Chicago was the next stop on my marathon of Magic events. I’d been to three different countries in the previous weeks, traveling to Sydney, Australia, Florence, Italy, and Dallas, TX in search of that elusive win. I was in search of Pro Tour points and prize money, of course, but mostly I was after the thrill of the competition. When it comes down to it, that’s what keeps me going. Things don’t always work out and losing is never much fun, but the feeling that I get when I sit down at the first round of a Pro Tour or Grand Prix, or when I’m playing the last two rounds of a tournament and I know that I have to win them both in order to make top 8… that’s an incredible feeling.
I felt good about Chicago, both the Masters Gateway tournament and the Pro Tour. While some people feel that Sealed Deck is not skill based, I have a pretty good record at it (I’ve joked to friends that it’s the last format that I’m still good at) on the first day of Grand Prix tournaments and I feel like I have as much control over my fate in Sealed Deck as I do in Draft or Constructed events. The first three rounds of the Masters Gateway were Sealed Deck, with the last three being draft.
I opened my Sealed Deck and discovered that it was of mediocre quality; I had a few bombs, but the deck also had some fatal flaws. After the event, I copied my decklist so that I could list the contents and what I built, something that I find to be a useful exercise… but in the half a week since, I’ve lost it so we’ll have to make do from my memory. My black and green were not very strong at all, although it was remotely possible to try some 5-color green type configuration with Harrow and Quirion Trailblazer or some such nonsense. But there were so few quality green spells that it seemed silly to play the heavy amount of Forests required to allow Harrow and similar cards to get you your other colors. In the end, I settled on a Blue/White/Red deck with Power Armor and Obliterate as my bombs. After adding every quality blue, white, and red card to the deck, I was left with 21 cards, so I played 19 land, which worked well. I needed seven Islands and seven Plains to run my two main colors, and I wanted five Mountains for my five red spells: two Ancient Kavu, two Scorching Lavas, and an Obliterate. Despite playing both blue and white I had no tappers, which made big creatures like dragons especially fearsome, leaving Shackles and Obliterate as the only solutions to a gamebreaking creature like Rith, the Awakener or Sabertooth Nishoba. Still, I felt I had a good chance with the deck and I think I built it well.
The first two rounds went fairly smoothly. Obliterate turned out to be amazing in my deck, as with nineteen land I often went straight to eight mana. Generally, if I drew the card, I could cast it and I was often in a position to do so (i.e., my opponents had better stuff than I did). Knowing that it was coming, I was able to recover much better than my opponents and take control of the game after that. Still, both matches were close, coming down to the third game.
Then came my third match. I needed to win this in order to get to the booster draft, halfway there to the grand prize: A spot in the Masters tournament. The first game went very long and I beat my opponent with only a few cards left in my deck. In the second game, I got a poor draw and my opponent ran me down. On one of the final turns of the second game, the judges called time. For those of you who don’t know, single elimination has some strange rules governing this particular situation. Since we were 1-1 and time was up, we had to play a 3rd game in which the first change in life total decided the match. If I damage my opponent first, I win the match and vice versa. Similarly, if I gain a life somehow, I also win immediately. My opponent and I each sideboarded about fifteen cards. I had a surprising number of early blue and white drops, adding a Sunscape Apprentice, a Vodalian Merchant, replacing my Ancient Kavus with Rogue Kavus, taking out almost every spell that costs four mana (I left one in, which was a mistake). After replacing all of the good spells in our decks with cheap, crappy spells, we shuffled up. I had the advantage, since I was to play first.
I draw my opening hand and it is Island, Faerie Squadron, Vodalian Merchant, Traveler’s Cloak, and some other blue spells. I keep. He keeps his. I play an Island and a Faerie Squadron without the kicker. He plays a Plains and says done. During my upkeep, he casts Holy Day, fogging me for the turn. I draw a Scorching Lava and say done, not having a second land. He plays a second land and casts a Benalish Trapper. I draw a second Island (if I draw a Mountain here I just win with the Scorching Lava, or if I drew any land last turn) play a Vodalian Merchant, draw an Island and discard a spell that will never be cast. I now have a third land in hand and a Traveler’s Cloak. If he doesn’t have a second creature, I can rush him and win. If he has to tap out of his white mana in order to cast another creature, I can Traveler’s Cloak up the Vodalian Merchant and come across for the kill. Things are looking good, I think. In addition, if I just draw a Mountain I can burn him out with the Scorching Lava. On his turn, he plays a Forest and casts Wandering Stream. He gains six life and I lose the match.
That was my Masters Gateway experience.
Pro Tour – Chicago
So I didn’t win the Masters Gateway tournament. That’s fine, I didn’t really expect to, although I felt that I had a better chance than most. Still, despite my failure to tear a path into the Masters tournament through the Gateway, I felt very good about the upcoming Pro Tour.
Fires of Yavimaya decks seemed to be all the rage and I had a deck that had a huge advantage against them. It’s the deck that I played at States and I’d had a great deal of practice with it sense. I understood the control-on-control matchup better than most, and Eric Kesselman and I made super sure the day before that we had things figured out. In essence, if two control decks get matched up and their route to victory is to kill the opponent with a creature that they cast (as opposed to winning with Millstone or Nether Spirit), then we were playing to deck the opponent from turn 1. Let the opponent outdraw you slightly and then keep up… between Story Circle, creature elimination, countermagic, neither of you was going to kill the other person, and it was going to come down to decking. We tested it and tested it, and sure enough, the strategy worked.
Not the most glamorous deck, but it was very effective nonetheless. I played it out in the open before the tournament because I was the only one of my teammates who was playing the deck, and I didn’t think that it would alter many people’s minds. It was outstanding against creature decks, could handle other creature-based control decks as long as they didn’t know "the tech," and had problems with Nether-Go, U/W Millstone, and CounterRebels. I saw that players from France and the Netherlands were playing CounterRebels, but I didn’t know how widespread it would be. So after smashing people in playtesting, including Mike Pustilnik (who later went on to top 8), I wrote out my decklist and got a good night’s sleep, ready for the Pro Tour to start.
Having played the deck before, I knew that I had to play at an extremely fast pace in order to finish my matches. The worst case scenario was me getting stuck in the draw bracket, facing off against Rebel decks and the other control decks. In my first round, I’m paired against Igor Frayman, playing Green/White beats – an excellent matchup for me. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t with me. I had an opening hand of six land and a Dismantling Blow, which I mulliganed to five land and a Story Circle. I kept that one, and drew a Blinding Angel shortly thereafter. With no way to protect the Story Circle, I tapped out to cast a Blinding Angel, which would give him two things to deal with in order to kill me instead of one. Igor played his second Bird of Paradise and cast Armageddon. With two Birds, I was forced to keep the Angel on defense until I could play some more white mana sources, but those were shortly Armageddoned away as well. The second game went more according to plan as I smashed him in the face with Blinding Angel. With only ten minutes left for the third game, I knew that it was doubtful that I could win the game, but I had to try. We shuffled and played fast and I never had two mana untapped during my main phase the entire game. If I ever did, I would have been able to cast Tsabo’s Web and win. Instead, I died to double Rishadan Port, double Tangle Wire, and Armageddon. Not the most promising of starts.
My second match was against another Green/White beatdown deck and this one went smoothly, with me winning two games in about twenty-five minutes. Then, everything fell apart. My third match was against CounterRebels. I miraculously pull out a win in the first game, but lost a close second game. I would rate CounterRebels as THE slowest deck in the field, between searching, shuffling, and its control elements. As hard as I tried, we were unable to complete the third game and I ended up in the draw bracket with a 1-1-1 record.
Over the course of the next several rounds, I got paired against a number of crazy matchups including U/W Millstone, Fires with Obliterate, and a U/B Nether-Go deck with a splash of red for Hammer of Bogardan and Urza’s Rage. If that last one isn’t my nightmare matchup, I don’t know what is. I played to the bitter end, however (and it WAS bitter), and ended the day with a 2-3-2 record. The end of the day left me drained, tired and frustrated, and most of all confused – because I believed (and still believe) that I made an excellent deck choice and I played it well enough that I had a good chance of success at this tournament. Maybe with some distance from the event I’ll be able to figure out exactly what I did wrong (besides getting paired up against CounterRebels and ending up in the draw bracket, and getting a horrible draw in the first round against an amazing matchup).
So that’s my story, a story of another weekend full of promise slipping away from me. I’m recovered from being frustrated and I’m back to being hopeful. I know that the more I play Magic the better I’ll get, and I play in so many high level events (Grand Prixs and Pro Tours) that during the week I’m exhausted from all the playing and traveling. I can’t really complain as I’ve had some breaks in my past, including PT-LA 98, Grand Prix – DC, and Grand Prix – Seattle, as well as a few modest showings in team Grand Prixs and individual Pro Tours.
Sooner or later, I’ll be at the right place at the right time again, and you’ll be the first to hear about it. Until next time,
King of Beatdown