It’s been a while since I last wrote, I know.
I suppose everyone has slumps from time to time, where they fail to meet their goals and expectations. Since making the Top 8 in Grand Prix: Amsterdam, I’ve been in quite a slump, failing to make the second day at a number of Grand Prix and Pro Tournaments despite my best efforts. Not only couldn’t I bring myself to write about these tournaments, but I wasn’t inspired to write about much else. I have trouble writing when I’m not inspired; I worry that it’ll come across in my writing that I’m not totally into it, and I certainly wouldn’t want to mislead anyone with poorly thought-out strategy advice, so I keep my mouth shut for a while until I feel capable of contributing something useful again – even if it is just a story of a minor triumph hidden amongst a series of failures.
Heading into Pro Tour: Barcelona, I was on the verge of falling off the Pro Tour. I was unqualified for US Nationals and Worlds. I needed to earn three Pro Tour points in Barcelona in order to qualify for both tournaments. While not a tremendous feat to make top 128 in Barcelona, it was also no certainty. At any given tournament, luck can have the better of you. In the long run, I still believe that Magic is a game of skill, but there is no doubt in my mind that there is much luck in the short term. Jon Finkel 3-4 at Pro Tour: Tokyo and Ben Rubin repeated failures to make second day at the Pro Tour while winning multiple Masters events are both testaments to this.
I haven’t missed a regular Pro Tour ever, only missing one World Championships in 1997. In addition, I’ve been to every US Nationals since my first on in 1997, in which I finished 1st in the Standard portion with my now-famous red beatdown deck. Not qualifying for Nationals and Worlds would be a tremendous blow for me. I don’t need to win them all, as you’ve surely noticed – but I love the competition and it would be more than I could bear to have to sit at the sidelines and watch others battle it out.
So I packed my bags and hopped on a plane to Barcelona.
The first stop was the Masters Gateway tournament, a two-spot single elimination qualifier tournament for the Masters tournament. The format was Invasion block constructed, the exact same format as Pro Tour: Tokyo. I played a Black/Red deck in Tokyo, which I felt was quite good but suffered from being a bit too top-heavy, with Voids, Skizziks, etc. being crucial for victory and costing five mana. I opted this time for a Red/Green beatdown deck, which at first appeared to be a horrible choice for the field. The field was primarly composed of Gomar and Black/Red. It wasn’t quite as bad as it looked, however; while Black/Red was traditionally good against Red/Green, most of these Black/Red decks were tuned to beat control and ended up being horrible against Red/Green.
The tournament for me was quite uneventful. I smashed a Black/Red deck in the first round and in the second round was paired against a friend from Neutral Ground New York – Erik Kesselman. We were playing nearly identical decks and our match was made quite amusing by some overzealous judges. By the end of the match, Erik had received a game loss for dropping a Flametongue Kavu on the floor and I’d received a warning for my sleeves and was required to purchase new sleeves and resleeve my deck. Despite the free game win, Erik beat my face in and I spent the rest of the day drafting in preparation for the Pro Tour.
I was able to get in four practice drafts in the day and a half leading up to the PT. In three of them, I went 3-0 with Black/Red decks. In one other, I went 1-1 with a Red/Green/White deck. Not bad, really. I felt prepared for the tournament and I knew for sure that I could draft one deck archetype successfully and I had a few backup plans in case the cards for Black/Red didn’t show up.
Day 1, Draft 1
Good thing I had a backup plan.
I went through the entire first draft without seeing any good black cards, except for a Reckless Spite in the second set of Invasion packs that was simply not worth splashing in my Red/Green deck.
Red was such a powerhouse in Planeshift that I was happy to draft Red/anything, and this deck turned out quite well. Not only did I have a Kavu Monarch and a ton of high quality kavu to go along with him, but I had one of each battlemage, a number of gating creatures, and a Magma Burst out of Planeshift. I used two Fertile Grounds to accelerate to four mana and they were also useful for casting the offcolor kicker costs of the Thornscape and Thunderscape Battlemages, as well as using the tapping ability of Thornscape Apprentice.
2 Fertile Ground
2 Horned Kavu
3 Ancient Kavu
2 Explosive Growth
I was a bit nervous going into the first rounds, as I hadn’t had as much experience drafting this deck archetype as I had drafting others. My fears seemed well founded, too, as I lost in the first round to a Blue/Black/Red deck with Yawgmoth’s Agenda. Despite being able to double kicker my Thunderscape Battlemage in one game, killing his Agenda and knocking the rest of his cards out of his hand, he was still able to gain enough advantage out of the card to win the game and the match.
Luckily, my deck shaped up well in the following matches, running over a series of opponents and leaving me in a good position to make day 2 and my much needed top 128.
Day 1, Draft 2
This deck turned out a bit more like I was used to, with tons of removal and some crappy creatures to bring the beats. I often ended up with Black/Red decks like this, with powerful removal spells and lots of filler like Morgue Toads and Treva’s Attendants. After winning a number of practice drafts the day before with decks just like this, I knew that I could do the same with this deck, barring manascrew.
During the draft, I was feeding Tomi Hovi, who was feeding Steve OMS. Randy Buehler did coverage of our draft for the Sideboard Online which can be found at
http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=PTBAR01862dr2. Despite referring to my deck as "trashy," Randy provides a very good picture of how the draft went down.
1 Sulfur Vent
2 Ravenous Rats
2 Morgue Toad
2 Kavu Aggressor
2 Volcano Imp
4 Soul Burn
Unfortunately, manascrew got me and got me early. It was bound to happen with this type of deck. With four Soul Burns, I could have trouble killing anything without five mana on the table. This made it much more likely that I’d get manascrewed than if I were running a deck with all grizzly bears and scorching lavas.
In my first match against Steve OMS, it happened. I suffered from poor mana and lost to Steve’s green fatties. I won’t bore you with the details since you can read all about it on the Sideboard from Randy Buehler at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=PTBAR01859fm5a.
Despite my loss to Steve, I felt that I had a good deck and had quite a good shot at winning the rest with it. After an excruciating victory over David Grant, an Englishman wielding a Black/Red deck that happened to have Reckless Assault on the table every game, and a much easier defeat of Hector Fuentes from Spain and his Blue/White deck, I finished the day with a respectable record of 5-2, ready to compete with the 161 players (!) who also made Day 2.
Day 2, Draft 3
Once again, my plan to draft Red/Black was thwarted by a first pick Faerie Squadron, with the next best card in the pack being Kavu Climber. I picked up a Stormscape Apprentice quite early and went Blue/White from that point on. Blue/White also receives some great cards from Planeshift, so I was not at all disappointed to see my draft going in this direction. Aside from the Blue/White core, I ended up with an Agonizing Demise and a Death Bomb for removal and a Probe for library manipulation and discard.
Unfortunately for me, I knew there were plenty of powerful cards out there that I didn’t have. I was forced to pass a Pyre Zombie in the second round of invasion packs and a Magma Burst and Nemata, Grove Guardian in the Planeshift. With any luck, I could avoid those gamebreaking cards and pull out a 3-1 or 4-0 in the draft.
2 Ancient Spring
2 Shoreline Raider
Disciple of Kangee
This draft was a star studded one, with myself, Steven OMS, Alan Comer, and Trey Van Cleave, among others. None of these opponents were likely to make mistakes and they almost certainly had done their best to draft quality decks.
I had high hopes for my deck but I ended up going 2-2, defeating Trey Van Cleave and Jelgar Wiegersma from the Netherlands and losing to Steve OMS and Alan Comer. Both of my losses were feature matches on the Sideboard Online; you can read about my match with Steve OMS at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=PTBAR01833fm9b and with Alan Comer at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=PTBAR01822fm11.
Day 2, Draft 4
I was now out of contention for the top 8. That was disappointing, but I could still go 2-1 and make money. Olle Rade was feeding me in this draft and he jerked me around good, passing me a third pick Cinder Shade and a fifth pick Armadillo Cloak. I wasn’t sure which way to go until I settled on a Black/Red with a splash of Blue for Repulse (my only way to deal with Obsidian Acolyte) and Vodalian Serpent.
2 Lava Zombie
2 Bog Down
In the first round of this draft, I was smashed by Olle Rade’s Red/Green beatdown deck and then I lost in the second round as well. In the third round, I was playing for pride and I won a quick two against a nice fellow from Sweden.
I ended up 1-2 with a fine Black/Red deck, which was quite a disappointment, leaving me in 73rd place, just out of the money.
Still, despite my lackluster finish, I was invigorated by the experience. Not only did I pick up enough PT points to qualify for US Nationals and Worlds, but I was "in it" for quite some time. I had a shot at the Top 8 up until my final draft on Day 2, and I was fighting for a money finish almost all of the way until the end. I didn’t win, sure, but I drafted and played better than I have in years and I feel good about the upcoming tournaments.
Until next time,
King of the Qualifiers