With very little preparation and very little motivation coming into Worlds this year, I didn’t expect much from the tournament. Even after thirteen years of Pro Tours, there are some lessons you tend to forget…
I got to Tokyo two days before the tournament started and met the other Frenchies at the New Koyo, one of the cheapest and most comfortable hostels in Japan (if you ever go to Tokyo with a limited budget, this is the place you want to stay:
I didn’t have a clue about what I was going to play in either Standard or Extended. I had in mind to play Valakut, unless anyone could convince me to play a better deck. Antoine and Oli were playtesting W/U, Guillaume and Guillaume (Wafo-Tapa and Matignon) were on U/B, Pierre Canali had an Elf deck in his hands, and Julien Perez, our national champion, was rolling with Mono-White Quest. Yann Massicard and I were still undecided.
I didn’t feel like playing control (I rarely do), and the Mono-White Quest deck looked really impressive. It was dominant on Magic Online a while ago but hasn’t been very popular lately. I liked how it faired in game 1 against most control decks, especially U/B, which doesn’t have much mass removal maindeck (one or two Consume the Meeks max).
When I don’t know what to play and it feels like every deck has the same chances to win, I tend to trust the person who trusts in his deck the most. Julien felt his deck was the best and didn’t see a good reason not to play it. When talking to the others, they all felt something was flawed with their choice. That could mean two things about Julien’s choice:
1- He hasn’t tested enough to find which matchup is really awful or to see that his deck is just not good enough, or
2- his deck is actually the right deck to play.
To make sure of that, I needed to play the deck myself and feel it. So many times, I hear people praising their brew, but when it’s in my hands, I realize they just personally loved it because it’s their baby. However, it ends up not being any good after all.
The fact that I won 80% of my test games made me sure of my choice.
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Kor Outfitter
- 4 Kor Skyfisher
- 3 Stoneforge Mystic
- 2 Student of Warfare
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 4 Memnite
- 4 Glint Hawk
- 20 Plains
I loved our sideboard plan against Valakut, likely to be the most popular deck of the tournament.
Valakut’s plan is to ramp up to six mana while sweeping your board with Pyroclasm. Your sideboard aims at foiling both plans. Your strategy remains the same, managing to equip one of your men with an Argentum Armor, but while doing so, Leonin Arbiter keeps your opponent from ramping, and Refraction Trap keeps them from killing your board (and protects the Arbiter).
(As for the rest of the “ins and outs”:
The deck looks a lot like a combo deck. Some of its draws can’t be stopped – a turn 3 Armor is likely to win you the game every time. And just like every combo deck, it has its bad draws where you won’t be able to do anything because you’re stuck with only one piece in hand.
The thing is I don’t think the amount of games you’re going to lose because you fizzle is greater than the amount of games you’ll lose by fizzling with any other deck – for example, when you don’t get green mana with Valakut or your fourth or fifth land in U/W. It’s just a lot more obvious with Quest, since you won’t be doing anything while waiting for the rest of the pieces to fall into places.
I’m not going to elaborate too much on Mono-White Quest because Standard isn’t going to be played for a while. I hope the sideboard plan above won’t need much explanation. If it does, I’ll gladly answer on the forums.
By Wednesday, we had moved to a hotel in Chiba, a little closer to the tournament. By the time we had everything ready, Pierre Canali, Pro Tour Columbus ‘05 champion and my roommate for the week, had turned into a zombie. Although he didn’t want to eat my brains, he looked sick enough for me to let him rest alone in the room. I also didn’t want to risk being sick for a whole tournament, as it kind of compromises your chances. With no rooms available in the hotel, I improvised a bed with blankets and pillows on Yann and Julien’s floor. As you can imagine, I didn’t get the kind of rest needed to start a marathon tournament.
There was also one thing I didn’t expect. The deck I was going to run is extremely hard to play. I don’t play very fast in general, but I can’t remember the last time I drew a match. At Worlds, I finished my three first rounds in extra turns… and I’m pretty sure I could’ve won two of the matches I lost there.
The deck is so tight on mana, and you have so many decisions to make every turn. A single mistake – an Ornithopter you don’t play on turn 1 or 2, an equipment you don’t play or attach correctly – everything can cost you the game. I don’t think I had played the deck enough to be aware of all the little things that can make you lose if you don’t do them right.
Lack of rest, motivation, and preparation… not a good mix for maximizing your chances.
3-3 at the end of Day 1, an average score, meaning: bad score in a 400-person event.
Going into Day 2, I was either aiming for a 6-0 or a 5-1 score in the draft portion in order to stay alive in the tournament. The thing was – I had such a bad season. I broke a streak of ten PT money finishes when I failed to make Day 2 in San Diego and didn’t make Day 2 in San Juan either… There was such a long way to go to make money (Top 75); add to the mix that I really dislike the Scars of Mirrodin Draft format, and you have a recipe for failure. Not fighting for anything also means no pressure…
Pierre felt a little better on Thursday, and I decided I’d rather be sick for the next two days than freeze on Yann’s floor again (fortunately, I didn’t get sick).
I started Day 2 with a lot more rest, still without any pressure or motivation of any sort. Here is the first deck I drafted:
That’s typically the kind of deck I love drafting. Some early game defense, reliable sources of card advantage, some potentially devastating combos, and late-game finishers. This deck had it all. You might think that the Engulfing Slagwurm is a bit awkward. The deck can support three Forests easily, which allow you to activate the Sylvok Replica as well. You usually buy yourself enough time to get at least two of them by the time you get to seven mana. Or else you can still dig for them. The deck needed a reliable win condition, and it’s far from being the worst.
I 2-1ed with the deck, losing the finals against Joel Calafell’s fast R/W deck. But what I’ll remember from that draft is how I embarrassed myself against LSV in round one. Man, did I play that match poorly… almost as poorly as most of my games during Day 1. Fortunately (for me), his R/G deck couldn’t deal with Slagwurm and its blue copy at the same time.
I don’t consider myself a “bad player.” I believe that when I’m in perfect shape, when I’m focused, motivated, and my mind is sharp, I truly deserve all my W’s. However, when I start playing loose… I hate myself so much. It’s like I don’t realize I’m playing at Worlds. I’m just playing a friendly game as though I’m going to be able to take back my bad plays. When you realize you’re not playing for fun, it’s already too late.
My second draft was a pile that I hoped could 2-1. I was that close from dropping at 0-2.
“What are you going to do now anyway? What about tomorrow? Just give it a shot…”
Alright… Just one more round. I played against this cool Danish player in the third round. I laughed about how much I wanted to lose that round, so I didn’t have to get ready for the next day in Extended. He crushed me game one, and I saw an end to my misery…
However, fate had another plan for me. I proceeded to win game 2, and he got mana-screwed in game 3. “Come on, are you kidding me???” I told him. After I won that round and after taking a step back, I probably sounded so much like an a**… but he understood I didn’t mean anything wrong and that I didn’t think we were fighting for much anyway.
3-3 again… Worlds is usually a tournament I do well in, but the whole year had just been a disappointment. And with the poor level of play I was offering, I didn’t exactly expect anything either.
…Then I started realizing something. My lack of motivation came from the fact that it was unlikely for me to level up this season. I had sixteen points coming in, and I would need to Top 8 to level up (to a relevant level). My Hall of Fame status grants me a Level 5 status lifetime (same as having 25 points). Since my induction in December 2006, I never really had to use the invite to the PT; I was qualified on points anyway. I even followed up with two great seasons… and there I was, potentially not finishing with the twenty points needed to be Level 4 and to qualify automatically for every stop the next season. As Martin Juza would say: “Seriously???”
Even though I would still be qualified for the next two PTs at least, thanks to the Level 4 status invite and my Top 32 finish in Amsterdam, I needed the four points. I needed to finish in the Top 100… man, does that sound lame now… Do you really go to a tournament to finish in the Top 100?? I was starting Day 3 in 191th place, and that’s all I was playing for. Pride. I was playing for the Pride.
Motivation is a good thing. I guess you can artificially boost your morale. You can’t do that with preparation. This time, I wanted to trust Pierre Canali. He had 6-0ed the Extended portion with his Elf deck, and I liked the deck he wanted to play. After a couple of hours of tuning and tweaking the deck and sideboard – I know this is what you should do weeks
the tournament – here is what we ended up with:
- 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
A deck similar to this was played in Amsterdam by Sam Black, Brian Kowal, and probably more. The main difference is between Iona and Emrakul. While it’s arguable that Iona is castable, it’s in no way as good as Emrakul on the board (thanks Dr. Obv).
Maximizing the odds to hide an Eldrazi or hit one on a Trap is what makes the deck so strong and stable, and that’s why the whole package is necessary (four Emrakuls). The bad part is when you draw one or multiple. I don’t think there’s a big difference between having a nine-mana Angel and a fifteen-mana Eldrazi in hand. If you manage to cast a Titan and reach your ninth mana, that means you’ve already won anyway…
The only thing I feel the deck lost since Amsterdam is its bad matchups. The only matchup that worried me was the Valakut matchup. It’s pretty much a race to who gets there first, and it’s very dependent on how much Valakut is going to disrupt your plan. I’m not able to give you numbers on how the matchup goes, but I’m quite confident it’s probably even.
As for the other matchups, I didn’t feel worried at all. I liked our sideboard against Faeries with the alternate win with Great Sable Stag. The matchup against creatures is pretty much one-sided, as you’ll often be able to cast an Emrakul before anything bad happens, and Day of Judgment is there to back you up. No one really expects you to wrath, and it’s particularly devastating against Elves and in the mirror. I should probably have added a third one.
You lose when your opponent keeps you from reaching your sixth mana or prevents you from activating your hideaway lands by killing every single mana producer you have. Some decks can do that. Jund can do that. Faeries can do that with a well-timed Consume the Meek. Naya can do that if it can get Cunning Sparkmage online early enough. Control can do that, but you have a lot more time to recover and get your plan in motion.
So I needed to pull out a 5-1 score or better…
And guess what… I did it! Navigating my way, beating Naya, Faeries, Mirror, Demigod Jund, Elves, and losing to Jund.
70th place, 4 PT Points.
Total Points for the 2010 season: 20.
Pride was safe… Or at least, not lost at the bottom of the ocean or anywhere so deep that no one can ever find it again…
That concludes the season for me. I’m now going to take a little break away from the game to put everything back into perspective. This year’s disappointment has taught me important lessons that I have to take into consideration when preparing for the next season.
Thanks to everyone for supporting me, thanks for reading, and see you around soon!