beating me was just normal…
After the game, he asked me if I had cards for trade and then proceeded to get every single playable foil I had out of my binder. There wasn’t much in there; I gave him the foils. And then, for the first time in the match, he smiled.
I dropped out of the tournament two or three rounds later and he went on to Top 16. I watched some of his matches and I came to a conclusion: “That guy is a really strong player. At the very least, he’s way better at Magic than I am.”
For the following three months, I didn’t play much Magic. I moved out of my hometown for the first time in my life and settled in Nantes, where my engineering school was. But the urge to play was still there, waiting. I learned through the local shops that the local players were meeting every Thursday night in a pub â€” fittingly named “the Triskell” â€” to draft. And when I got there for the first time, Wafo was there. I didn’t miss a single draft there for the next three years or so…
Since then, we’ve been playtesting together for mixed results. Usually, he’s the one who innovates the most. I just add some small pieces to his decks, like the Dralnu, Lich Lord in the Worlds 2006 deck. But well, he’s better at this than me and things seem to have worked so far.
Let’s move on to our preparation for this year World Championships.
We decided quite early on a schedule for our testing: we were going to test Extended at Wafo’s place for fifteen days or so, using real cards. For the Standard part of the tournament, we used Magic Online to playtest. We also did as many drafts as possible, commenting on each other’s picks and games during that time.
We also created a mailing list to share ideas and test results with the other French guys. Some did test a lot like Antoine Ruel, Antoine MÃ©nard, and Florent Lucas. Some didn’t test a lot since they had others things to do â€” like jobs, or poker tournaments like Olivier Ruel, Pierre Canali, and Julien Parez. And some weren’t added to the mailing list since they’re utterly useless, like Raphael Levy and Yann Massicard.
(By the way, Gabriel Nassif never tests with other Frenchies since he’s not really French â€” he’s an American in disguise.)
The mailing list worked quite well, and we discovered things thanks to it we wouldn’t have otherwise.
We started the real tests in mid-November. Starting to test that early caused a little problem: we didn’t have any results for the format. Thus, we had to build all the decks from a scratch. Fortunately, we didn’t miss a lot. The only important deck we didn’t have was the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle / Prismatic Omen deck. Wargate is truly the card that keeps that deck working, and that was pretty hard card to find.
We didn’t have Conley Woods‘ deck either. But, well, nobody but Conley can come up with a Conley deck before a tournament…
By the middle of our period of Extended testing, we had the following decks in our gauntlet:
Five-Colors Control was Wafo’s pet deck from the start. It actually started as a Grixis brew, shifted for a day or so to an Esper version. But Cruel Ultimatum is really crucial to the deck, as we proved when we cut it in testing. Actually, you really need something to close the games, and Cruel Ultimatum is just that, and there is no alternative in that peculiar slot.
The main reason to play that many Vivid lands is the Great Sable Stags in the board. Without them, the Faerie matchup is clearly under 50%, and we didn’t find anything in the four other colors to help with that matchup. Anyway, if you don’t expect too many Fae players in your PTQ, going to a more streamlined mana-base (as the Channel Fireball crew did) is probably a better move. We clearly overestimated the number of Faeries in the attendance for Worlds.
For the kill card of the deck, we chose an oddball in the form of Sunblast Angel. Most of the decks you need a win condition against are creature decks. By using Sunblast Angel as our kill card, we can actually reduce the number of slots used for mass removals â€” which, strangely, results in a better deck against non-creature decks. And Sunblast Angel performs
well when combined with Cryptic Command.
Against control and combo decks, you never tap out to play a big guy, so it doesn’t really matter what card we use to kill them. However, we seriously underestimated the presence of Anathemancer in Jund decklists. Against a Jund deck with those, you really need something to gain life â€” and there we needed Wurmcoil Engine. Should I play the deck again, I would play one over an Angel in the main-deck and have another one in the sideboard.
Prior to the tournament, I wasn’t really convinced by Five-Color Control. It was the deck with the best overall results in our testing, but I found it quite fragile. So I decided to play it if I needed a result between 4-2 and 5-1, since I couldn’t see the deck giving me a 6-0 run. If I had needed such a result, I would have played Faeries.
For reference, here is the decklist I played at Worlds:
Faeries was the other deck I thought I’d play in the Extended portion. I would have played it for sure it if I had found the Wall of Tanglecord tech to prevent Great Sable Stag problems. But that was quite hard to find…
On the decklist, I’ve one or two things to say:
I like to have only three Spellstutter Sprites in Faeries. The value of that card varies greatly during a game. However, as the deck’s pilot, you don’t really have the power to influence the parameters that make Spellstutter Sprite good. Thus I like to play this as a three-of, just to reduce the variance.
Time Warp is quite an oddball in there, but it’s a card I played quite a lot in Faeries for just one simple reason: it’s the best compromise possible between an anti-aggro card and an anti-control one. It’s not the best card possible in any matchup, but it’s seldom as bad as a removal card can be…. And it always surprises the opponent, which is never a bad thing.
I started our testing with Preordain as a four-of, but the card is only good on the first turn and after the fifth. Two seems good to me.
Here’s the decklist I would have played at Worlds, and the maindeck that I would recommend for the upcoming Extended PTQs. Just be sure to put three Wall of Tanglecords somewhere in the sideboard if you want to bring it to a PTQ:
I wanted Pyromancer Ascension to work… But it just didn’t. Basically, it’s the best game one deck in Extended. It doesn’t have
a single bad matchup
in game one. The worst is Faeries, which is still around 50%.
But game 2 and 3? They’re another story. It suffers greatly against Five-Color Control, Jund, and Fae. And those were the decks we expected to be the most played…
There is no sideboard plan that works against two of those decks. Against Fae, the best route for sideboarding I found was to bring Oona, Queen of the Fae and Vendilion Clique in â€” which brought the matchup around 40-45%. Against Five-Color, bringing anything but the Pestermite combo spelled doom â€” and even that didn’t make it an even matchup. And against Jund, you need big guys like Sphinx of Jwar Isle. The problem is that you don’t have a thirty-card sideboard. And even with that you wouldn’t be good against any of those decks…
Our version just couldn’t win against Five-Color Control. One Wrath of God effect and it was basically over. Now, I haven’t played a single game with
Ranger of Eos in the mix, but it looks quite good on paper and
Pascal Maynard’s decklist
looks like a good starting point.
That one was Pierre Canali’s baby since the beginning. He advertised the deck by saying this: “I haven’t lost a single game ever with it on Magic Online. Not a single one. I won everything.”
Well, just for you to know, Pierre comes from the south of France. People there are quite strange, and one of the things they tend to do there is to exaggerate a little bit. Fortunately we’re accustomed to this, and his claim translates to a 50-55% win rate.
The deck is actually not bad. But most of his advantage comes from the fact that it’s an unknown quantity; when people expect Summoning Trap, the card is way worse. And the thing I hate the most with this deck is that it is still able to lose games after having searched up four or more lands with Primeval Titan… And that just doesn’t feel right.
Anyway, if you’re interested in that deck, Raphael Levy did go 5-1 on the Extended portion of Worlds, and the deck has room for improvement.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 3 Baneslayer Angel
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 4 Nest Invader
- 4 Primeval Titan
The others decks in our gauntlet were pretty much basic versions of known archetypes. We usually don’t have the best version for the non-blue decks. That’s pretty much logic; we don’t work as much as possible on decks that we won’t play for sure. And that’s one of the problem with testing with only two persons â€” the lack of time.
And that’s it. We had our Extended testing done fifteen days before the event. We had the exact decklists for all the decks, and we didn’t play a single game of Extended between then and the Worlds Day 3.
We mostly tested Standard using Magic Online. It was pretty much clear since the beginning that we would end up playing a blue control deck. Basically, we could have registered the 4 Preordain, 4 Mana Leak and 4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor two months before the World Championships.
The only question remaining was, “Which color goes with blue?” We dismissed the U/G decks quite early. Those are unable to go over a 40% win rate against a well-piloted Valakut. We tried everything possible in those colors, but with no results.
After that, there were only two possibilities: U/W and U/B.
Two possible decks, two players testing; easy as pie. We split the work. Thus, I got to work on U/B while Wafo took the U/W part of the equation.
In a sense, since I was the one who worked on U/B, Wafo ended up playing my deck in Worlds. That’s an achievement I’m really proud of. Admittedly, the U/B deck was so easy to build that three different test teams found the same decklist (us, The Czech, and Channel Fireball, through Gabriel Nassif). But still, Wafo played
We both played our distinct deck on Magic Online for ten days or so. And we reunited when I forced him to test U/B â€” that was about three days before our departure. It took only one single game from him to get on the U/B bandwagon. As soon as he cast his first Grave Titan, he was sold.
I’ll put there two MTGO Standard Daily Events where I played U/B control, just to show the first iterations of the deck:
Daily Event #1
(played on kuroro, my account)
Daily Event #2
(played on WatoO, Wafo’s account)
After that I thought that the deck was becoming a little bit too good to play in daily events where everyone can see the decklists. I did the last tuning in the two-man room and against Wafo or Antoine in casual.
My decklist, for reference:
The build of the deck is quite simple. It’s a regular U/W deck where the white cards are swapped for their black counterparts.
The pinpoint removal is a tad better in black with Disfigure and Doom Blade over Journey to Nowhere and Condemn. The mass removal is a lot worse, with Consume the Meek paling in comparison to Day of Judgment. The disruption for one mana is about the same in both decks, Spell Pierce is roughly as good as is Duress or Inquisition of Kozilek. And the manland is a tad better in U/W.
But when it comes to the kill card of the deck, UB has a real advantage. Grave Titan is just the best possible game-ender in Standard. It is so good that U/B decks only have to devote three slots to the kill, while UW has to play six, since the kill conditions in U/W are a lot more fragile.
The fact that we could play three more cards dedicated to disruption in the U/B list is the main reason that made us play U/B.
Concerning the sideboard, I still don’t know what Sorin Markov is doing there. We put that one in there at 10 p.m. the day before Worlds. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I don’t remember the reasons at all. Well, a fourteen-card sideboard is enough… That said, I would have felt a lot better if I’d had a Volition Reins or a Wurmcoil Engine.
Memoricide in the board is one of the key selling points of U/B over U/W. It makes the Valakut matchup
much easier to play. It doesn’t make the matchup better all the time, but it makes it a lot easier. Over the course of a long tournament like Worlds, you really need that leg up.
At the time, we didn’t think of the pure mirror as a possible matchup. After all, the deck wasn’t known prior to that, and who could imagine there would be that many U/B decks in the top 8? But the Memoricide got really useful in the mirror in an incidental way.
About the differences between Wafo’s list and mine: those can be explained quite easily. Basically, we have seventy-four cards in common, with some swapped in and out of the sideboard.
I chose to play Deprive in the board versus his Cancel just to have a slightly better game against other control decks, while Cancel is a tad better against ramp decks. I played Disfigure over Ratchet Bomb in the main deck to have a better Vampires matchup in game one. The 3-1 split on Inquisition of Kozilek and Duress is again due to the Vampires matchup.
The single real difference is the seventh Jace in his sideboard, while I have the fourth Disfigure. I believe that Wafo’s (relative) lack of playtesting with the deck caused that difference. Sure, you want to be able to play a Jace whenever possible against another control deck. That’s the defining card of any control matchup during the midgame.
you don’t have that many openings to get one down, and having Jaces clogging your hand is not the best thing… especially when playing one would just get Mana Leaked, and give your opponent an opportunity to resolve a Jace of their own. I still think that six is the optimal number, but this is based purely on experience and instinct.
My Disfigure was again due to the Vampire matchups; I guess I was quite obsessed with it. Those differences proved quite useful, since I played against three Vampires decks over the course of the tournament while Wafo didn’t play against a single one.
I don’t have much to say there. I did about one hundred drafts on Magic for a so-so result. Fortunately, I had Constructed to keep me afloat.
I watched a lot of drafts done by other players. Mainly Wafo’s drafts, but seeing as he has about a hundred Sky-Eel Schools and even more Stoic Rebuttals on Magic online, his drafts tend to be a bit boring to watch after a while…
I participated in two of theses and watched the rest.
To me, the most important thing in Scars of Mirrodin draft is the predominance of the Infect archetype and how you have to deal with it. You really want to be Infect, since that deck offers the best chance to go 3-0. However, this is true only if there are two or fewer players drafting Infect at the table. If there are more, you really want to be somewhere else.
So it’s critical while drafting to be able to go on Infect early in the draft, and even more critical to get out of it when needed. So you have to identify the pivotal cards in the first few packs that get you in or out of Infect. There’s no easy recipe to be able to do that. You need experience, and nothing helps better than that.
Also I really don’t want to be in white, ever. Statistically, white decks don’t go 3-0. I don’t have a good explanation to this; that’s just experience and feeling. But I’ve been drafting for long enough to be confident in my instinct on draft formats.
Yeah, three formats weren’t enough. The French team gave me the Legacy to prepare, too, since I was the only one on the team who practiced the format. Legacy is the only Constructed format I play outside of preparation for big tournaments; usually, I play once or twice a month in local tournaments.
The Legacy portion at Worlds is quite hard to predict. Between teams who simply use netdecks and those fortunate enough to have a specialist in them, it’s quite impossible to predict a metagame. Prior to the tournament, I thought that most players realized that Survival of the Fittest was the only
possible choice. Thus I chose to play a W/G Survival deck, very similar to the one
that won the StarCityGames.com Open in Richmond
. To me it was the only deck that had a positive matchup against the U/G version, which I thought would be the most played deck.
Well, that was a mistake. I underestimated the number of people who didn’t want to play Legacy even if they are forced to… And I underestimated it a
. Those people tend to pilot decks with which you don’t have to play Magic â€” that is to say two-land Belcher, Dredge, and (on a lesser note) ANT.
I should have gone for a more disruptive deck, but everyone makes mistakes.
I had another choice of deck possible for Legacy. I ended not playing that deck because I didn’t have enough time to test it much. That’s a deck designed by Sylvain Lauriol, the other great deck builder in France. Sylvain does not play too much in Pro events anymore since he owns a shop (Equinoxe 7 in Marseilles â€” which, incidentally, is a very nice shop) and that takes a lot of time. But he still plays Magic a lot and build great decks â€” like the one with which Pierre Canali managed to get a 6-0 record in Standard at Worlds. I try to contact him before every single big tournament, since his feedback can be really useful. Before Worlds he gave me a list, and that list should be really good now that Survival of the Fittest is banned.
And with that we get to the end of my preparation for Worlds.
Check back later to find out how Guillaume Matignon won Worlds and found himself in a tie for Player of the Year!