PV’s Playhouse – An Austin Report, Part 1 *Top 8*

Visit the StarCityGames.com booth at Grand Prix Tampa!
Thursday, October 22nd – Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Brazilian’s finest mage, put in countless hours of testing for Pro Tour: Austin… and they paid off in spades! Today, he shares his preparation stories and part 1 of his exhaustive tournament report. Congratulations, PV!


I am writing this from Orlando, where I will spend some time before Grand Prix: Tampa with a ton of other Brazilian players. GP: Sao Paulo qualified the Top 16, and 17 Brazilians made the trip to Austin, which is far more than for any previous Pro Tour. We had 9 people on Day 2, which is probably only smaller than Japan percentage-wise (of the countries that had a significant amount of representatives, anyway; I did not check them all). Of those, 6 finished in the Top 64, which makes for 35.3% of all the Brazilian players, beating even the 35% from Japan… so, yeah, watch for us, we are taking over!

In any case, this is my Pro Tour: Austin report.

My preparations for the Pro Tour started as soon as Zendikar was partially spoiled. Since I didn’t go to any tournaments before that, I had plenty of time to test Extended. My first impression of the format was that it was completely defined by combo decks. There were just so many of them! Most of the combo decks are bad, but people like their combo decks, and if someone wanted to play combo, they would be able to find one that fit their style, since their options included Scapeshift; Dredge; Hypergenesis; Thopter Foundry; Dark Depths; Elves; Tooth and Nail (which ended up not being a real deck, I guess); and even things like Shota Yasooka’s Gifts Yosei deck. Other than combos, there would be Blue Faeries/Goyf decks and Zoo — all the other decks (Affinity, Burn, some dedicated control deck) were quickly deemed unplayable.

Of those, Blue did not really appeal to me. it’s late game was not good enough, and it had no use for extra lands, which meant it had so many dead draws later on — Mana Leak, Spell Snare, Ancestral Visions, lands — which is not something I look for in a deck whose main game plan involves going to the late game. The deck would usually not be able to beat Zoo in the early game, and even when it managed to stabilize it would hit a clump of useless cards and die. So Blue was not completely out, but was not something that really appealed.

Zoo was a deck I liked from the beginning, which is not common since most of the time I end up playing Zoo for the lack of better choices, and not because I actually think it’s the best deck. One thing I quickly identified was that all the combo decks needed to be attacked via a different angle — Canonist, for example, is necessary to beat Hypergenesis and Elves, but it does close to nothing against Scapeshift, Dredge, and Dark Depths, where Gaddock Teeg is much better. My solution for that was to maindeck Meddling Mages instead of Teeg and Canonist — Meddling Mage is simply much better than the alternatives, and it was definitely worth it to add Blue just for him, especially since all your fetches get a Blue land so it is almost free. After that, I didn’t know whether I wanted to run Rangers, Elves, both, neither — I started to test.

At some point during the testing, my friend Diego inquired about the viability of a Dark Depths/Vampire Hexmage combo. I thought about it and said I didn’t know, which is a great sign because I usually just say “no, that’s just terrible” to everything. I started to brainstorm about it, and found a lot of cards that I liked — cards like Tolaria West and Muddle the Mixture, that would give the deck tutor capability while also serving some other role. I built a first list, with Gifts Ungiven and Grim Discovery, and left it there for future testing.

My preparation was basically playing with my friend Paulo, though I played with other people from time to time, and also talked to a lot of people about the format. We played every day, a lot of 10-games sessions — it was one of the Pro Tours for which I did the most playtesting. Whenever someone wanted to do something else, we had the very persuasive Tomoharo Saito argument, which was basically to reply to anything with “I’m sure Saito is playtesting Extended right now,” and it would encourage us to play more. I remember one particular day, at about 1am after having played a big set of games, we had the following conversation:

” PV, I have something I have to tell you… promise you won’t be mad at me?”

“Why, what happened?”
“I’m tired…”

“I know Saito doesn’t get tired… but… can we stop playing now?”

So, yeah, we played A LOT. Most of our testing was against Zoo, and most decks we tried would just lose to it, which made me like it even more. The other two decks I liked were the Vampire/Hexmage deck, which quickly evolved to a more combo-oriented build, eschewing Gifts for speed and disruption; and, ironically enough, Dredge.

Now, if you’ve read any of my articles in the past year, there is a 50% chance you know I hate Dredge. My biggest reason for this is that if the opponents want to beat Dredge, they will, and then you won’t be able to do anything about it, which essentially blanks all the advantage I expect to have because I am a good player. This Dredge was different, though — the new cards, especially Bloodghast, gave the deck a whole different approach. I played a few sideboarded games, and I was really impressed with it, because most of the time you would just respond to Tormod’s Crypt/Ravenous Trap with a Fetchland and would get your Bloodghasts back, which would be enough to beat people who kept a bad hand because it had hate. So, for the first time in my life, I actually strongly considered playing Dredge.

During this time, the deck I worked the most on was Vampires, not really because I thought it was the strongest but because I wanted to make sure I would not miss anything that was different and good. If there was a new Elves deck, I wanted to know about it, and I would not make the Yokohama mistake of working against bad versions. We played a lot more, and in the end we narrowed our options to Dredge, Zoo, and Vampires.

Here is our Zoo list, for reference:

4 Steppe Lynx
4 Wild Nacatl
2 Kird Ape
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Meddling Mage
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
4 Tribal Flames
3 Lightning Helix
3 Knight of the Reliquary
3 Qasali Pridemage
21 Lands (12 Fetches)

We also experimented without Tribal Flames and with Bloodbraid Elf (which I like more than Ranger), and with Jittes. I think that, if you play Zoo (unless you play the Kibler version, which is not really Zoo), Steppe Lynx is a must — it averages far more damage than Kird Ape, and most of the games I lost to Zoo involved Lynx. I also hate Goblin Guide, as I made sure to tell Martin Juza at every opportunity — it is just too small for the format, and a Lynx with a Fetch does the same amount of damage without giving them an extra card, and more than that if you have two Fetches.

Our Dredge list was this:

4 Bloodghast
4 Narcomoeba
4 Ideas Unbound
2 Glimpse the Unthinkable
3 Dread Return
2 Iona, Shield of Emeria
4 Bridge From Below
4 Drowned Rusalka
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Stinkweed Imp
2 Life from the Loam
4 Hedron Crab
2 Chrome Mox
17 Lands (9 Fetches)

Dredge had a problem: I’ve never really played Dredge much, so I didn’t know how to build an optimal list, though it ended up being close to what the Japanese played. I do not really like the Flame-Kin and Sphinx of the Lost Truths — I would rather reanimate Iona against everything. Against Zoo, they can get rid of your Bridges, so reanimating a fatty is much better, and against Combo she buys you the turn you need to kill with Tokens next turn so that you don’t need Zealot anyway. It’s also much better than Zealot if you just happen to Glimpse it out, as it’s not uncommon to have three creatures out in this build. The only deck I think I would want a Zealot is the mirror, but overall I think it doesn’t have a place — even in the mirror, if you reanimate Iona they cannot Dread Return you on the way back so you should be fine, all other things equal.

The other two problems with Dredge were that I would have to play a lot more with it, since it is just a completely different kind of deck than I’ve ever played, and it was definitely harder to play this time around (though that problem could be fixed if I decided to play Dredge early enough), and that I had no idea as to what play in my sideboard — Do I play answers for answers, like Echoing Truth or Needle, or do I try a different plan like Tombstalkers, Goyf, Vendilion? At one point we even considered Archive Traps and Twincasts to compliment Glimpse and Crab for an alternate win condition if they happened to Leyline you. I also had no idea what to sideboard out with the deck — if I decided to play Dredge, I would definitely need to play more matches with it.

As we played more with Vampires, we realized we like it more and more. It would beat almost all the other combo decks, even if it wasn’t as fast, because it had a critical mass of disruption, and it would battle well with most Zoo decks that were prepared for it, such as ours that had Meddling Mage. We played games against Blue decks and it was also breaking even, and our Blue builds splashed for Path, so we reasoned we would be fine unless they had Vensers. Dredge was a pretty rough game 1, but we had all the weapons to fight it in games 2 and 3 — that plus the fact that you could just blow them out sometimes no matter what they did, and that most people (theoretically) would not know our deck made for a strong case to play the Vampire deck.

Zoo had one problem that I didn’t really know how to fix — I liked the Mage/Flames against the Combo builds, but then I would lose to the Ranger/Elf/Jitte builds (or Baneslayer builds, if you will). I didn’t know which would be more prevalent, combo or mirror, so I didn’t know what build to play — that was also an incentive to play Vampires, since it did not require me to correctly estimate the metagame.

We got to Austin on Wednesday, and it was unbelievably hot. We stayed at a Super 8 hotel, and there was a McDonalds right across the road, except there was no way to cross it. We had to walk for around 15 minutes one way, cross it, walk 15 minutes back to the McDonalds, then another 30 minutes to go back to the place that would have taken us one minute to go to if we could simply cross the road in front of our hotel. I guess American cities are just not friendly to those without a car.

The day went on, and we played more and settled on Vampires. Now all we needed was to get to the optimal build, and to find the cards. There were 4 people playing the deck in our room, and we were missing 5 Dark Depths, 7 Chalices, among others. I went to the event early on Thursday, and managed to get most of what I needed with Luis, Gaudenis and Zaiem, as well as buying the last Dark Depths they had for a mere $25. As a side note, I think this was the Pro Tour in which it was hardest to find the cards you needed, not close. Dealers just weren’t equipped to deal with everything. Many cards were sold out — Dark Depths, Ghost Quarter, Drowned Rusalka, Yixlid Jailer (who on earth came up with that name? I have to check the spelling every time I type it) — I know people who did not play the decks they wanted because they couldn’t find the cards, and this is just absurd for a Pro Tour. I myself had to settle for a Foil Promo Yixlid Jailer until the end of round 3, when my friend dropped and gave me his normal one, because I was simply unable to find it — and I know a lot of people!

I also found out at the event that the Dark Depths deck (and no, I cannot decide if I should call it Vampire or Dark Depths) was going to be heavily played, which was bad, since, well, I hate the mirror. It was good that I got to know about it, since then we could add the Bitterblossoms back. I was still not overly worried, since I knew there was a good chance no one had played as many matches with and against the deck as Paulo and I had. I knew we had close to the optimal build, but it would have been better to just surprise everyone.

Anyway, we went to the Pro Tour Party, and it was just great — the food was good and plenty, the desserts were awesome, and we even got both shirt AND hat. It was the first Pro Tour for some of my friends, and the second for some others, and I was glad they got a good impression, and that they were able to shake off the horrible impression from Kyoto.

After the dinner, we went back to the site to give our thoughts on the Hall of Famers of the year, and then we did a draft in which my team was promptly destroyed. I wish I had gotten to practice Draft a lot more than I did — I was just too locked in Extended, with it being 10 rounds instead of 6, and to me the chances to hit a jackpot in that format were much greater than the ones of finding the ultimate draft strategy. My plan was basically to do very well in Extended and then use my lifetime stored knowledge of draft plus my limited knowledge of that particular format to manage a 4-2.

As I arrived at the event on Friday morning, I still had one open slot. All I had to do was decide between a fourth Vendilion, a fourth Repeal, and a Duress. Then I talked to Luis and he told me he thought a Ghost Quarter was needed, because everyone was running them, and he had removed a Tolaria West for it. I liked my Tolaria Wests, especially when I am adding a tutor target, so I just used my last slot to add a Ghost Quarter, since I felt the deck could use the extra land anyway.

This is the deck I played:

I know I am biased, since, well, it was me who built it, but this deck looks just so beautiful! So many answers, so many tutors, so much disruption, a fast combo, and even a side plan of beating down, with almost all the cards doing more than one thing. It kind of reminded me of Trix and Flash/Hulk, being a combo deck with so many resources, though obviously not as overpowered as those.

Most of the cards are pretty self-explanatory, acting as tutors, disruption or the combo itself. I’ll explain some of them:

3 Repeal: Repeal is just great, and does everything you want it to do — it is an answer to Needle and Meddling Mage, it slows Zoo down by a lot, it bounces Dredge’s chump blockers and it draws you cards. I would not have minded playing a fourth Repeal, if there was room.

3 Engineered Explosives: EE, other than also being an answer to Needle/Mage/Chump blockers, helps you in the games where you simply cannot race — or makes it so that you don’t have to try to race while exposing your kill condition. We thought Zoo would be the most popular deck, which is why we had three of these, as they go a long way towards beating that matchup. Luis, Web, and Josh had 2 EEs and 2 Threads of Disloyalty, which might be better as Threads is good in the mirror too, but then you have to remove something and I’m not comfortable with not playing 4 Tolaria Wests.

If you have inquiries about anything else in the maindeck, let me know, but it should be pretty obvious.

The Sideboard? I’ll break it down:

4 Bitterblossom: This was originally in for Blue decks, but then was deemed to not do enough and was removed, but added back for the Mirror when we realized it would be big. In the mirror, most things cancel each other, due to being Legendary, and then the match degenerates into an almost UB Faeries mirror, where you want to remove their Blossom and resolve yours, though not as good because of EE. It also chump blocks forever, in case they do combo.

2 Damnation: Damnation is actually not that good against Zoo, since it is kind of slow, but it shines against decks like Affinity and, surprisingly enough, Dredge. The way Dredge beats you is by clogging the board with Narcomoebas and Stinkweed Imp, and you just Wrath them and attack for lethal if that happens.

1 Doom Blade: A tutor target, to deal with Meddling Mage/Teeg/Reliquary, and also a fine card to draw on its own against aggressive decks.

1 Slaughter Pact: Basically the same, except gets tutored by Tolaria instead of Muddle, which means all your tutors can now remove those creatures. Also kills Magus of the Moon, even if you have to pay 6 with Beseech to tutor for it!

1 Meloku The Clouded Mirror: This is here mainly for the mirror, since it trumps basically everything else, and if you resolve this and this stays in play you just cannot lose. One is not many, but you can always Beseech for it if you have to, and it’s more of a Miser’s card anyway, costing five and whatnot. You also side it in against Blue, though you have to be careful not to get it Shackled, because if that happens you are just dead.

2 Tormod’s Crypt, 1 Yixlid Jailer: Crypt gets the edge over Ravenous Trap because it can be tutored, and Jailer means that your Muddle also has a use as a graveyard-removing effect. Jailer is probably the most powerful card against Dredge short of Leyline of the Void, which you obviously cannot run as a one-of, and this deck is well equipped to protect it, since if you Thoughtseize or Muddle their Darkblast (which they need to have in hand as you play this), they just can’t get it back and have to hope to draw another one. Since there are Seize, Muddle, Crypt, Damnation, and all the tutors, you should have plenty of time to find and resolve a Jailer.

2 Threads of Disloyalty: Threads was there mainly for the Zoo matchup, but it is also very good in the mirror, which is a Dark Confidant/Bitterblossom fight. Ordinarily it is hard to Threads the 20/20, since no one is forcing you to use Hexmage on the attack step, but in the mirror it is often correct to do so, since if you wait they can just play their own Dark Depths and you can’t respond. Besides, in the mirror they actually can force you to make the token, since they can sacrifice their Hexmage on your Dark Depths and then steal it from you, so be careful!

1 Pithing Needle: mainly against Ghost Quarter, but also against Blue since they have a lot of targets (EE, Jitte, Mutavault, Shackles) and not bad against Dredge, since it stops Rusalka. Just a good catchall card to have in your sideboard, I believe, since playing one effectively gives you four.

As to how to play this deck, well, it is not a very hard deck to play — even though it has many Tutors and cards with multiple functions (do I play my Tolaria West or do I transmute it?, etc), most of the time your play is pretty obvious. I think the key is that this is ultimately a combo deck, and you should treat it as such. If you get too focused on controlling the board, then you might just end up losing. One example of that is Engineered Explosives against Zoo. Most of the time, it is correct to play it on turn 1 to match their Lynx/Nacatl. You will not get much out of it, since they will just hold their guys back, but you don’t have to. If you combo them, it does not matter how many one-drops they have left in their hand. It is not like you are playing a Blue control deck that aims to seize control of the board and needs Explosives to be a X-for-1 — if playing EE gives you an extra turn, it is already worth not sandbagging it.

You also have to understand, though, that while you are a combo deck, you do have resources, so you don’t have to go around sacrificing your Hexmage at the first opportunity. Each draw step is more likely to give you an answer to Path to Exile than a Path to Exile for them (in fact, much more likely, since you can draw Vendilion, Thoughtseize, Muddle, Chalice, West, and Beseech), so if you are not going to die, you might just want to wait. I see a lot of people complaining “but how could I know he was going to draw his third Path, that’s so lucky of him,” but sometimes you could have just played around it as well. Basically, understand that you are a combo deck, but you do not have to combo too fast so that they do not draw their answers, because, if you go for the longer game, your deck is better equipped to handle their answers than theirs is to handle your combo.

Anyway, onto the tournament…

Round 1: UW Martyr

Those two games were very unexciting, but they were just the kind of games you need to get confidence built up in the first round of the Pro Tour. I started with Land, Mox, Dark Confidant, which he Pathed (the Swamp was in my hand, of course!). After that I played Chalice of the Void for one, and he did not play a single spell until I assembled my combo with Muddle backup just in case.

I didn’t know how I was going to side against this, since I didn’t believe that a) anyone would play it b) I could manage to lose regardless of what I sideboarded. I sided +1 Pithing Needle +1 Tormod’s Crypt (just in case) for 1 Repeal and 1 something else that I honestly don’t remember — probably another Repeal or an Explosives.

I start game 2 with a Thoughtseize, taking his Oblivion Ring. He then draws and plays a Needle on Hexmage, and I play EE for one, blow it up, and follow it with a Needle of my own on Ghost Quarter, since I have protection from basically everything else already in my hand. He plays a Ranger of Eos, but I have Chalice for one, and soon enough I combo him again.

2-0, 1-0

Round 2: Dredge

This was a fellow Brazilian, so I knew what he was playing. Our games were all pretty awkward, especially game 1 — I Thoughtseize him and see only one land, and a Rusalka and a Glimpse. I decide to take the Glimpse, because the Rusalka isn’t going to do much on its own, and this way I don’t have to just hope he doesn’t draw a land, but it ends up being bad because he just never draws a second one. Still, I cannot punish him for it, as I have Dark Confidant and Vendilion attacking (which I used on myself to cycle a Mox) but can’t find the combo. At some point he draws his second land, after Cycling the Rusalka, and Loams two lands back. I finally draw the Vampire + Depths combination, but at this point I am pretty much dead as he keeps playing Imps and Narcomoebas, and he ends up surviving at one life, though he missed his second land drop for many turns.

I sided -4 Chalice of the Void, -3 Vendilion Clique, +2 Tormod’s Crypt, +1 Yixlid Jailer, +2 Damnation, +1 Pithing Needle, +1 Doom Blade

Game 2 I keep a very good hand, but he starts with Thoughtseize and my hand is suddenly not so good anymore. He plays a Needle, but I have a bunch of Repeals, so I keep cycling them in it, until I find the combo and finally kill him.

Game 3 he keeps a hand with two Needles and a Rusalka, but no Dredgers. I play Dark Confidant and Hexmage, and start attacking. He cycles his Rusalka and discards a Dread Return, instantly correcting it to Iona, so I know I have to be careful or he is just going to hardcast it if I don’t draw a Crypt soon (though he is still stuck on two lands). I end up drawing a Ghost Quarter, which means Dread Return is an even more distant dream, and I kill him with triple Hexmage plus Dark Confidant.

2-1, 2-0

Round 3: Rob Dougherty playing Zoo

He started with a Kird Ape, and I had land, Mox, Chalice. I then Repeal his Kird Ape, which he cannot replay (such combos!), and have ample time to get my 20/20 on.

I side -4 Dark Confidant, -3 Vendilion Clique, +2 Damnation, +2 Threads of Disloyalty, +1 Pact of Negation, +1 Doom Blade, +1 Pithing Needle

Game 2 has no first turn play, and then a turn 2 Dark Confidant. I have my combo in hand, but then have the option to Thoughtseize him instead, which I do, since I figured he was likely to have a Path if he kept a hand without a turn 1 play, seeing a bunch of burn but no Path. He reveals a Goyf for Dark Confidant, plays it and passes, and I draw into another Thoughtseize, though now it is too dangerous for me to play it because I know he has plenty of burn spells. I just have to risk the card he drew was not a Path. I combo and pass, and he does not attack into my Vampire. One thing to keep in mind against Zoo if you are playing this deck is that it is almost always strictly better to block with your Vampire instead of with the Dark Depths token — if he does not have the Path, he is dead either way, whether you kill his creature during the attack or not, so it doesn’t matter, but if he does have the Path then blocking with the Vampire will save you damage, whereas waiting to block with the 20/20 will not. Seems pretty obvious to me, but I saw a lot of people blocking with their Dark Depths for no real reason.

Anyway, when he does not kill my Vampire, I know he is dead, since he would not give me the chance to untap and get Muddle mana up, plus a card. I do the math and see that I cannot possibly lose even if all his draws are Bolts, so I Thoughtseize him before combat just because — maybe he plays a Condemn of some kind, I don’t know — but his hand has nothing but burn and lands. I look at him, and he looks back, so I just attack for the win. What did he think I was going to do, forget to attack?

2-0, 3-0

Round 4: Osyp, playing Thopter Foundry Combo

The game starts very well for me, with land, Mox, Dark Confidant, which he Paths, and then I make a Vendilion Clique. I see he is stuck on Blue mana, so I take his Day of Judgment and leave him with Thirst and Gifts. He has a Ghost Quarter, and draws another Day of Judgment to kill my guys, as well as a Mox on Blue. I follow with Thoughtseize and Vendilion, taking both his Blue cards. I hold onto my Urborg for a long time, but then decide I have to play it to start powering up (or down) my Dark Depths, as It’s going to give me two more mana, which means one counter less a turn. He plays an Engineered Explosives for two, which makes me think he does not realize I have Urborg, or he would have just played it for three — but as I am not sure, I use my Dark Depths for mana anyway, to remove a counter, and that was probably a mistake because it tipped him off. He blows the Explosives for 2, killing nothing, and then returns it back with Academy Ruins and plays it for three. On two life, he kills my Vendilion, and then I miscount and make a potentially game-losing mistake… I play a Dark Confidant and pass without playing a land.

On his turn, he has just enough mana to bring back Explosives, play a land, play it for two and keep two mana up to blow it, which means he has to tap his Ghost Quarter. Had I played a land, I would be able to draw another land and activate my Dark Depths on my turn, but instead now I have to draw a colored card for my Chrome Mox, to hit 9 mana.

He does not blow up the Explosives, passing instead, which is mega awkward, since he is at two life and will have to kill my Dark Confidant anyway (and I know his only card in hand). I remove a counter from my Dark Depths at the end of the turn, bringing it to three, and write 3 on the piece of paper I have for counters, scratching the 4. Then I untap and flip the card from the top of my library — it’s a Sunken Ruins. Then he makes a surprised face and says “no, wait, we are still at the end of my turn,” to which I say “obviously we aren’t.” The table judge was not watching it, and rules in his favor when I explain what happened, so I appeal to the head judge.

The head judge comes over and I explain what happened, and tell him that to me it’s pretty clear that Osyp forgot about the Dark Confidant triggering, and only remembered that when I actually revealed the card, and he should not be allowed a free takeback. Osyp says he was thinking about leaving his Ghost Quarter up, in case I have a Mox so I can’t make a Marit Lage. I explain that he had no reason to think, as he was on two life therefore had to tap the Ghost Quarter to kill my Dark Confidant.

We fight over it for a while, with him saying I played too fast and me saying I played at my normal speed, and between writing the number and untapping he had all the opportunities to stop me from revealing. He says he did not notice he was at two life, and so was thinking whether to kill the Dark Confidant or leave the Ghost Quarter up, but if that is the reason why he did not kill it, then why does he want to kill it NOW? If he thought he was at three, by passing he made his decision of not killing the Dark Confidant, instead saving the Ghost Quarter, so why does he want to go back and kill it now? It makes no sense to me — the only thing that changed was the information he got from my revealed card (a Sunken Ruins). I explain all that to the judge, and in my mind there is no doubt that he is getting a free takeback, but the judge still rules in his favor, which frustrates me a bit. I keep arguing the case, as I have firm conviction I am right and I gave him all the chances to do it, and when the judge asks me if I played too fast I tell him that I played at my normal speed, which is fast, since I was not about to slow down and ask “hey, would you like to blow Explosives now or wait for my upkeep,” but he still had ample time to respond. Then Osyp asks me if I am admitting I purposely played faster so he would forget it, and I say that no, I was not playing faster. I was just not purposely playing slower so that he would remember it.

The judge upholds his original ruling, so the Dark Confidant dies on his turn, but I at least get to shuffle away the Sunken Ruins that is on the top of my library, because he saw it when he shouldn’t have. Now I have another opportunity to draw a colored card and win, but I draw a Chalice instead. I pass and we play draw go for a while, and after sculpting what I think is a decent hand, I go for it at the end of his turn, removing a counter. He responds with Ghost Quarter, so I look through my library twice, trying to find a phantom second Swamp. Then I check my hand and mutter something, and shuffle my deck again. I have no idea whether he fell for it or not, but it was basically free for me to do, and it might hint that I have a Swamp in hand, which I did not. It may also make him play differently in games 2 and 3, by, say, avoiding to Path my Vendilion or Ghost Quartering my land because he knows I have two Swamps, when I in fact only have one. It seems better than flat out telling him “okay, I only have one Swamp” anyway. Let him figure it out if I have a Swamp or not in hand, if he comes to that.

I untap and do some tutoring, playing a Hexmage (I already have a second Depths by then). There is not much use playing Chalice now, as he still has Ruins plus Explosives. He untaps and plays a Meddling Mage on Muddle the Mixture, and does not equip it with Sword of the Meek despite having three lands up. I simply untap and attack with my Hexmage, which he is forced to block since he is at two. I play Chalice for one, him responding with Path and me with Sacrificing the Vampire, and then a Chalice for two, locking up the game.

I sideboard +1 Pithing Needle, +1 Doom Blade, +1 Yixlid Jailer, -3 Repeal, if I’m not mistaken. I think about bringing in a Crypt, but realize it does nothing to stop his combo if he has one extra artifact.

My opening hand is very good, and I again have an early Dark Confidant, as well as a Hexmage and a Dark Depths, though he has Ghost Quarter. He plays Engineered Explosives for two and passes, and I untap, think for about two minutes (I like to think before things actually happen so I am not caught off guard), attack, and pass the turn.

He draws, plays a land, and blows his EE. I respond by sacrificing my Hexmage, and he Ghost Quarters my Depths. I get my Swamp, and EE resolves. Then he plays a Chrome Mox, which would enable him to play Meddling Mage, and I respond to the Mox with Vendilion Clique. I see two Meddling Mages and a Blue card, but the land he has untapped is Blue, not White, so I take one of the Mages, and since he does not draw a White card to imprint he has to hold on the Meddling Mage. I untap and play my Vampire, and a second Dark Depths. He untaps, draws, and plays a Hallowed Fountain, which means he only has one card in hand that I don’t know — the others are a Muddle the Mixture and a Sword of the Meek. He plays his Fountain untapped, but doesn’t say anything or write two damage down, so I ask him if it’s tapped or untapped and he says he thought it was Mystic Gate. He thinks for a second and says “Untapped,” going to 9, facing my Vendilion and Hexmage. He has 5 untapped lands. I think about it at the end of his turn and decide I have to go for it, because if I wait there is chance he will draw into the Foundry to combo me, or into a way to deal with my token. I know it is unlikely that he just drew one of those, as he would have had no reason to play an untapped land then, so I think he probably drew either Gifts or Thirst, and in that case I would rather just go for it this turn. It turns out he had a Gifts, but he could only get Repeal and Path, and when I bin those two he scoops.

2-0, 4-0

I was really pleased with how I played this entire match. Sure, I made an almost match-losing mistake of not playing a land, but other than that it feels like I played at a very high level, playing around things when I had to and going for it when I had to.

Round 5: Kazuya Mitamura (Dredge)

Game 1 starts well, as he doesn’t dredge into anything relevant in his first three tries. I have a Dark Confidant and the combo, but he has Stinkweed Imp and triple Narcomoeba. He has a Dread Return in his graveyard, and agonizes over it for a while, but decides to pass the turn instead. I know this is my chance, so I Repeal his Imp at the end of the turn, and hope one of my three draws gives me an Explosives, a Beseech, or a Tolaria West. I reveal the Bob card and it’s a Tolaria, and I manage to steal the game.

Game 2 started even better for me, when I had my Yixlid Jailer and he had no Darkblast. At some point he picks my Jailer to read it, and I have the kneejerk response of stopping him and saying “It’s in Japanese; we can call the judge for the English text if you want.” Then he looks at me with a puzzled face, and I realize that I am an idiot as he calmly continues to read the card that happens to be in this native language, with Martin laughing in the background and saying “Leveled.”

After that, the judge confirms that his Narcomoebas don’t come back from Glimpse, and I get a Dark Confidant going, and eventually combo and get my 20/20 facing his Narcomoeba plus Imp, but he has Echoing Truth — it was probably a mistake to have gone for it, I should have just waited. Next turn he plays Ideas Unbound, and carefully selects the three cards he is going to discard, all face down as he flips them. I think this is important to notice, because most people don’t do it — they just discard one, then another, then think about the third one. If you do that, you give away information about your hand — the way Mitamura did it, I did not know what card he was agonizing over. If you play, say, Thirst for Knowledge and instantly discard a Legend, and then think for a while, it’s obvious you will have a second copy, for example.

He discards his three cards, and I immediately untap, and then he stops me and says “oh wait” and plays a land. I should not have let him do it — Ideas Unbound tells you to discard at the end of the turn, so I know he passed. I let him do it anyway, though, for some reason unknown to mankind, and then the next turn he has a fifth land for Grave Troll, which would have been delayed for a turn had I been macho enough to tell him “no sorry, you already passed.”

I take an attack from his Troll, and then untap and reveal Beseech the Queen, dying to my Dark Confidant.

Game 3 I have Dark Confidant hitting him, and he knows I have a Jailer, since I revealed it. I Thoughtseize him and see Echoing Truth and Darkblast, which he did not play on my Bob because of Jailer. His lands are a Fetchland and two Islands. I take the Darkblast and play my Jailer and a Ghost Quarter, so he does not bounce it back to Dredge the Darkblast because then I kill his only Black source. He draws and passes and I play a Vampire Hexmage and pass, and he Echoing Truths my Jailer and dredges Darkblast, passing after that. Next turn I have Pithing Needle, but make the mistake of attacking first, so when I play It he can fetch for a Dual and float the Mana if I Quarter the Land — if I do it pre-combat, he Darkblasts one attacker but cannot do anything about the Jailer. He did take the attack damage though, and died a turn later anyway.

2-1, 5-0

So, I was 5-0! Pretty inspirational after my 2-4 and 1-4 starts in the two previous Pro Tours this year. I was glad to have played as much as I did beforehand, as it seemed it all paid off, even if I made some stupid mistakes. Next would come draft, and I knew I was not nearly as prepared for it, but also that I was not a big dog to anyone in there.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week, when I go through the rest of the tournament and talk about the list I would play if I were to play this deck again!