Pro Tour Prague: One Draft From Glory

RGD Lessons from Pro Tour: Prague!

As one of the greatest players of Limited Magic the world has seen, Rich Hoaen was a surefire favorite to make Top 8 at Pro Tour Prague… and few would’ve bet against him taking top honors. With practice drafts galore before the event, he felt confident of success. While he performed well, it wasn’t quite enough. Where did he go wrong? Read on to find out…

It has recently come to my attention that I am truly terrible at poker. This has left me with a lot of free time on my hands, since I neither work nor go to school. With this ample free time, you would think I would do something that would earn me money. That line of thinking is pretty foolish. Since returning home from Prague, I have done very little with my time besides playing silly draft formats on the Dissension beta – formats such as Odyssey / Planeshift / Dissension (where I managed to lose round 1 with the best deck of all time, but that’s just too depressing to talk about) and 8th / 9th / Dissension. I have also been out and attempted to drink away my misery more than once (it’s still here), with a little Ravnica Block Constructed thrown in so that it doesn’t feel like I’m completely wasting my life. Just kidding – I’m well aware that I’m wasting my life. Now that I’ve looked at my bank statement, run out of Block opponents, and been continually harassed by Ted, I’ve decided it’s time to write a Prague report. Rejoice! Not.

Now that you know where I’m at in life, I’ll begin explaining what led to my complete and utter failure in Prague. First, I found out that Prague would be a "prerelease" Pro Tour, meaning the set wouldn’t be available on Magic Online to practice with. People said that this should be good for me, because it favors the more skilled players. I disagreed, because in all honesty, I’m not one of the more skilled players. Endless practice on Magic Online is what leads to my consistent finishes, not any innate talent. This meant that months ahead, I was already apprehensive about this Pro Tour. I did gain some confidence after spending a month in Hawaii drafting RRG with the best in the world and doing pretty well, and then coming home and doing even better on Magic Online. But one would have been a fool to think that the format wouldn’t change drastically with the addition of another set and three more guilds, especially considering the fact that Wizards likes to throw us players a curveball with the third set. Actually, a sinker is probably a more accurate analogy.

Since Toronto’s once great player-base has deteriorated into a shell of its former shell (Matt Vienneau), I decided it would be in my best interest to travel somewhere for the weeks before the Pro Tour so that I would be able to get some drafts in with the new set, compared to my usual sideways 8. Having no responsibilities and hating my life in Toronto made the decision to travel that much easier. The next step was figuring out where to go. I would have gone to Julien’s house, if it weren’t for the incident the last time I was there when I mistook his mother for a prostitute (she shouldn’t have been standing in the window naked like that). I could have gone to Indianapolis, but Gabe Walls has this roommate "Baker," and I’m afraid if I spend any more time around him, one of us will end up dead by my hand. After ruling out those possibilities, I came to my final option: southern California. The problem with California was that the people there are too much fun. I feared that instead of drafting, I would be forced to do things that are actually fun, like playing sports or going drinking, and really, who wants to do that? Is that a joke? Discuss.

I shelved my concerns about having fun and made my way to California a few weeks before the PT. That trip started on a high note. When I went to check in at the airport in Toronto I found out that my flight had been cancelled, and I was booked onto another flight that would leave 12 hours later. It took a mere half hour of bitching to get the dim-witted agent to put me on a different flight, but that still meant four hours of waiting at the fine Pearson International. C’est la vie. Upon arriving in California, all I wanted to do was sleep, to the disappointment of my captors, Patrick and Kate Sullivan. I just remembered that I’m writing a tournament report, so I’m going to skip forward a couple weeks to the release of Dissension, since you probably don’t want to read about the many ways in which I am capable of making myself miserable.

I suppose I should start with the cast of characters in California. Here they are, in order of how much I like them(?): Andrew Yip, Patrick Sullivan, Kate Sullivan, "The" Ben Seck, Ben Rubin, Justin "Exodia" Riley, "The" Brian Kibler, asian Jeff, Ken Ho, Justin Gary, Antonino De Rosa, and Davey B. Most of us headed out to the prerelease with the single-minded task of bringing home as many Dissension packs as possible, so that we would be able to draft for the next week and a half. I performed admirably, winning exactly zero packs. I’m not going to recount the vivid memory of my losses here, since whining is exactly what I’m trying to avoid in this report. Fortunately, the rest of the crew took care of business, winning ample packs for the 10 or so drafts we did leading up to the PT.

Over the next week and a half, we tried to get as many drafts as possible in each night after everyone finished work at Upper Deck Entertainment. The only exceptions were our frequent games of tennis, and "House Night" at the home of the infamous OMC. I drafted approximately the same deck in each draft. It was always 4-5 colors and just a bunch of good cards, with 3-5 signets and 3-5 double lands. Since I had drafted this deck every time, fairly successfully I might add, I was left without a plan going into the Pro Tour. This was disturbing. At every Limited PT I’ve done well at, I’ve had a plan. In Yokohama (Onslaught, Onslaught, Legions), it was to draft Clerics. In Amsterdam (triple Mirrodin), it was to draft Affinity, and in San Diego (Mirrodin, Mirrodin, Darksteel), it was to draft Blue. In Nagoya (triple Champions of Kamigawa), it was to draft Black. In London, I had five color combinations I was willing to play, and five I wasn’t.

For Prague, my plan was to play everything? That’s not really a plan. I hoped that upon arrival in Prague, I would be able to discuss strategy with the smartest man to come out of Arkansas aside from Bill Clinton: Neil Reeves.

Unfortunately Neil had a strategy of his own, a strategy that had nothing to do with Magic and everything to do with stealing my belt. You see, being the fatty boom boom that he is, he managed to pop the button off his pants very early in his European Vacation, and being the hick that he is, he only brought one pair of pants. This meant that my attempts to discuss strategy with Neil were countered by comebacks like "I’ll tell you if you lend me your belt." I felt desperate, and since I knew I would get my belt back the next morning, I agreed. Neil’s advice was sound, but not all that helpful. He suggested I must to set myself up for a guild in the third pack, since they are the most powerful. I was already kind of doing this, as my five-color decks often relied upon the many powerful Simic creatures to actually deal twenty damage.

Now that the 1,200-word preamble is out of the way, I can make my way on to the tournament. I sat down to my first pod with only one other player I recognized, that being former World Champion (and current small child) Julien Nuijten. Julien, by the way, is the person made the happiest by the recent changes to the Pro Tour. You see, to be able to afford to fly all the PTQ winners to the Pro Tour, Wizards needed to cut costs somewhere, and the place they decided to cut back is the size of the garbage cans at Pro Tours. At both Pro Tours this season, the garbage cans have been minuscule. Julien Nuijten is the clear beneficiary of this change, since he no longer fits into the garbage cans, and one of the Pro Tour’s great traditions, known as "kid in the can," is no longer possible.

This draft was covered by StarCityGames.com own Ted Knutlow. Don’t ask me about the extremely odd title. First pick of the draft, I had the choice between Bramble Elemental and Brainspoil. I took the Bramble Elemental because it is often quite difficult to play Brainspoil in my many-colored decks, thanks to the double-Black in its casting cost.

My decks are often base-Green, so the Bramble Elemental is much easier to play, even though it is also double colored. The rest of pack one was fairly simple – I merely took the best card out of each pack that I could reasonably cast, and ended up with a bunch of solid Green and Blue cards with a Signet, Spectral Searchlight, and an extremely late double land for mana-fixing.

Pack 2 started with a very easy decision to take Stratozeppelid. Not many cards in the set can make an argument for themselves compared to that guy. Second, I had a choice between Dryad Sophisticate and Burning-Tree Shaman. I took the Shaman because I had passed very little Red and Green in pack 1, so I figured I would be likely to get hooked up with it this pack. The fact that I had only really been passed Green and Blue cards in pack one helped with this decision. Since I wasn’t likely to be playing that many colors, I could try to make my deck more aggressive and take advantage of the very aggressive Gruul cards. Next, I had the choice between Stomping Ground and Izzet Chronarch, with no instants or sorceries so far. I took the full amount of time to decide on the Stomping Ground. I felt that if my deck was going to be as aggressive as I thought, any mana-fixing would help, especially fixing that wouldn’t cost me a turn like double lands or Signets can. I didn’t get any Gruul or Izzet cards, which was as bit disappointing, but I did get a lot of mana fix, so I felt that with the number of strong Simic creatures in pack 3, I would be able to make a good, fast deck that would 2-1 at worst unless something anomalous happened. Pack 3 went as planned, and I got a bunch of great creatures to round out my deck.

I knew I was light on tricks throughout the draft, but I hadn’t realized how bad the situation really was. The only non-creature, non-mana producer that regularly makes my deck I had was Flight of Fancy. While not a bad card, it’s not exactly something that your opponent really needs to play around. With this in mind, I decided to play Leap of Flame, even though I probably wasn’t going to be able to replicate it more than once. I needed something to get tricky.

Round 1 – Bonilla, Luis [PER]
Luis was wearing very reflective glasses as we sat down and were shuffling. Sadly he took them off just before he drew his opening hand, but luckily, it turned out that Luis isn’t the kind of guy who needs to be wearing reflective glasses to give away his hand.

Game 1 he got off to a quick start with a few mediocre creatures, before I was able to get down an army of my own. On my fourth turn, I attacked with a Transluminant, which he refused to trade with a Boros Guildmage that he had just tapped out for. This let me play a Ghor-Clan Savage as a 5/6, which he just couldn’t handle. He tried to race it with a Nettling Curse, but my other creatures were able to hold their ground while the Savage uh… savaged him. The second game proved a tad awkward, as my turn 2 Coiling Oracle flipped Leap of Flame, which he was able to play around the whole game. I was on the defensive the whole game, since he quickly had two copies of Agent of Masks and a Mourning Thrull draining me for three a turn. Just as I thought I had control of the game and was going to be able to outrace his Agents by a turn, he drew a Pillory of the Sleepless, which removed a blocker and hit me for the final point. For the third game I played first, and got a bit nervous when I had to mulligan. Fortunately, my six-card hand was nearly the best possible. It consisted of a curve of Elves of Deep Shadow, Plaxcaster Frogling, Trygon Predator, Stratozeppelid, and Helium Squirter. He played a Seal of Doom before succumbing to my absurd draw.

Round 2 – Egli, Walter [USA]
Walter is pretty intimidating. He looks like he could be a bouncer if he were about a foot taller, and he has a thick Boston accent which can only be described as unnerving, but as soon as we got to talking, I learned that he’s really a not-so-big teddy bear. Oh, right, Magic… I double mulliganed in the first game. I was able to make a game of it, but got pretty flooded just as I was starting my comeback. In the second game I had a solid draw, and was ahead the whole game. If memory serves, I even got to Flight of Fancy my Bramble Elemental. The third game was all about the "virtual card and tempo advantage" I gained when my Burning Tree Shaman held off his three Simic Ragworms. Meanwhile my Stratozeppelid took care of business on the other end.

Round 3 – Taru, Genki [JPN]
For our first game, I had a great draw, and it was almost irrelevant what my good buddy Genki played. I played turn 2 Signet, turn 3 Burning-Tree Shaman, turn 4 Helium Squirter, turn 5 Ghor-Clan Savage. I can recall few details from the second game other than the incredibly bad beat I took. The game got to the point where I was at thirteen, and he was at eight. I had a Stratozeppelid and a full Helium Squirter to his Rakdos Ickspitter and Ghost Warden. I had a Leap of Flame in hand and one Red source, with a bunch of Blue and Green in play. He had no hand. First, he drew Brainspoil for the Stratozeppelid to buy him a turn. He attacked, putting me to eleven. I drew a Forest and attacked, putting him to five. He drew Oathsworn Giant, which let him attack me to seven. I drew another Forest, meaning I could only put him to one with the Leap of Flame, and he would be able to attack back for exactly lethal. I was forced to say go and take another hit from Oathsworn Giant, which gave me another chance to draw a red source. The end result was that he had one draw in which to draw one of his two removal spells, and another in which he has to draw his other removal spell or Oathsworn Giant, and I had three turns in which I could draw any Red source or any spell to win the game.

I stupidly let this loss get to my head, and kept a hand for game 3 without a Blue source, thinking that I deserved to draw it. It doesn’t get much dumber than that. I obviously do not draw the Blue source until turn 5, and that’s not early enough to beat one of the best draws his deck could give him. Did my frustration with this round show in my writing?

My second draft had many more faces I recognized. It contained Andre Mueller, a Chris Benafel clone gone awry, an elderly Jon Finkel, and Aaron Lipczynski, who played in the same PTQs I did back in the day.

This draft was a nightmare. Just as I was sitting down at the table, I started to feel very sick and dizzy. Throughout pack 1 I was gagging, and working very hard to prevent myself from vomiting all over the table. Because of this I don’t remember many details of this draft, other than the fact that I got about six playables in four different colors out of the first pack. Both my stomach and the draft seemed to settle down in pack 2, when I opened Debtor’s Knell and got passed Mortify. I ended up with a fairly mediocre GUbwr deck with powerful spells but awful mana.

Round 4 – Lipczynski, Aaron
As Aaron and I sat down for the round, we had a friendly argument over whose deck was worse. He seemed determined to prove his point by mulliganing three times for game 1. This game wasn’t particularly close, as I was able to play Grand Arbiter Augustin IV before he played a spell. For the second game, I mulliganed into three basic lands, a double land, a signet, and Debtor’s Knell. After a moment’s consideration, I kept. I drew just enough spells to keep me in the game at one life before the Knell took over. For a few turns I had to recur Gristleback with the Knell to stay alive, but the Knell quickly got out of hand, as it so often does.

Round 5 – Mueller, Andre
In the first game I was able to go off with a combination of Simic Ragworm, Ocular Halo, and Verdant Eidolon. He nearly broke up the combo with an Ogre Savant, but on my last possible draw with the Halo, I found a Plaxmanta to keep going for another turn. I took my time and overwhelmed him with a bunch of 2/2 and 3/3, creatures because I didn’t want to show my Mortify or Debtor’s Knell unless I absolutely had to. I had seen that Andre had Niv-Mizzet while he was playing the previous round, so I boarded in Overrule. Things went exactly according to plan. Andre kept a hand with two walls and very little action, so it was very obvious that he had both Niv-Mizzet and the mana to cast it. This allowed me to stop casting spells and leave Overrule mana up as soon as he got to five mana. With Niv-Mizzet dealt with, Andre had very few threats left in his deck. He nearly managed to kill me with Compulsive Research and Cerebral Vortex, but he missed the Gristleback I could sacrifice to keep myself alive.

Round 6 – Alieksieiev, Andrii
Andrii had a very good graft deck, with all the graft creatures from top to bottom on both the rarity and mana curves, from Aquastrand Spider, to Plaxcaster Frogling, to Cytoplast Root-Kin. We played two games where the board got bogged down, and if I ever drew my Ocular Halo or Debtor’s Knell he couldn’t possibly win. Unfortunately, he drew about five more spells than I did each game, and I couldn’t draw my late game bombs.

My third pod had absolutely no recognizable names. I knew only Brent Kaskel from side drafts at North American Pro Tours and Grand Prixes over the last few years. By this point in the tournament, I had developed a plan of drafting lots of colors with a Green-Blue base. I wasn’t faced with many difficult decisions in this draft. I started with a Moldervine Cloak, and everything pretty much fell into place from there. I got two Bramble Elementals and a Fists of Ironwood, amongst other playables, out of the rest of pack 1. This meant that in pack 2, I would be looking for Infiltrator’s Magemarks, since they combo so well with both the Bramble Elementals and the Moldervine Cloak. Pack 3 wasn’t very exciting this time around. Instead of the usual package of great creatures, I got a couple more auras to add to my collection, in the form of Ocular Halos. I ended up with a solid Green / Blue deck with a Red splash for Ogre Savant and Steamcore Weird. I expected to go 2-1, despite making an error during deck construction – choosing not to play a Silhana Ledgewalker, even though I had a Moldervine Cloak and two Ocular Halos. Oops. I noticed this while sideboarding in the first round, and brought it in for a Gruul Nodorog every game after that.


Round 7 – Kaskel, Brent
Brent and I had been pretty friendly a few years ago, often drafting with and against each other, until he disappeared about a year ago by faking his own death. The turning point of our first game was when he attacked with Conclave Phalanx and Ghost Warden, when I had a mere Island untapped. Unfortunately for Brent, as soon as I confirmed that the Ghost Warden was attacking, that Island turned into a Simic Ragworm. He picked up the Ragworm, read it, then picked up the Ghost Warden and put it in the graveyard. The game lasted another ten turns or so, and he did eventually get Vedalken Dismisser, Mark of Eviction going, but by that point he was too far behind on cards (I had been drawing two a turn with an Ocular Halo on my Pilloried creature) and on the board, since I had pumped out a bunch of mediocre creatures, as my decks so often do. Eventually, he Mark of Evictioned one of my creatures, and I went for the kill by playing two Infiltrator’s Magemarks and a Moldervine Cloak on one turn. The next game I drew the previously mentioned Ledgewalker and Moldervine Cloak in my opening hand, and that was that.

As soon as this round finished, Sam Gomersall and I returned to our hotel to get some food and go to sleep. We went to "Beer & Bowling," one of our hotel’s restaurants, which (as you may have guessed) contained a bowling alley. Here we found the Canadians that didn’t make Day 2 bowling and getting drunk on a fine white Zinfandel, in preparation for a lap-dance related excursion.

Sam and I got up early the next morning, thanks to a bunch of drunkards returning to the room and having their way with the mini bar. We were regaled with many a tale that I probably can’t repeat on a family site such as this.

Round 8 – Sanchis, Alejandro
Sanchis had the apparently common WBR aggressive deck that I didn’t even know was an archetype. Not that I advise drafting this deck, but if you find yourself forced into it, the most important thing you can do is to pick a splash color. I played against this deck three times during this Pro Tour, and each time the deck had no splash, so it simply had a terrible manabase and got completely color-screwed at least once, probably deserving more if you look at the manabases closely. Aggressive decks with bad mana just don’t work. Aggressive decks need to be able to cast their creatures quickly and back them up with tricks or removal. That becomes extremely difficult when you’re missing a color.

Read it and weep

Game 1 was Alejandro’s color-screw game, although it’s very unlikely he was going to beat my draw anyway. I forced him to use what removal he could cast, and then Infiltrator’s Magemarked two of my creatures. On the last turn of the game, while I was attacking for lethal, he carefully considered his blocks for a good five minutes. I said, "You’d better have a spell or I’m going to be pretty annoyed." He, of course, did not have a spell, and eventually put blockers in front of my guys. This received a "you can’t block" from me, which led to him reading the Magemark and packing up his cards.

The next game was a pretty close race, because he was able to play a turn 2 Gobhobbler Rats and turn 3 Skyknight Legionnaire. It looked like I was going to win with an Ocular Halo on a Bramble Elemental – more important for the vigilance than the card drawing, thanks to a Magemarked Terraformer providing White mana. Unfortunately, he drew Wrecking Ball that turn and was able to destroy it in response, ending my hopes of a quick victory. I had four lands in hand and five in play at this point, and my lone Terraformer wasn’t in any position to outrace or block his army.

In the last game, neither of us had much of anything going on. I had kept a draw with three lands that really needed a fourth to make anything happen, and he was obviously missing a color. On about turn 4 he began slamming his deck as hard as he could, apparently feeling he truly deserved to draw his missing color before I drew any land. Obviously he got there and had Wrecking Balls for my only two creatures, while I died to his piddling army, feeling just a bit dismayed by this turn of events.

Round 9 – Pincus, Max
Max Pincus, well there really isn’t much to say about Max Pincus, except that he looks like a Max Pincus.

Game 1, I mulliganed twice and didn’t cast many spells, while he had a good draw with a bunch of fliers and a couple of removal spells. Game 2, he had a mediocre draw and ran out of spells long before I did. Game 3, I got a quick Ocular Halo on a Silhana Ledgewalker. He couldn’t handle this and eventually got overwhelmed by the fact that I was drawing twice as many cards as him.

For the third draft I really wanted something other than a 2-1 deck. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do other than hope the packs break your way. Taking risks to increase your chances of having a 1-2 or 3-0 deck doesn’t make much sense, since with every pick, you should be trying to maximize your chances of winning, not increasing your variance. My fourth pod contained only one face I recognized, that of Magic Online IPA specialist Das Hopper, or "Big Hops" as he is affectionately known in some circles. I played him at Worlds in Yokohama, where he managed to keep me from 6-0ing the draft day with "just a bit" of help from the top of his deck.

I started this draft off with a Civic Wayfinder, my one-time favorite card in the set, which I hadn’t had in any of my previous drafts with Dissension, including those drafts done in California. I was pretty excited about the prospect of getting to search any basic land out of my deck. In Ravnica, I got six more Green cards, each one the best card in its pack, so I was well set up to draft absolutely anything from the next two packs. Guildpact started off with an interesting decision between Douse in Gloom and Mortify. I took the full amount of time to decide on the Douse in Gloom. I took the Douse because, although I did have a Civic Wayfinder and Elves of Deep Shadow, I expected to be able to stick with my plan of drafting a Green-Blue base. I didn’t have any other colored cards, so I might have ended up double-splashing the Mortify – not a nightmare, but certainly not worth losing the consistency the Douse in Gloom could give me. I ended up regretting this decision, as I wasn’t passed any Izzet or Gruul cards, but I did end up with an Agent of Masks and a Storm Herd in addition to a few more solid mono-Green cards and two late Train of Thoughts. In pack 3, I got a few good Green-Blue cards, but what I really got were three late Utopia Sprawls, which really pulled my deck together. I was able to play fifteen land and easily support a four-color mana base, including Storm Herd, thanks to the Sprawls.

Round 10 – Nygaard, Nikolas
As he announced this feature match, Randy said "And in the finals of an 8-4… (our names here)." Ha ha ha.

In the first game, he mulliganed twice and played a Forest before conceding. The second game was closer, going back and forth for a little while. The game was won in my mind when the board was even, and neither of us could attack. He cast Fertile Imagination, naming lands, and I showed him three spells. Two big Train of Thoughts later, I had a large board advantage, but I still couldn’t really attack through his regenerators made by a Sporeback Troll. Eventually, I found my Ivy Dancer, and he had already used all of his removal, so Bramble Elemental and Ivy Dancer teamed up to deal the final sixteen.

Round 11 – Pereira Junior, Pedro
In our first game, Pedro got me with a Guardian’s Magemark on his Demon’s Jester that it didn’t look like I was going to be able to deal with. Fortunately, next turn he decided to Riot Spikes it and get in for five, which made it a ripe target for the Douse in Gloom in my hand. The next game, I had Storm Herd in my opening hand, which is normally a mulligan, but the way this game played out, I just kept drawing lands, so it was good having the Herd… it allowed me to play the whole game setting it up, and I had an easy win once I got to the requisite ten mana.

Round 12 – Al-Bacha, Wesimo
This round was won almost single-handedly by my Trophy Hunter. Wesimo had a deck with a bunch of fliers and not much removal. This allowed the Trophy Hunter that I drew early both games to keep his board under control. He made some interesting plays, like leaving a Terrarion in play for a number of turns after getting all his colors, and casting Cyclopean Snare.

I told Ted that I would write this report on one condition: that I didn’t have to write about the last draft. If I did write about it, I would have to write about mulliganing many times and not playing spells in the four games I lost in rounds thirteen and fourteen. I don’t want to write that, and to the best of my understanding, you don’t want to read it. So now I’ll tell you that I finished 42nd after going 0-2-1 in the last draft and skip ahead to Sunday’s drafts.

I think that by Sunday, I had the format all figured out. Perfect timing, as always. I went 8-0 in matches in "side" drafts on Sunday, although that was helped out by the fact that I was playing against Mark Herberholz and Gabriel Nassif, players renowned for their talent with 60-card decks.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it (that is to say, not at all). If somehow you did enjoy this, well, I’ve got good news for you. I’m going to be doing a week of dailies soon, and I’ve even got a high-tech article series coming up, from which I think you’ll be able to learn a lot about drafting.

Until then,

Rich Hoaen