The look in Kai’s eyes.
That look alone was worth the twenty years it took to get here.
Part One of my Journey into Nyx tournament report can be found here, which details our preparation for the event.
Today, the tournament itself…
A lot of people get nervous just before a Pro Tour, but this is one of those areas I think you get a bit of a tolerance to, over time. I hadn’t actually
tested the day before, taking the day to relax and recharge instead. My strategy was set. At this point, further work would offer seriously diminished
returns while using up much-needed energy.
All that remained to figure out was how to trim my sixteen-card sideboard down to fifteen:
My options were basically cut Gods Willing, cut a Boon Satyr, cut an Arbor Colossus, cut Feast of Dreams, or move a Read the Bones to the maindeck (in
place of the second Banishing Light). Reid Duke was confident I wanted the maindeck Read the Bones option.
“You won’t regret it.” – Reid Duke
Sitting down for the first draft, there weren’t a ton of familiar faces. Conley Woods across the table, Bryan Upham (a local RIW player), but by and by,
I was G/B from the get-go. The draft began with the Golden Hind vs Nessian Game Warden. I had preferred the Game Warden, but Jelger Wiegersma had drafted
green the most in the Pantheon house and to great success. He said Golden Hind, and my gut said to trust him on this one. Obviously passing a Golden Hind
makes it harder to get the quantity of green you want to support the Game Warden anyway, but looking back there’s no question I made the right call.
The black just kept coming in Journey into Nyx, which was a very promising sign that I would receive plenty of black in pack three, Theros, where it’s at its
best. One observation I had made about JiNX-BotG-Theros draft was the special properties of some of the colors.
Black – While black was nowhere near the powerhouse it had been in Theros only, it was still quite good (probably the third best color). The third pack,
Theros, is so good for black that it heavily influences the importance of signals. If you are getting cut out of black, you would do well to adjust and move
on. Sure, you can fight for it and it doesn’t necessarily mean your draft will trainwreck, but if you aren’t seeing black in pack one, don’t expect it to come.
The flipside to this, of course, is that if you are getting the signal to get into black, it is well worth paying heed. If people are passing you lots of
black in Journey into Nyx, you can expect it will likely continue in Theros where it will be worth much more. It’s also very possible to switch into
black even if you have hooked someone on your left into the color before you knew you wanted to switch.
Red – The anti-black, red is exactly the opposite. One of the two weakest colors, drafting red is all about pack two, Born of the Gods. If you pass good red
cards, you are going to get cut so hard out of Born of the Gods. Taking the only good red card out of a pack is stronger than usual. Taking the best red
card when the second-best card is also red is particularly dangerous.
What if you are cut in pack one? Let’s say you first-pick a red card, but then see zero more good ones. Does that mean get out of red? Hell no! That’s
perfect! If you can stick to drafting basically all white cards, or maybe all black cards, pack two will be a delight. The people on your right cut red for
you! That’s all you could ever hope for, since that means the people on your left are unlikely to be in red, leaving lots of high-pick red BotG cards for
If drafting black is all about asking permission from the drafter on your right, playing nice (or cutting the throat of the guy on your left), drafting red
is all about slitting the throat of the drafter on your right. In fact, too many non-red drafters on your right is dangerous, since it just takes passing
one good red card to set yourself up to be the red drafter on the right.
No one wants to be the red drafter on the right.
A funny thing happens because of the fear of being the red drafter on the right. Often, two great red cards in a pack will go later than usual, since
everyone fears that if they take one, the next person over will take the other (and they will generally be right). This can result in tables where the red
drafters tend to clump. Yeah, you don’t want to be the red drafter on the right, but red is so good in Born of the Gods that if red is underdrafted at
the table, you can still do all right with all the second-best red cards.
Green – Green is good in all three packs, very deep, and never goes that wrong. It’s probably the safest color to draft, and probably second-best overall
(though many think it’s the best), and while there are a lot of different types of green decks you can draft (Self-Mill, Five-Color Green, G/W Heroic,
Green Devotion, Dinosaurs + Removal, U/G Tempo, etc), if you just pick the good cards, you can go pretty far.
White – The best color, with only green close to it. There are a lot of ways to draft white, but generally speaking I think the aggressive, cheaper cards
are just excellent. Akroan Mastiff might be the most underrated Journey into Nyx common; the card is shockingly good in this format. I generally want to
draft white whenever possible, being a fan of all four white color combinations (less so for W/G than the others).
One unusual quirk about drafting white in Journey into Nyx is that while the other colors have an all-star that is head-and-shoulders above the rest:
White’s best commons are much closer together in power level, being hotly debated even still. I’ve heard arguments for each of the following six cards to
be the best white common:
Blue – My least favorite color to draft in this block, it’s just not particularly deep and I feel like it’s slightly over-drafted. I’m not much into U/R
(unless I have Keranos) because of the lack of synergy between most of the cards. I’m also not really into U/B (since both black and blue are weak in Born of
the Gods). U/W is excellent, however, and U/G seems to generally work out pretty well. Both of those colors synergize well with the blue cards and are deep
in all three packs.
As I said, I started in green from the gate, and was passed a lot of black. This suggested pack three would be kind to me. Unfortunately, the drafters on my
right switched into black (or possibly just didn’t totally agree with me on what the best black commons were in Journey into Nyx, making it look open).
Fortunately, I got plenty of green and managed to cobble together a respectable collection of green creatures and black removal with a good curve. I didn’t
have that many bombs, but my average power level was quite high, with ten quality removal spells, Golden Hind, Voyaging Satyr, Nessian Asp, and so on.
Recounting Limited matches has never really been my passion, so suffice to say, it was three up, three down, with my opponents generally winning the die
rolls, but generally mulliganing more than me.
I’ll take it!
Round 1: Manohar, KARTHIK
Round 2: Brady, Hal
Round 3: Upham, Bryan
Going 3-0 in the first draft feels like the biggest freeroll when my normal Top 8 path is basically to 2-1 each draft and go 8-1-1 in
Constructed. Time to get down to business and battle some Constructed. I knew my deck inside and out, and I was confident in the choice for this field.
Here’s my final list:
- 2 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
A lot of people are thrown for a loop by this style of deckbuilding, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. The theme is just playing the best cards at
each spot on my curve. Michael Flores was pushing this style of deckbuilding a few years ago, such as with his Naya Lightsaber deck that Andre Coimbra used
to win Worlds. I think somewhere along the way he kind of lost the path a little and started getting fancy again, forgetting about the power this method can bring.
This is actually the same method I used to build the W/B Midrange deck that Paul Rietzl and I played in Dublin last year. How did we end up with a curve
that went all the way from Soldier of the Pantheon up to Elspeth? This style of midrange deck isn’t about getting the perfect curve every game. It’s about
playing the cards that generate the most value as often and as reliably as possible.
As for this specific Junk deck, I am still a big fan of it though I haven’t tested since the PT. While Polukranos was good for me in the event, I expect
the field to shift quite a bit, with a lot more BUG (and more of the Junk decks being good-stuff-based, not just Eidolon of Blossoms-based). As a result,
going forward, I would suggest trying two Reaper of the Wilds instead.
I would also probably replace the Gods Willing in the sideboard with another Read the Bones. There were already a lot of attrition-based decks, and now
there will be even more. Gods Willing is less good when people know about it, and Thoughtseize will be even more popular than it already was.
My first Constructed opponent was none other than Reid Duke. I’m not sure anyone prepared for this event as much as Reid did, and I knew Reid was going to
kick ass in this tournament. I also knew he was on BUG, which I had found to be a favorable matchup, but you always sort of wonder when you hear teammates
you respect say the opposite. They hadn’t played it nearly as much, but what if I was wrong?
Round 4: Duke, Reid
In the first game, Thoughtseize let me set up the next few turns to make things as awkward as possible for Reid. He drew a bit too much black removal, which actually
matches up poorly against Elspeth (leaves three tokens behind) and Fleecemane Lion (which I wait until I have mana to protect it to play it, not making it
monstrous until Reid tries to kill it, drawing a second removal spell). The miser’s Read the Bones just added to the cumulative effect that eventually let
me ultimate Elspeth. He managed to kill my first few waves, but another Elspeth quickly finished Reid off.
In game two, Reid had a quick Ashiok while I had a double Fleecemane Lion draw. I debated not playing my second one, but I just wasn’t putting enough pressure
on Reid and felt that risking Bile Blight was my best chance.
(Not 100% sure on the sideboard, as it varies so much from game to game. I usually board out all four Caryatids, but the number of Silence the Believers I
keep in varies a lot. One or two Polukranos and a Banishing Light are both reasonable candidates to cut, though I would definitely want the Banishing Light
on the draw to relieve pressure from Ashiok. Gotta keep ’em guessing.)
Game two was surprisingly close, given how long it seemed like I was dead. I gave Reid a pretty good fight, but eventually succumbed to the Sphinx. For the third game, I boarded in a Silence the Believers for a Caryatid. I didn’t come out that fast, but I just kept pacing him, getting in damage where I could, and tried
to sculpt the game into a place where the Arbor Colossus that I was holding for twelve turns could come down and take over. Eventually, I ran Reid out of
removal and a Thoughtseize ensured the coast was clear. Sphinx is not nearly as scary as people make it out to be.
Round 5: Thomason, Timothy
Thomason was on White Weenie, with Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Vanguard of Brimaz, Spear of Heliod, Launch the Fleet, Gods Willing, Favored Hoplite, and
Glimpse the Sun God.
Our match was relatively uneventful. He drew too much land in one game, and the other was dominated by me having Brimaz while keeping his off the table.
These white decks are surprisingly not vulnerable to Drown in Sorrow, and I generally don’t even bring it in. It is so easy for them to get their threats
out of range of it, and it’s not like I can even get a two-for-one very often.
Round 6: Rietzl, Paul
Paul is an absolutely phenomenal player and definitely headlining my Hall of Fame ballot this year. He was on BUG Control, like the rest of the other
Channel Fireball team, albeit one with maindeck Ashioks and Thoughtseizes.
The climax of our match was a series of Silence the Believers on Paul’s Sphinxes, running Paul out of cards. Silence the Believers is a funny one against
BUG, as it is so bad for so long, but can do some pretty awesome things if the game goes long enough. Generally speaking, if I’m on the BUG side of this
matchup, I would not want to have to use two Sphinx at the same time. So much can go wrong.
It was just round six, but the look Paul gave me was that look. I can’t even tell you what it feels like to have a player of Paul’s caliber look at you with
a look that suggests he would bet on you in this tournament.
Round 7: Ellis, Jason
Ellis and I met in the feature match area for what would be the second of my eight feature matches in the Swiss rouns. He was on Mono-Black Aggro, a favorable
matchup for me but one that was capable of coming out so blisteringly fast, at times, that there would be some games I just couldn’t compete. I have lots of
really great blockers, so as long as I can keep Agent of Fates off the table and not lose to fliers, I would be in good shape.
Jason won the die roll, coming out at full speed with a Tormented Hero on one, then a Gnarled Scarhide and another Tormented Hero on two! With my second land
coming into play tapped and no Drown in Sorrows in my maindeck, this was going to be a tough one. Jason kept the aggression at maximum, deploying a Master
of Feasts on his turn. Sure, I’d get extra cards, but my bottleneck was mana. I didn’t last much longer, and we were on to game two.
Game two saw a much slower, Thoughtseize-oriented draw by Ellis. Drown in Sorrow gave me a nice edge, then I rode a Brimaz to victory, while using tons of
spot removal on his biggest threats.
In the third game, Ellis curved out with Tormented Hero, Brain Maggot, and Herald of Torment. With the Maggot taking my Drown in Sorrow, I relied on Fleecemane Lion
to hold down the fort. Master of Feasts was next to the party, which drew me an extra card before I used an instant-speed removal spell on it.
Ellis followed up with another Master of the Feast, and then a Herald of Torment on the Tormented Hero, letting him put some serious damage on me. I had an
instant-speed answer to the Hero, but the Master got through. I still had a lot of life to work with, but I already had enough extra cards to make it worth
trading my Elspeth for the Master (since the Herald of Torment was able to finish her off). Once things had quieted down, I was able to use the extra cards
to remove all of Ellis’s threats and finish him off with a Lion.
Round 8: Mengucci, Andrea
Mengucci had been on a tear, winning the first seven King of the Hill matches in a row. With 8-0 on the line, I had to face Mengucci’s Naya deck.
An early Destructive Revelry on my Banishing Light put me on the back foot. Eventually, we reached a key moment in Game One where I knew I had to Hero’s
Downfall the Xenagos, then cast a Sylvan Caryatid. So, first I cast Courser of Kruphix, revealing a temple. I realized if I played the Temple I wouldn’t be
able to play the Caryatid. Then I realized, I wasn’t supposed to play the Courser, I was supposed to Hero’s Downfall the Xenagos…
Mengucci then had the mana to ultimate his Polis Crusher and cast a Stormbreath Dragon I knew he had, meaning I was taking eleven and my Courser was
getting destroyed by the Polis Crusher trigger. This was disappointing, but at least Mengucci couldn’t resist ultimating the Crusher to kill my Courser
instead of his Stormbreath Dragon to do a couple points of damage. In retrospect, the extra damage would have been enough to kill me.
At least I had Elspeth to kill the two big monsters, but no question I would be under a lot of pressure due to my newly low life total. I knew Mengucci had
a Lightning Strike from Courser, but I soul-read him for Magma Jet (which it turned out he had just one). I sent my Brimaz into his Xenagos, which would
force him to chump with a Caryatid, making his burn plan not work. He was so deeply on the burn-me-out plan, he let Xenagos die. After combat, I followed
up with a Courser of Kruphix to go up to six.
We proceeded to fight a little Elspeth battle that eventually slid my way. Brimaz gave me a pretty big advantage and eventually a Silence the Believers let
me attack with my team. Mengucci made a bunch of blocks, then on my end step played a Lightning Strike on my Courser. Unfortunately, my Courser had been
blocked by a Sylvan Caryatid, not a Soldier token, making it a waste. To avoid tilting further, Mengucci packed it in and went to game two.
Destructive Revelry was so good in game one that I knew there would be no way Andrea would have anything other than the maximum number of Revelries. He probably
thought I had a lot of Banishing Lights. By sideboarding out all of my targets, he would be left with dead cards. It’s dicey, not having access to the
Coursers for lifegain, but they aren’t exactly the best attackers against Naya anyway. I certainly don’t always board out the Coursers, but it felt like
the right thing to do here.
Game two was a slower, quieter game. Mengucci was threat-light and had a lot of reactive cards, giving me time to set up. We fought a lot of the classic
Elspeth battles, but Brimaz proved why it is the best card in the deck against Naya. The combination of pressure plus black removal is just so good against
the fat monsters.
At one point, I made a decision to not kill Polis Crusher precombat, letting it eat my Brimaz. My thinking was that he had just scryed a card to the top
and I didn’t want to lose to Stormbreath Dragon. Unfortunately, Mengucci had kept a Banishing Light. This meant that I had to Silence the Believers the
Crusher anyway, after Mengucci made it monstrous.
Fortunately, I topdecked an Elspeth on the next turn.
Better lucky than good.
After a quick dinner, I called it a night early. There would be plenty of time to think about all the possibilities after the tournament was over.
Round 9: Utter-Leyton, Josh
The Day Two draft was a little bizarre. Wrapter and I were both 8-0, and as the only undefeateds, knew we would face each other round one. This made for a
strange dynamic during the draft, as hate-drafting became far more important than normal.
When we first sat down, it looked like Josh was going to be on my right, feeding me. It was quickly revealed that they had laid the packs down backwards.
Wrapter was to be on my left. I was to feed him. I didn’t set out to trainwreck his draft. It was at the front my mind that he was my opponent, to be sure,
but I mostly just did my thing and tried to stay out of the chaos happening on my right.
Wrapter thought I was wrecking him, passing him double Starfish before blue completely dried up. In reality, the only real hate-drafting I did was
snatching a Polukranos, World Eater away from Josh. I felt a little bad about having to hurt his draft this way, but as it turned out, he hate-drafted my
Brimaz, so I guess we’re even.
Our match was a pretty interesting battle, with our first two games being split in relatively drawn-out removal/trick tactics. The third game was a total
blowout, however, with a Herald of Torment on my Akroan Phalanx completely dominating the game.
Round 10: Duke, Reid
While I was well set up against Wrapter, Duke just obliterated me with his B/G self-mill deck, getting revenge for Day One. My deck was full of 2/2s, his
full of 2/3s, 2/4s, and 4/4s. It was a little jarring to suddenly have my perfect record ended, but there was nothing to do but focus on the final round of
draft to try to salvage a 5-1 Limited performance (aka, the dream).
Round 11: Kastle Mess, Darwin
Darwin and I have been playing in events together basically since the advent of the Pro Tour, and it’s always been a pleasure. We caught up, him
congratulating me on getting married, me learning more about him and Rob Dougherty’s new online deckbuilding game, Star Realms.
Darwin had drafted R/W Hyper-Aggro, an archetype he was known to force. It seemed like a good match-up for me, but game one he managed to sandbag just how
combo-rific his deck was capable of being. I thought I had the game under control, when suddenly he did seventeen out of nowhere with a series of Portent
of Betrayals and combat tricks like Rouse the Mob and Ajani’s Presence. Well played.
I was much more careful in games two and three, taking as little damage as possible. I had sideboarded in every reasonable card I had that cost two or less and
just preserved my life total at all points. In the end, I managed to squeak out a close one, thanks in large part to the power of Drown in Sorrow and
Herald of Torment.
Round 12: Watanabe, Yuuya
Escaping Draft 5-1 is always a good sign. Having a 5-0 head start in Constructed? Well, that’s just gravy. Unfortunately, my first Constructed opponent of
the day was none other than two-time player of the year Yuuya Watanabe.
Yuuya was on Naya, which, while not “bad,” was definitely not the matchup I wanted to face. Game one was uneventful, with Yuuya mulliganing and flooding out.
In game two he mulliganed again, and when I Thoughtseized him, he was short on land. He put out an accelerator, then dropped a Courser, without a land in hand.
He flipped his top card…
“Well, that was definitely not what I was expecting you to flip there.”
We had a good laugh, but over the next several turns we both proceeded to draw plenty of land. Unfortunately for me, I already had tons. Eventually, Yuuya
cast Worst Fears and I conceded.
Game three proved to be the least eventful, with Yuuya double-mulliganing and me coming out hard with an aggressive start. Yuuya is an incredible player, one
of the best in the world. I would have preferred to win a strategic battle, but on this day, for this event, I’d rather him lose to manascrew than me lose at
all. It’s not exactly the thing you have the most control over, but at least I played an aggressive deck that was good at punishing people that stumbled on
Round 13: Parke, Jamie
Jamie was on the Pantheon BUG deck, so no surprises here. His mana draws weren’t the best in one game, and I managed to grind him out in the other. It was
awesome to mostly have locked up Top 8, but it was certainly bittersweet, having to beat my close friend and teammate to do it.
Round 14: Wafo-Tapa, Guillaume
Ahh, my good friend Wafo-Tapa. How amusing it is that we meet with Top 8 on the line with not an Island between us. Wafo was playing Junk Enchantress
(Constellation Junk, I guess), a deck I was actually not surprised to see him pilot given his love for drawing cards.
I offered him the draw, as I knew a draw would make me 100% and put me in good position for being a top seed. He had been paired up against me, however,
and needed to go 1-1-1, with good chances of making it at 2-1. As a result, he declined the draw. I guess some people thought I would concede, but with
Jamie, Tom, and Jon all at four losses, there was a good chance one of them could make top eight if I knocked someone out. Besides, Wafo didn’t even ask
for the scoop. It’s not his style.
Our actual match wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. Fleecemane Lion was very difficult for him once it was monstrous, and Guillaume could never get
his engine going due to the overwhelming amount of removal available to me. He smiled, shook my hand, and congratulated me.
As a note, Wafo-Tapa has three Top 8s in his last six or seven PTs, with his lowest finish being 87th. I think a lot of people are sleeping on Wafo, again,
but he’s one of the absolute best players in the world, again. We will be seeing a lot more big finishes from Wafo in the events to come.
Round 15: Nam, Sung Wook
With thirteen wins, I had Top 8 locked up and was looking good for the top seed. All there was left to do was dream crush to try to improve teammates’
chances of sneaking in on breaks. Sung Wook Nam wasn’t having any of it…
This was a similar match to the Wafo match, and my sideboarding was the same. Sung Wook proved to have an unusual build of Junk Constellation, featuring
zero Doomwake Giants (and me wrongfully playing around them), and sideboarding in Fleecemane Lions and Reaper of the Wilds, which punished me for flooding
Round 16: Cifka, Stanislav
Cifka and I drew into Top 8 and called it a night. This ensured I would be the top seed and that Reid and I would be on opposite sides of the bracket.
After the Top 8 was secured, Reid, Jamie, and I took the Pantheon to dinner. There was much celebrating, a lot of speculating about the Top 8, and a little
working on Reid’s match. There was no awkwardness about Jamie and me facing each other first round, though we did split up after dinner with a couple of
people going with Jamie to work out a plan against me.
Tom, Kai, Jelger, and others offered to help me test, but I wasn’t looking to play any more games. One of the things that happens when most of the team is
on a deck is you get no shortage of games against it, since everyone wants to practice with it. We had joked in testing that all this BUG testing was
really going to pay off, and sure enough here we were in a Top 8 where it looked like there was a chance I might have to play BUG all three rounds, after
having already beaten it three times in Swiss. All told, I had already played well over 100 games against BUG and already knew exactly what my plan was,
what the matchup was about, and the pace of the game.
On Sunday a number of people made comments about my playing a deck that beats my team’s deck, but you have to remember, half our team believed that BUG beats
Junk. When asked during testing, I made clear that I thought Junk was favored and why, having played the matchup a ton. There is a lot of play to the
matchup, including some non-intuitive approaches, but the Junk deck is just better set up to fight the attrition wars the games generally degenerate into.
Quarterfinals: Parke, Jamie
I knew getting to go first in the first game of every match in the Top 8 was a big edge, so it was definitely disappointing to drop the first game against
Jamie. I guess we did roll to see who would go first, but I rolled a 28 on 7D6, while he rolled a 2 on 1D6.
I kept a little bit of a slow hand and he played super-tight, eventually sculpting the game into a Prognostic Sphinx race. I had no cards while he had two
Sphinxes, but I did have a Monstrous Fleecemane Lion putting serious pressure on him.
“You realize, of course, I am about to Silence so many Believers, right?”
Jamie knew the one card in my hand and I was at six, so it was topdeck Silence the Believers or die. If I drew two, I would actually be in pretty decent
shape. If I drew just one, at least Hero’s Downfall would buy me one more turn after that.
I drew my card, attacked with my Lion, and shipped the turn back to him…
Then on his upkeep, I tapped all ten of my mana.
“Silence the Believers both Sphinxes and your Courser of Kruphix.”
I had to hit during his upkeep, since he had exactly two cards and I knew he was drawing a land for the turn that I didn’t want him to be able to discard
this turn. He was jolted a little, and I hoped that he would get scared of another Silence and only protect one Sphinx, fearing another Silence.
Unfortunately, he correctly determined it was better to save both and risk the second Silence being devastating.
He shipped the turn back to me, and I drew. I attacked with the Lion again, and passed the turn back. Then on his upkeep, I tapped my lands again…
It was there, the look of terror, even if just for a moment.
Then I just smiled and packed up my cards.
“Sometimes you just wanna feel something…”
Jamie laughed a sigh of relief.
“You almost made a believer out of me.”
I sideboarded out 4 Sylvan Caryatids, 2 Polukranos, and a Banishing Light, sideboarding in 2 Boon Satyr, 2 Arbor Colossus, 1 Thoughtseize, 1 Read the
Bones, and 1 Gods Willing. Throughout the tournament, I had gained a lot of value from sideboarding out the Caryatids against BUG, but after this match,
the jig would be up. Wrapter and Reid would know what my plan against Jamie was.
If the deck can actually function with all four Caryatids boarded out, why were they in the deck to begin with? Well, you don’t board them out against all
that many people. It’s just that the BUG (and Esper) match-ups are extremely grindy, attrition-oriented matchups in which the Junk deck aims to run the
control deck out of answers, assuming Plan A of tempoing them out doesn’t work. Sylvan Caryatid is a non-threat that bricks Courser of Kruphix. Its ability
to block is negligible in these matchups. The Junk will be a bit slower, but these decks give you a ton of time to draw out of a mana-light draw or a slow
I put a lot of pressure on Jamie in our second game, but was short on gas. I Thoughtseized Jamie and felt, for just a moment, the end of my tournament.
Prognostic Sphinx, Psychic Intrusion, Kiora, the Crashing Wave, and Sylvan Caryatid.
Jamie had just two Swamps, a Temple of Malady, and a Sylan Caryatid for mana. If I took the Sphinx, he’d Psychic Intrusion my Elspeth the turn before I
could cast it. If I took the Intrusion, he’d play a Sphinx in two turns, and I was almost out of gas. There’s no way I was beating it. If I took Kiora,
he’d have his choice of ways to beat me the following turn.
If I took the Sphinx, at least I might be able to Hero’s Downfall my Elspeth after he stole it, but I heard Paul Rietzl’s voice in my head.
“If you can’t beat ’em, manascrew ’em.”
I saw a future where Jamie was manascrewed. It didn’t seem particularly likely, since taking Sylvan Caryatid would let Jamie cast Kiora next turn, giving
him a lot of looks to draw a land to start casting his fives. However, in the bottom of my gut, I knew it was the play I was going to make. Maybe it means
I will lose by larger margins in most games, but at least it adds some variance, gives me a sequence of turns that could actually give me real chances.
On his turn, he played a Reaper of the Wilds from the top of his deck. Ouch.
I would have been able to Elspeth it away if the top of my deck brought an untapped land. I turned my top card over…
Thoughtseize leaves me with no cards in hand and Kiora begins ticking up. On my turn, I attacked with my two Coursers of Kruphix and the Fleecemane Lion.
After I finished declaring my attack, Jamie pulled one of my Coursers aside, noting that it was the one that had been bubbled by Kiora.
My attack wasn’t going to damage Kiora at all.
I expected Jamie to just have his Reaper block my Lion and his Caryatid block my Courser that could deal damage; but it wasn’t until he paused and went
into the tank about blocks, that I realized the attack was actually brilliant (albeit accidentally brilliant). If he blocks as I expected, I lose nothing.
However, the other block, which he was clearly considering, was having his Reaper eat one of my Coursers, while his Caryatid chumps the Lion. I didn’t need
the second Courser at all, and as long as he had the Caryatid, he could just block it, but the Caryatid meant he was just one land away from the Sphinx. If
Then he did.
I didn’t want to leak any information, but after he blocked, I remarked that not a lot of people would have found the chump attack line. I dropped a Brimaz
and shipped the turn.
A few turns of battling and we ended up with a Kiora at five loyalty. I thought I was probably dead, since Jamie had scryed and kept, yet still missed his
land drop. That suggested Jamie must have a removal spell, which would mean Kiora goes ultimate, a difficult game to win, to be sure.
A Courser of Kruphix was the new card, so I was able to trade the Brimaz for Kiora!
With Kiora under control, I now had a little time with Arbor Colossus coming down to trade with Reaper and Elspeth to finish things off. By the time the
game ended, Jamie still had just three lands, despite having looked at half his deck. Crazy.
Game three was just a classic attrition battle. We both demolished each other’s hands with Thoughtseize, but I was able to attack Jamie’s card draw. After
taking a Kiora, I knew Jamie had five more removal spells, which led me to slowplay the game and try to play all of my threats in an order that would let
me get the most value possible out of each one. Read the Bones and a couple of Elspeths let me get ahead, and I was able to grind Jamie out to conclude an epic
After my match against Jamie, Wrapter lent me a copy of Cifka’s deck as he took off to battle him. I prepared a lot for this event, but hadn’t actually
played any games against W/R Heroic with Junk. Looking at Cifka’s list, it seemed like it should be a really good matchup, with many similarities to W/U
Heroic (another great matchup).
After two games, it was clear that I had too many good blockers, a great sideboard, and got to go first in the first game. The best thing I could do is
stay rested and just hang out. I knew to play around Gods Willing and Brave the Elements, and avoid getting blown out by a Launch the Fleet.
Semifinals: Utter-Leyton, Josh
I snap-keep a one land hand on the draw of:
Why the snap-keep? This isn’t the first time I encountered a one-land hand in this format. I knew that on the draw, I was 67% to draw a green mana source
by turn two (since I had two draws and a scry), and mana problems aside this hand is fantastic. Let’s say I miss, though. Over half the time I don’t get a
green by turn two, I will still get a Swamp, a Plains, or another Temple of Silence. If I do have that second, off-color land, I am now almost exactly 50% to
hit a third land by turn three.
Obviously in these scenarios, there is a good chance my land comes into play tapped. If I do hit green on turn two, I am still only 50-50 to play Fleecemane
Lion that turn, but even playing it on turn three is still good. Under normal circumstances, Wrapter is killing my first creatures for a while. The worst thing that
could happen is a turn-three Ashiok, but I even have a Hero’s Downfall to relieve some of that pressure.
This matchup is very attrition-y, and taking a mulligan is a major hit. On the flipside, if I draw into the land to cast my spells, having a minimum mana
draw is actually very powerful, since we will likely end up in a spot where if I have one more threat than he has answer, it will kill him.
Josh leads with Swamp, Thoughtseize. Seeing my one-land keep.
“So, that’s how it’s gonna be?”
We share a brief laugh and Josh selects a Fleecemane Lion.
On my turn, I draw another Brimaz, play my Temple of Silence and scry my top card to the bottom. Josh pumps the fist.
“Oh no. He shouldn’t have done that. It’s fine to hope your opponent’s manascrewed, but you never, ever pump the fist on camera like that. Karma never lets
it slide.” – Paul Rietzl
On Josh’s turn, he played another Swamp (indicating a very poor mana draw on his side, as well), and Thoughtseized me again. Seeing the second Brimaz, he
decided to take the Caryatid. He had a Downfall for the Lion, but if I were able to play the Caryatid, it would have been Brimaz two turns in a row.
On my turn, I go to draw, visualizing basic Forest.
I peel it up…
There is a roar from the next room over. See, they have the Top 8 sequestered, but when the crowd goes totally nuts, it can be heard.
“What was that?”
Josh looks up, to the side, then back to me. I point to the camera and his eyes continue to it, putting the puzzle together.
I smile and play a basic Forest, tapping both for a Fleecemane Lion.
On Josh’s turn, he draws and unfortunately bricks on land. He passes the turn back.
I visualize one of my two basic Plains…
As I peel the card up, the room shakes. The crowd is somehow twice as loud as they were on my last draw step. A look of horror crosses Josh’s face.
It wasn’t until hearing the crowd that it became real. After all, it’s not super realistic to just draw basic Plains there.
I cast a Brimaz, and Josh dies a quick death.
Finals: Nam, Sung Wook
My only Constructed loss in the Swiss, Sung Wook was definitely not who I wanted to face in the finals. I had hoped Reid and I would have a rematch, but now that we were
here, there was no way I was losing. I had come too far.
Our match was one battle after another, with countless little battles, fighting for edges with Coursers, Brimaz, Planeswalkers, extra card draw, Silence
the Believers, and even Brain Maggot battles. Video coverage of the match can be found here.
I won Game One on planeswalker advantage, with Read the Bones playing a big part. In Game Two, Sung Wook struck back, riding a Reaper of the Wilds to victory.
Game Three was another attrition battle, with one series of turns where both of us just played and blew up Elspeths for five turns in a row…
Our boards were more-or-less even, with a Banishing Light on my Elspeth shutting me down, Sung Wook having a card on top that he had kept on top from a
scry, me with a Silence the Believers. I draw…
It is done.
Deicide put me back in the driver’s seat, returning Elspeth once again. In the end, I think my shortage of Sylvan Caryatids and surplus of gas was
instrumental in grinding out the Junk semi-mirror.
Game Four was a little anticlimatic, with Sung Wook a little short on mana. I Thoughtseized him and saw he didn’t have green mana and just two land. I could
have taken Sylvan Caryatid or Reaper of the Wilds, but I thought I needed to put as much pressure on Sung Wook as possible, because if he could ever cast
his spells, I was going to be really short on gas. I did have a Fleecemane Lion, however, and if I could just get it Monstrous, I could ride it to victory
(assuming a Reaper didn’t shut me down).
Sung Wook drew a third land, albeit a non-green one. He use Banishing Light on my Lion, but I had the Deicide waiting then untapped and went monstrous. Sung Wook
bricked on land again. I drew a Thoughtseize and stripped the Reaper, his greatest answer to my Lion. The fourth land finally came, but one turn too late.
At this point, Sung Wook was too far behind and stuck blocking every turn, which he couldn’t kept up for long.
Sung Wook extended his hand, and then it became real.
I was a Pro Tour Champion.
Twenty years all leading up to this moment.
I am short on words, kind of just in awe, so thankful to be alive, so thankful for Magic, so thankful for my friends on the Pantheon, so thankful for my
parents for encouraging me to play Magic, so thankful for everyone that reads my column, so thankful for my wonderful wife for pushing me and supporting
me, so thankful for everything that has lead up to this moment.
So thankful to have a chance to compete in the Magic World Championships again.