PV’s Playhouse – A Pro Tour: Austin Report, Part 2 *Top 8*

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Series Comes to Nashville!
Thursday, October 29th – Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa completes his epic tournament report from Pro Tour: Austin, in an article packed with the usual collection of play analysis and strategic concerns. From 5-0, he chronicles his ascent to the final table… Enjoy!

Hello again!

Today, I’ll round up my Pro Tour: Austin report. Part 1 of this can be found here. When we left off, I had just posted a 5-0 result in the first Extended portion of the event…

So, after going 5-0, I had to go Draft. I did not have a lot of experience in drafting this set, and I guess it really showed, more so in my second draft than in my first. I had some ideas stuck in my mind. “Green is bad” and “Black is awesome” were the main points, and the other colors were ordered as Red beats Blue beats White. With that in mind, I opened my first pack, which you can see here.

The entire draft was on the draft viewer, so I won’t go through everything. Instead, I’ll highlight what I think is relevant. I think it will be considerably easier to follow what I’m saying if you have that link open as you are reading this.

My first pack only had two real options (and for many people I guess it would have been only one real option) — Baloth Woodcrasher and Nimana Sell-Sword. I acknowledge the Baloth as the more powerful card, but I love Black and I hate(d) Green, so I took the Sell-Sword. I really like the Sell-Sword in general, as it’s a decent body and it is great to have in an Ally sub-themed deck. Speaking of Allies, I don’t really like going all-in on them, such as four-color with lots of the basically unplayable ones just because they are allies, but I think they make for a great subtheme — play the ones that are good by themselves, picking them aggressively.

My second pick offers the choice between Red or Blue, with Spire Barrage and Welkin Tern as pretty much the only options. I like my Black decks to be base Black, so Barrage gets worse, and I think Tern is the generally more powerful card, so I picked it.

The rest of the pack did not really present a lot of hard choices, and I was surprised to have wheeled two Pumas — the Puma is just a great card in this format, filling the almost always empty three-mana slot, blocking Intimidate guys (though obviously this is less of a problem when you are BR yourself) and pumping all your allies. I would have killed for a Puma in my Grand Prix: Tampa sealed deck!

At this point in the draft, I am not sure whether my second color is Blue or Red, which is a position I find myself into far too often for my liking. Sometimes you have your main color and two secondary colors, and then you just open a mega bomb in one of them and it’s like destiny decided it for you, but sometimes you get into situations where you end up wasting half your picks because you decided to stay “open.” For example, let’s say I open Torch Slinger and a second Welkin TernTorch Slinger is the more powerful card, so I pick it. Then next pack has the choice between yet another Tern and Goblin Shortcutter — Tern is better, and I have about as many Red cards as I have Blue cards, so what do I do? If I pick the Tern, I am definitely not going to play one of my two picks. If I pick the Shortcutter, I risk getting passed a lot of Blue next — and then either I keep picking worse Red cards over them, which is pretty bad because I committed myself to Red for a card that is not even that good, or I go for Blue but then lose the Welkin Tern pick, sending a bad sign in the meantime.

This happens in pack 2 pick 3, where I get the choice between Hellfire Mongrel and Into the Roil. I decide to pick the Mongrel, because I like my Red better for the deck I’m trying to draft, but it’s not a strong enough card to push me into Red, so if next pack offers a good Blue card, I will probably take it. This is exactly what happens when I choose Reckless Scholar over Teetering Peaks. So at this point I have a couple of Red or Blue cards that I can play, but none of them really have the advantage. I wheel two Grim Discoveries to go with my Fetchland, and go to the third pack with a very mediocre deck.

My first pick of pack 3 doesn’t give me much choice other than picking a Red card, and at this point I’m very low on removal, so Torch Slinger is welcome. I get back to back Hideous Ends, which is awesome, and then have the choice between two Red cards – Highland Berserker and Tuktuk Grunts. I think the Grunts is a better card, but I only have two Marauders as two-drops by this point, and I think curving is very important for my beatdown decks, so I pick the Berserker. I then get two very late Marauders, which makes me want to go back and take the Grunt, as well as a Blood Seeker for another two-drop. I head back to my table not fully sure of what colors I am going to play, which is always a bad sign, and in the end come up with this:

4 Surrakar Marauder
1 Blood Seeker
1 Highland Berserker
1 Hellfire Mongrel
2 Stonework Puma
1 Goblin Ruinblaster
2 Nimana Sell-Sword
1 Heartstabber Mosquito
1 Bala Ged Thief (which sounds weird in Portuguese, since Bala means Candy, so the name translates to “Candy Thief”) (okay, okay, I know no one cares)
1 Tuktuk Grunts
1 Hagra Diabolist
1 Bog Tatters
1 Torch Slinger
1 Trusty Machete
2 Hideous End
1 Grim Discovery
18 lands, one Fetch and one of-color Seaside Cliff, which I reasoned would be better than a Swamp or Mountain, since I didn’t really have many color commitments.

I did a decktech with this deck, which is kind of puzzling to me — for the past two years, I’ve been somewhat of a Constructed expert, and they have never deckteched me for anything. Even after I top 8ed a Pro Tour and a Worlds with Faeries, they still decided to do Faeries Deck Tech with someone else. Then, out of nowhere, I get my first ever deck tech, and it happens to be with this Draft format that I didn’t really have much clue about… Anyway…

Round 6: Ben Rubin

Ben was playing a Mono Red deck, and both games are quite similar — He plays a Zektar Shrine Expedition, I play a bunch of guys, he sacs his Expedition, hits me for 15 and then dies. The most relevant play of game 1 is, I think, when I have the option of saving Hideous End for one of his creatures during the attack (maybe the 7/1) or playing another creature (a Bala Ged Thief) and save my Hideous End for his blocker, to win about two turns faster. If I play a creature, I go to six life, which means if he has a sixth Mountain and a Spire Barrage, I lose. If I don’t play a creature and remove his 7/1, I have the risk of getting behind on board.

I decide the best course of action is to play my guy, which is going to activate for two (he has three cards in hand), and then hopefully he will show me a Mountain and a spell, and I will take the Mountain — which it means even if he has both the Mountain and the Spire Barrage, I still make sure he has to topdeck another Mountain to kill me. The plan fails as he shows me two Mountains, and then I just have to hope he doesn’t have the Barrage, which he does not.

I side out my Seaside Cliff, since he has Ruinblaster, and game 2 is basically the same as game 1, except this one he is not winning even if he has the Barrage.


Round 7: Akira Asahara

Round 7 I get paired against Akira Asahara, playing a UW deck. Game 1 he plays a Hedron Crab somewhat early and it’s clear he is all-in on that, but at some point I get to seven mana to Mosquito it (with the help of a Grim Discovery out of a milled land) and he has nothing else since my creatures are just much better.

Game 2 I start with a Machete into a Sell-Sword, and then successfully play around every card he has turn after turn. I was really pleased with my playing this game; it was almost like I had x-ray glasses. On turn 5 he passed with four untapped lands, and I had the 3/3 and Machete in play, and Blood Seeker in hand. I decided he would likely have Into the Roil, and did not equip, instead attacking for three — if he doesn’t have it, I missed two damage, but if he does, I am up three. I then play Blood Seeker and equip that one, and he sure enough bounces the Sell-Sword at the end of my turn. Then I replay it, equip it and attack with only that, instead of attacking with the Blood Seeker as well, and he has the Arrow Volley Trap to kill it.

He tries to race me with his 2/2 Flier, but I have a Hideous End I am sandbagging, and in the last possible turn where I know he doesn’t have anything because if he had he would have played already, and I know he just drew the blocker this turn, I kill his guy and attack for the win. Those games must have been very frustrating for him, because it looked like I was able to pull away from defeat very narrowly, but from my perspective the games were always in control and I never really thought I would lose either of them.


Round 8: Brian Kibler

I get to battle Brian Kibler to see who is the one undefeated player, and this was a covered feature match, unlike the other two, so you can see it here.

There isn’t much to add here, except that I think I had a really bad matchup — it might be that my deck was better than his against a random opponent, but in this match he definitely had the advantage, since my deck was full of 2/1s with no abilities and his was full of Scorpions and 3/3s and 2/3s lifelinkers. I manage to win the game he mulligans to five, and lose the other two.

I was also somewhat disappointed at myself because I missed a Blood Seeker trigger – the problem was that it seemed he would play nothing but Haste guys, and every time he would play it already sideways, attacking. My mind would then automatically race to work out the best blocking, completely ignoring my Blood Seeker, and I would have to force myself back to remember it. One time I only did that when it was too late, and he did not lose one life. It ended up not mattering in the slightest, but forgetting something like this is pretty amateurish, since it basically means you are not paying enough attention, and since you’ve traveled for 20 hours to play a tournament that is worth thousands of dollars, why exactly are you not paying enough attention?


2-1 with my deck was not at all disappointing, and I headed back to the hotel.
My next draft was much worse than the first, and you can also watch it in the Draft Viewer, though I wish you couldn’t.

My first pick was where things started going downhill in this draft. I agonized over Oracle and Mind Sludge, and in the end opted for the Sludge, because I really like heavy Black, and, you know, I had just done well with a Black deck losing to another Black deck in the finals, so it must be good. I don’t regret picking the Sell-Sword over the Baloth, but I do regret very much picking the Mind Sludge over the Oracle — I just had no idea of how good it was, because I had not drafted Green much.

Pack 2 was even worse, because both good cards in it were Green. Now I hate Green, but those cards are so much better than the rest that I decided to pick one of them. I am not the Baloth’s biggest fan, and at the time I was hoping to draft something more like BG Beatdown instead of BG Landfall, and the Harrow just seemed to me like the card that would have the highest chance of being good, instead of being either awesome or unimpressive like the Baloth. My biggest problem with this draft was that, since I had not drafted Green much, I didn’t know what to pick.

Pick three had nothing very impressive, and I decided to “keep my options open” by taking them Gem, which would allow me to go into more colors or Landfall if I chose to, having a Harrow already. That plan would be perfectly complemented by the Harrow I got next pack, except I picked… River Boa! I really like River Boa, and I think it might be better than Harrow in some decks, but with the kind of cards I was getting, Harrow would have certainly been better. But I picked River Boa because I am an idiot. From there on the draft went better, once I accepted that Green was going to be my main color. I got a pick seven Basilisk, pick eight Mold Shambler, for instance, which shows me how right I was to have moved into Green — it was definitely open.

The only Green card in pack 2 was Vines of Vastwood, which is not very impressive, so I looked for other options. I knew that Watanabe, to my left, was definitely Green, since I passed him packs with nothing but Green options (Oracle, Woodcrasher, and Harrow — I could have had almost all those, but instead I had Mind Sludge and River Boa), which meant I was not going to get much Green in pack 2, but probably a lot of Green in pack 3 — I had already gotten a lot in pack 1, and since no one on my right would get any in pack 2, with me and Watanabe getting it all before them, I was pretty much guaranteed the goods pack 3. So, I had to choose a second color for pack 2 — that choice was Black.

I decided on Black because I had received zero Black in pack 1, which meant all the people after me had also received zero Black, so it was the most likely color to get in pack 2. I would get almost no Black in pack 3, but that was fine, because I would be busy picking the Green cards anyway — all I really needed was to maximize my picks on the second booster.

The strategy worked somewhat, and I got passed the best uncommon and common in the format, Vampire Nighthawk and Hideous End, though not much else. There was definitely no second color that would have yielded better results.

Pack three really made my deck, with a stream of good Green cards. I should definitely have picked the Elzdrai Monument in there, and should also have picked the Vines over the Scrabbler, which I thought I would have to play but didn’t, but I got good cards anyway. My deck ended like this:

2 River Boa
2 Harrow
1 Grazing Gladehart
2 Giant Scorpion
1 Gigantiform
1 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Mind Sludge
1 Hideous End
1 Blazing Torch
2 Mold Shambler
1 Oran-Rief Recluse
1 Turntimber Basilisk
1 Vines of Vastwood
1 Vastwood Gorger
2 Bog Tatters
1 Explorer’s Scope
1 Nissa’s Chosen
1 Soul Stair Expedition
17 lands

The deck turned out not to be as bad as I thought it would end up from my draft, but I was still not very happy with it. I think that I did a great job of selecting the colors I was going to be in — they were definitely the right colors — but I did a very poor job in selecting my cards, once I was established in those colors. That was a downside of just hating Green — I did not get to draft it much, so I didn’t know what to do once I was forced into it. But I’ve learned from my mistake!

Round 9 I got paired against Paulo, with RW. Game one he mulliganed to five, but he didn’t really have to as I curved into Expedition + Boa + Scorpion + Mold Shambler + Bog Tatters + Gorger, or something like that. I sided out my two 4/2 Swampwalkers for Cobra Trap and Zendikar Farguide.

Game 2 I have a River Boa holding his attacks, but I keep drawing land after land, and die with something like 8 of them in play and 3 more in hand after he Brave the Elements my Hideous End.

Game 3 we have a real game — I get down a Nighthawk, he has the Journey to Nowhere, and I’m at a slightly disadvantage when I draw one of the two Mold Shamblers, getting back my Nighthawk. He has another removal spell for it, but I have Vines of Vastwood to save it, and the Nighthawk pretty much goes the distance. When he is at three life, I have in hand Hideous End, and I force him to block my Basilisk with his Kor Skyfisher, going to one. I decide against playing the Hideous End — I am not in a hurry; If he draws a card that answers the Hideous End, then he is going to die to the Nighthawk, as he obviously cannot answer that or he would have already. If he draws an answer to the Nighthawk, that might force him to tap out so that he doesn’t have mana to stop the Hideous End. If he has a life-gaining spell, such as Narrow Escape, I can respond to it with my burn spell, giving him one less turn to draw something. He draws Shepherd of the Lost, and I aim my Hideous End at one of his Red guys, so he cannot Brave the Elements, and I win.


Round 10 I get paired again with Brian Kibler, and this time the situation is reversed — he is the guy with 2/2s and 2/1s and I’m the one with Scorpions and Nighthawks, so the match clearly favors me.

He starts the game with turns 1 and 2 Lacerators, and I have Nighthawk on turn 3 to stop him dead. I draw land after land, though, and can’t do much, even if my Nighthawk is doing a great job of racing him and keeping my life total above 10 for his Lacerators. He repays my Blood Seeker mistake with interest when he forgets both a Sell-Sword counter and a Zektar Shrine Expedition counter, except his mistake is far more relevant than mine, as we get to a turn where if he has a land for the third Counter I am dead, and if he doesn’t, he is dead. He ends up not having a land but a Vampire’s Bite, so neither of us is dead. After that I have two turns to draw Hideous End, Gigantiform or Vines of Vastwood, but don’t and lose anyway.

Game 2 I again have the Nighthawk on turn 3, and this time I have a lot of follow up, including a Mold Shambler on his Expedition, so there is not much he can do about it.

Game 3 he starts a little aggressive, but doesn’t have much after that and we end up with a stalled board. He is a bit flooded, and I managed to get a Bog Tatters in play and stick Gigantiform on it. He doesn’t have a Mosquito, so I win.


Round 11 I get to play against Watanabe, and we are not a feature match!

It turns out he is playing Green/Blue. Game 1 starts well, I have an early creature with Explorer’s Scope that always hits, but doesn’t help much as I keep drawing lands. He has a Druid to accelerate a turn 4 Woodcrasher, which I force to block my Basilisk. He gets a Welkin Tern in play, and I have Mind Sludge in play with one less Swamp than he has cards in hand. I attack and hit a Forest with my Scope, so I leave him with one card — Windrider Eel. I draw all lands after this, and the Eel plus the Tern kill me.

Game 2 is also not very exciting, as I mulligan into River Boa, Harrow, Hideous End, and two lands, and he kills me with Baloth Woodcrasher before I can find my third.


I was very glad to have 2-1ed with this draft — now I was going to play my Constructed deck, which I trusted a lot more.

Round 12 was very awkward, as my opponent mulliganed to five and played a turn 1 tapped Breeding Pool. I drew and played Urborg and Thoughtseize, and reach my pad to note down the life total change. My opponent stops me with his hand, which automatically generates a flow of card names in my head — Daze, Force of Will, Pact of Negation — until I realize they are all not legal (except for, well, Pact of Negation). My opponent enlightens the situation when he says “I might scoop,” which he indeed does!

Let me say outright that I think this is a mistake — I am playing a combo deck, he has no guarantee that I have the combo. I might have kept a hand with Dark Depths and just never find the Hexmage, for example. Nevertheless, that presented a sideboarding problem for me, since I didn’t know what he was playing. I had three pieces of information available — one, my opponent had played Bant in Berlin, and done well with It, so there is a chance he would keep playing it. Two, my opponent had played a Breeding Pool turn 1. Three, my opponent had scooped, instead of trying to win.

The Bant and the Breeding Pool clues do fit together, but they don’t really match scooping — if my opponent was playing a deck with Path to Exile, why would he scoop? There is nothing stopping him from drawing Path/Bant Charm/Meddling Mage and winning, even off a four-card hand. Besides, what awesome sideboard can I have against Bant that makes him want to hide it from me so hard?

My other option was Dredge. Dredge plays Breeding Pool, and Dredge is a deck where he might actually scoop to prevent me sideboarding against it, since sideboarding is just too strong against dredge. Still, Dredge can win off four cards — what if he draws a second land, and then a Glimpse? Either way, it doesn’t make much sense for him to scoop. I decide I am going to go with the two facts I have, which are he played Bant and Breeding Pool, instead of trying to get into his mind and try to figure out why he would scoop.

I also realize, though, that if he is in fact playing Dredge, I will have wasted my free win by not sideboarding in Dredge hate. If he is playing Bant and I draw my Yixlid Jailer or Tormod’s Crypt, though, I can still win just fine. I decide to add the Jailer and one Crypt, just in case — I think the potential upside of winning the match if he is Dredge is worth the small risk of having two dead cards in my deck if he is not, even if I think he is more likely to be Bant than Dredge. I also side in the two Damnation, which are good versus both his possible decks, and the Doom Blade and Slaughter Pact, which are needed versus Bant (Gaddock, Meddling Mage) and also not bad against Dredge.

There might be some flaws in this train of thought, but I had to think of all that in the time allowed for sideboarding, so I think I did a pretty good job of giving myself the best chances.

It turned out it was all for nothing, though, as my opponent is playing neither Bant nor Dredge, but Next Level Blue. I wait until I have a lot of mana, and then play Vendilion Clique with Muddle the Mixture backup, for his Cryptic Command. Some turns later I find the Vampire and that is it.


I got to play versus Martin Juza round 13. He had asked for some help sideboarding against Dredge in the previous round, so I knew his entire deck and sideboard, and he also knew mine because I showed him afterwards, to keep things fair.

I open my first hand and see something that is pretty close to perfection — it is something like Mox, Dark Depths, Vampire, Sunken Ruins, Muddle, and I believe two Tolaria Wests. I agonize over my opening hand, because I don’t know what sequence of plays I’m going to make. I’m obviously going to keep, but I don’t want to say “Keep” and then think for five minutes as he is then going to know what I’m thinking about. I decide that I’m going to play it safe, and plan my game to get Vampire with Muddle, which means a turn 1 Tolaria West. He mulligans to five cards, which makes my decision of playing slower even better — he is probably not going to kill me very fast on 5, so I can afford the time to play around Path. I play my Tolaria West and he never really threatens my life total, and I combo with spare protection. After the game he asked me what I was thinking so much about my opening hand, and I replied with “my turn 1 play,” but it was more like “my turns 1, 2, and 3 play.”

Game 2 he again mulligans to five, but this time I do too, and I keep a bad hand of two Thoughtseize, Hexmage, and two Tolaria Wests. I figured him going to five would give me time to draw a Black land or two (or Ruins/Urborg), and my five-card hand has Vampire, Disruption, and access to Dark Depths, so it’s probably better than going to four.

We play draw go for a long while, he has two Ghost Quarters but no creatures. I get out a Chalice for one, which he O-Rings, and I finally draw a Black source and Thoughtseize him, taking another Oblivion Ring. I find a Needle with Beseech the Queen and play it (though I probably should have waited), and force him to use one of the Ghost Quarters on my Depths, though he keeps the other instead of depriving me of a land. The reason becomes apparent when he has the third Oblivion Ring to remove my Needle. The game drags on to the point where I have a second Vampire Hexmage to match his second creature (Kird Ape and Gaddock Teeg, I believe), and I am at five life.

He draws his card, which is the only one I don’t know about from Thoughtseize, and passes without play. I now have to decide whether I play for him to know the Ghost Quarter trick or not.

For those who don’t know it, the “Ghost Quarter trick” is that you should wait for the Vampire effect to resolve, let Dark Depths trigger, and then Ghost Quarter it – since Dark Depths says “sacrifice it; if you do…”, and you never did sacrifice it, you don’t get the token. As it has no counters left, multiple Hexmages do absolutely nothing. I had decided before the event that my default would be that the opponent does not know of this trick and will use the Quarter in response to me activating, so I would go for it if the opportunity presented itself, assuming there was some risk in waiting. This time, though, I was playing against Martin Juza — I felt the default didn’t apply and that he would know about it, so I decided to wait. I could draw a Tolaria West or my own Ghost Quarter, but at the point I forgot about Gaddock, and also had Beseech the Queen and Repeal as potential outs in my mind, which made waiting more attractive — had I realized those two cards would be blanks, I probably would have gone for it.

As it was, I drew a Black and passed, and Martin drew and played Steppe Lynx. Now I know I am dead next turn to any burn spell, so I figure it is time to go for it. I sacrifice the first Hexmage, and he responds by Lightning Bolting the second one — which means he did not know about the trick. As it was, there was nothing I could do, and I died the following turn.

Later in the match, Martin told me he had drawn the Bolt that turn, so if I had not waited I would have just killed him. I explained to him the reason why I hadn’t, and he told me he did not know of it, so I would just have won. The interesting thing here though is that Martin drew the Lightning Bolt that turn — which means he did not draw the Lynx that turn! He had the Lynx the turn before and declined to play it. The reason for that was that, if you work with the premise he was working (that two Vampires beat a Ghost Quarter), then I am definitely going for it if he plays his unknown card. Martin knew that, and he knew that despite him having like three cards in hand, I knew all of them from a previous Thoughtseize, so he made the play that would make me guess instead of handing me the win. It seems somewhat obvious once you look at it that way, but I know a lot of people who would have just played the Lynx and “hoped.”

There aren’t nearly as many mulligans in game 3, and I don’t remember much of it, except I was forced to use my Vampire on my own turn, because of Ghost Quarter, and then my 20/20 token got O-Ringed and I died.


Round 14 sees me playing against NLB with White, and that round I just played around all the wrong things. It was like I had the X-Ray glasses again, but a pair that had been sabotaged by my opponent. His first land is a tapped Hallowed Fountain, and I have Land, Mox, Dark Confidant, which he Paths. Next turn I don’t have another land, and I have the option of playing Chalice or Dark Confidant — I decide to play the Chalice for one, because I don’t want the Dark Confidant to be Spell Snared. One could argue that he would not have played tapped Hallowed Fountain turn 1 if he had Spell Snare, but how many people would do that anticipating land, MOX, two-drop, especially when having Path?
My Chalice resolves, and my Dark Confidant gets Mana Leaked. Frown. The game goes a long way, and I have both pieces of the combo but I am not in a rush, as I also have Muddle and he has zero pressure. He plays a Tarmogoyf, and I wait until I have mana to play Vampire, Muddle and pay for Mana Leak — he cannot Spell Snare or Path anything since I have the Chalice, so all I have to worry about is Command. He attacks with his Goyf and I don’t block, opting to sacrifice my guy at the end of the turn, to play around Sower and Threads. I do that and my 20/20 promptly gets bounced by Venser. I untap and lay a second Vampire and a second Depths, and I still have Muddle and three lands for Mana Leak, so I think I’m in great shape. I block his Mutavault when he attacks, again playing around the Control Magic effects, and again go for it at the end of the turn, but he has the second Venser and I die.

Later on, my friends who were watching the match said he didn’t have anything, and if I had just gone for it like five turns earlier I would have won, but by waiting I gave him the time to draw both Vensers. I still think it was the right play, though — Command is much more likely than Venser in today’s format, and I did have the combo twice, so he needed two Vensers, and most people who run them don’t run more than two, so it was not very likely.

I sided +4 Bitterblossom, +1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror, +1 Doom Blade (for Meddling Mage, which I didn’t know if he had or not), -2 Engineered Explosives, -3 Repeal, -1 Chalice of the Void.

I was never really in game 2 — I played turn 2 Blossom, which he Spell Snared, and when he had a turn 2 Meddling Mage for Bitterblosssom of all things I knew he must either be a terrible player or have all the answers for everything else in hand already. I miss my third land drop, which means he can Vendilion my Vendilion before I have the chance to play it, and now has five power in play. I stick a Vampire and try to combo, but that’s met with Cryptic Command. I then try a Meloku, but he has the Mana Leak, and the Vendilion Clique kills me.


At this point, I was not sure I could make it or not. The tournament was starting to look a lot like Hollywood — a UB deck, x-1 on day 1, then a bunch of losses on Day 2 to get a x-4 record and having to win the last two matches to sneak in 8th. All was fine in Hollywood, so maybe all would be fine here too.

In round 15 I play against Koutarou Ootsuka, and justice is served (from my point of view, anyway) when my opening hand is Chrome Mox, Chrome Mox, Dark Depths, Vampire Hexmage, Vendilion Clique, Beseech the Queen, Dark Confidant. He mulligans to five, which is a bit of a waste — I would rather he mulliganed to five next game — and I go turn 1 Vampire/Depths. He looks at me with big eyes and sheepishly says “good player!” He then thinks for a while, draws his card and scoops.

I’m now in the same situation as in the Breeding Pool round, except I don’t know about Breeding Pool, and I don’t know about Bant. Instead I know that he is Japanese, and most Japanese players are playing Dredge. I also know that he mulliganed to five, which doesn’t really mean anything concrete as anyone could mulligan to five, but it makes it more likely that he is playing a deck that Mulligans more… say, Dredge. I also think it’s relevant that when I played Vampire/Dark Depths turn 1 he paused for a while, then drew his card and scooped. I assume this pause was him thinking about conceding or not, which tells me he does not have Path to Exile in his deck, as anyone with Path would not think about scoop before drawing but would just draw their card to see what it is. All this information added up to make me think he was playing Dredge, and I sideboarded as if I knew that was his deck — all Crypts, Jailer, Damnation and Doom Blade, like before.

My opening hand is not very good, but it is good against Dredge. I decide to go all-in, since I already sideboarded assuming he was Dredge, and keep it. I feel great when he plays a turn 1 Crab, which I Doom Blade after it mills a lot of irrelevant stuff. Soon enough I tutor for Jailer. He has a hardcast Dread Return for the Sphinx he had milled before, and that finds him an answer for the Jailer. I follow with a Crypt and the Combo, and he has to sit back with his Sphinx and Moebas. I have a Damnation, but no third land. I know he is going to dredge Life from the Loam next turn, and I know his entire hand is lands, so I feel safe about Beseeching a fourth land instead of a Crypt and hoping to draw it manually – there is no Dredge 3 that kills me, since even Dread Return + a creature + a Dread Return target means all his guys die except for whatever he is Dread Returning, which then has to chump block even if it is Iona.


I do the math and realize that, barring some extreme change in tiebreaks (4.5% or so), I was in with a win. My last round opponent, David Ochoa, also realized that, and scooped. Thanks Web!

All the results I watched were going my way, including Kibler winning, which was particularly important since I had played him twice. I was almost sure to get in, but there is no way not to get nervous in those situations — if you are not a mathematical lock, you will be nervous until your name (or in my case country) is announced. It is particularly worse when you don’t even play the last match, since then you have one hour of nervousness. I got a bunch of “congratulations” from a lot of people, which was great but would probably make me want to kill myself if I ended up ninth. The round finally ended, but nothing happened as a couple of people were still playing. Ten minutes into extra time and they were still playing — I felt like going up there and speeding them up. Some 20 minutes later, and they finally started announcing the top 8, up to….

In eighth place…




Just like Hollywood!

As a side note, this 8th place suspense always remind me of a Grand Prix, where I watched Alex Kim wait for his result. It went like this:

In eighth place…


The United States…





So yeah, bad beats. Thankfully I always know it’s me when they say Brazil, since it has never happened that two Brazilians fight for 8th/9th. Now we do have another Paulo playing Pro Tours, though, so the danger is already there…

Anyway, back to the tournament…

I was going to play against Ikeda, which was a somewhat even match. He had Processions which could be troublesome, and one Ghost Quarter, as well as two Journeys to Nowhere, which looked very personal. He was not very fast, with not many one-drops, which meant I could take out two Chalices and leave in two Vendilion Cliques — I generally take them out, but against Ikeda they had the potential to stop Knight of the Reliquary, Procession, and Journey of Nowhere, as well as the Path that Chalice stops, so keeping two of them seemed fine.

There isn’t much to talk about the matches, since they were all covered, and almost all were filmed. I think I played well throughout pretty much the entire match, except for something I did in game 1 — at one point, I had a Chalice for one and a 20/20, and he had two Spirit tokens. I had a Slaughter Pact, but I drew EE, so I just played it for zero and attacked for the win, not realizing it would kill my Chalice for one — the “One” got stuck on my mind, and for some reason I thought blowing it for zero would not kill the Chalice. I don’t think Ikeda noticed this either, and I don’t know if he had the Path or not.

In game 4 Ikeda makes a pretty bad mistake, where he attacks me down to seven with a Crusher and a Nacatl and then plays another Nacatl… and a Fetchland! Had he played the Fetchland before attacking I would be down to six life, and dead on board. As it was, I was able to counter his Helix to stay at one, and he had to topdeck the Path (or admittedly any non creature spell) to win.

The last game was awkward — my opening hand had Mox, Vampire, Chalice, EE, Thoughtseize, Beseech the Queen, and Dark Depths. If I draw a non Tolaria West land, I likely win, but if I don’t I definitely lose, and after thinking for a while I decided I was not going to gamble my Pro Tour top 8 match on drawing a land. I looked at the top cards of my deck, and I was going to draw another Seize, another Dark Depths, a Threads and then a land, so it made me feel better.
A lot of people think looking at the top of your library is bad, because you become “results oriented,” but for me it doesn’t work that way. If I look at the top and it turns out I would have lost, I think “good, I made the right decision.” If I look at the top and it turns out I would have won, I think “well, I would have won, but the decision to mulligan was correct because I have to work with probability and not be results oriented.” See, it’s win/win!

In any case, my second hand had only Dark Depths and this time no Mox, and I have to go to five, which I keep. I manage a turn 2 Chalice and a turn 3 Threads, but that’s basically my entire hand. He plays a Crusher, and I have a Muddle — I can get Doom Blade and kill it next turn, but I think my best chance this game is to try to combo him out while I still have the Chalice, so I get the Vampire in the hopes I will draw Dark Depths/Tolaria/Beseech. The plan fails as he plays a Knight of the Reliquary and I draw into a second Muddle, but a turn too late to kill the Knight. On his turn he reveals a Nacatl for Crusher, and then decides to draw it — it would likely have been better to have used his Reliquary on his upkeep, to try to get a spell he could play (since I had Chalice for one).

He tutors for the Ghost Quarter at the end of my turn, and I realize I need some miracle to win. I chump block with my Goyf to make him think I have Damnation, and he doesn’t play another guy, which gives me time to draw something — but I never do. He plays a Qasali and leaves only his Ghost Quarter up, and I see an opening — I play Explosives for two. He sacrifices his Qasali on my Chalice, tapping his Quarter, and at this point I have to hope he has made a mistake and does not have Path in hand, because if he does have the Path I don’t think I can ever win, so I go for it while his land is tapped. It turned out he did not make a mistake, and he had the Path to kill me. I think I played this game well, given the circumstances, and gave myself the best chance to win, but it was just not good enough.

It was obviously disappointing to start 2-0 and end up 2-3, but, eh, what can you do about it? I don’t know what it is with me in quarterfinals — in all of them I lose 3-2, in all of them I mulligan to 5 at least once (often in the deciding match), and I don’t think I really played badly in any of them, so I don’t have a rational explanation. I also don’t think I get overly nervous, and I definitely don’t cheat so the cameras are not the problem. If anyone has any theories on why I always lose in the top 8, please let me know.

This is already big, and I just came back from Tampa so I’m working with a little time restrain — I will post what I believe is an updated version of Dark Depths next week, regardless of what my article is about.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and see you next week!