I could have called this article “High Expectations.” Six weeks before Worlds, I left my home in Lille, France, for a long trip. A trip which would take me to seven countries and four continents, with 246 hours spent in planes and lay-overs in the airports. With two Pro Tours and 4 Grand Prix tournaments planned, I still had a good chance to make it to Level 8, and I was convinced I’d end up at least Level 7.
Five weeks later, I arrived in Rome with only one goal: enjoying Magic.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve done pretty badly in most tournaments I’ve attended, and I even had to stop working as head editor for a French online magazine.
But when I land in Rome, I’m just happy. Happy I’m almost home after six weeks, which felt more like six years. Happy I’m back in Rome for the first time since my first Pro Tour in 1998. Happy my brother will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in a couple of days. And finally, happy because my stepbrother (and double GP Top 8 competitor) Rafael Le Saux flew all the way from Chile to attend the ceremony.
I don’t even have to worry about the result, as only a Top 8 can help, as far as my Pro Points are concerned. For the first time in a while, I can ignore the pressure of the result, and just try to enjoy playing Magic for a few days.
I meet with Antoine on Wednesday, and WotC take us, Brad Nelson, and Corey Baumeister to visit the city and shoot a movie. A movie which I couldn’t find, but which should be on the coverage page. The funniest part was when Brad and Corey showed us a token they had made yeaaaars ago, with a picture of them as kids. This token was “creature: the Next Ruels!”
I felt very flattered. And old.
My Ranger of Eos of a brother and I then met with Manuel Bucher. As I couldn’t playtest physically with them, and as I wouldn’t play their most efficient deck in Magic: Online queues, I just decided over the last week to try my best to bring a new angle to their testing, by doing all I could to make a control deck work. To put it simply, the result of our testing was: Jund and WR are very strong, they would be the two most popular decks, and it’s impossible to play control as no single deck can beat them both. Therefore, I tried my best to build an efficient control deck until the very last minute. But it was still not good enough, as any bad draw would be immediately punished by any regular draw in this rather fast format.
It’s also hard to play control when the best cards from which to gain card advantage are creatures (Ranger of Eos, Bloodbraid Elf).
This is the version I was the closest to playing:
4 Rupture Spire
1 Marsh Flats
2 Exotic Orchard
4 Crumbling Necropolis
1 Kabira Crossroads
4 Arcane Sanctum
2 Glacial Fortress
2 Arid Mesa
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Dragonskull Summit
The deck was good, just not good enough for the format. Therefore, I went with the same deck as Manu and Antoine, a WG splash U deck. I’ll leave Manu with the analysis of the deck he created, highlighted in his last article. He knows the deck better than I.
I wanted to have fun… and my first day was not exactly fun. Even though I ended up 4-2, I took 11 mulligans in 6 rounds. My opponents took 7, and if they had been playing optimally, I would have finished 1-5. My first opponent even opened with turn 3 Soul Stair Expedition, only to put his first counter on it when his seventh land hit the battlefield… but he still beat me in 10 minutes. Even though the deck had not been so impressive, I had still won three decisive games by playing better than my opponent, and that felt really good. My strange impression of the deck was confirmed by the results of the other three players running it: Antoine went 1-5, winning the final match; Yann Massicard went 2-4; and Manu ended up with a much better 5-1 record.
But to me, the big thing on Thursday was my brother’s induction to the Hall of Fame. A full column would not be enough to say how happy it made me, and how proud of him I am. I regret a little that we weren’t inducted in the same year, but I still had a great time seeing my brother wearing a suit for the first time(but no shoes after the ceremony, as they were apparently hurting too much), and to be able to share this moment with his girlfriend Lara and her Rafabulous brother. Once again, good job bro!
The other big thing on Thursday was Charles Gindy DQ. My two cents on this: Gindy screwed up. I believe he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong, but no one’s supposed to ignore the law. That being said, end of story. He has made one big mistake – everyone does – and he has paid a heavy price for it, so I don’t think it’s necessary to discuss what happened over and over. His team was DQed, he lost at least $1000, and if I’m correct, he dropped a pro player level. There is no need to blame him anymore for that.
My first draft table has only one known name: Nasiff. JosÃ© Nasiff from Venezuela.
I’m open to forcing allies, but all I see is Green in the first pack. I go for it, and end Mono-Green at the end of pack one, when I open Ob Nixilis, Oran-Rief Survivalist (no allies yet), and River Boa. After considering the Boa for a while, I go with the mythic, considering Green is so open that the ally should wheel. The rest of pack two is pick 4 Nissa Revane, pick 6 Nissa’s Chosen, and pick 9… River Boa!
Another two rares later, I end up with a deck which seems close to unbeatable:
1 Oran-Rief Survivalist
1 Nissa’s Chosen
1 River Boa
1 Greenweaver Druid
2 Grazing Gladehart
1 Oran-Rief Recluse
1 Turntimber Basilisk
2 Mold Shambler
2 Territorial Baloth
1 Malakir Bloodwitch
1 Baloth Woodcrasher
1 Terra Stomper
1 Vampire’s Bite
2 Khalni Heart Expedition
1 Nissa Revane
The previous evening, I was sharing a cab with Frank Karsten, Aaron Forsythe, and Stan van der Velden (sorry if I spelled this wrong, buddy). As we were on our way to the Hall of Fame dinner, Frank asked me about the format, and we talked about the archetypes, the cards, and other stuff for a while. Until I asked him if he had checked his rating at the end of the day.
“I haven’t… why do you ask?”
“So you don’t know we’re playing in the first round tomorrow?!”
And there he was, “le tank,” the draw machine. With a 3-2-1 record at this point far, he still hadn’t completed his legendary tournament yet (he would eventually do so on the following day, but we’ll come back to this later). Just like everyone else, Frank made a little mistake which ended up costing him a game 3 that he still had about 50% chance to win when, with UUUWW untapped, he tapped UUUW to play Into the Roil on my Baloth Woodcrasher, only to realize his untapped Plains wouldn’t allow him to trap two of my guys back to my hand at end of turn.
In the following round, my opponent opened with Piranha Marsh, Kabira Crossroads, and Forest. He then added turn 5 Turntimber Grove, only to finish me with Grappling Hook on Crypt Ripper. In the second I drew Ob Nixilis, which won on its own, and in the third I kept 4 lands, Khalni Heart Expedition, Nissa Revane on the draw, then drew five straight land when he opened with turn 4 World Queller. There was pretty much nothing more I could do at this point, but he tried to give me a chance. Such as the time when I’ve only Malakir Bloodwitch on the board, when he has Queller equipped with Hook and Crypt Ripper. He decides to name planeswalker during his upkeep, then play Gladehart in the first main phase, not play a land, equip the Shade and attack for a trade as he only had one mana left. Still not much I could do, though. I was now 5-3, when I could, not to say should, have been 2-6.
My final win was not so difficult, as I twice had Nissa on turn 4 versus RB. I was now 6-3 with a table of a different level, featuring a bunch of well-known names such as Nassif (Gab this time), Jacob, Cornelissen, Rietzl, and van Medevoort. This time the draft went pretty badly, as I first picked Terra Stomper to end up Mono White at the end of pack one, as Kamiel on my right was UG. I then first-picked Hellkite Charger in an empty pack, followed by a pair of Blue flyers when Paul Rietzl, on my left, was drafting UW. Bad cooperation with my neighbors, first picks in the sideboard, and good players at the table; everything was manifesting for me to do badly.
2 Steppe Lynx
2 Kor Skyfisher
2 Kor Outfitter
1 Cliff Threader
2 Kazandu Blademaster
1 Welkin Tern
1 Stonework Puma
2 Umara Raptor
1 Kor Cartographer
1 Pillarfield Ox
1 Seascape Aerialist
1 Sky Ruin Drake
2 Nimbus Wings
1 Bold Defense
1 Lethargy Trap
1 Windborn Charge
The deck has many good cards, but a few too many fillers to be constant. After a logical 1-1, I double mulligan in game 3 versus Paul Rietzl and find myself unable to get a Plains in the first 4 turns. Frustrating, but this deck probably didn’t deserve better than 1-2 anyway. I’d missed my chance in the first draft when I didn’t go 3-0.
Once again, none of the decks I’d been testing was good enough, and I end up getting a decklist from someone else. I’m Bant again, thanks to a list from Antoine MÃ©nard which Manu and Antoine have been tuning over the last few days. When Round 13 starts, I have only played two games with the deck. Therefore, once again, you should go check Manu’s report for a good analysis of the deck!
I win my first round versus Hypergenesis, and am still in good position for the money when I face Gerard Fabiano. He needs pro points, while I don’t, and I’m only here to have fun, so I just concede to help him reaching his goal. After l played 3 permanents in two games in the next round, I know I can’t make money anymore. I drop, and then remember what I had planned when arriving for this tournament: have fun! I un-drop, and reach the point when I’m 8-8, only fighting for Top 200, and a third Pro Point. I need a win in the last two rounds to get it, but I also want to enter the “win a HD camera” contest, for which I’ve to make a movie within an hour. My decision is made, and I concede to my opponent.
“Sorry man, I must go. I’ve a movie to make.”
I probably won’t use that line ever again.
I win my final round, after once again been given a game, and I win the movie contest as well. Unfortunately, this is just another movie you won’t get to see yet, as it doesn’t seem to be online at the moment. If anyone from WotC reads this and feels like putting the link in the feedback forum, feel free to do so!
I then run to Manu’s table, because my little Swiss friend, who was 5-4 not so long ago, has won 8 matches straight to be in contention for Top 8. There’s a huge crowd, and a very heavy atmosphere. After a difficult three-game win for Manu, he makes it to a Pro Tour final stage for the first time!
It felt almost as good as if Antoine or I had made it to the Top 8, for several reasons.
First, I think Manu is one of the best 5-10 players in the world, and his results over the season are the absolute evidence the random factor can never been fully controlled in Magic. He was, to me, clearly the best current player with no PT Top 8. Also, not only Manu, but Antoine and I have been doing pretty poorly this season. We have been testing a lot together for about 18 months. We have built decks that have finished in PT Top 8s, and even a PT-winning deck itself, but we didn’t get our share of the result. It feels so good to see all you’ve worked for finally bear fruit.
And, of course, I was very happy for Manu because he has become a friend over the last year, and I’m really pleased to see him succeed.
Long into the night, Manu and Patrick Chapin – and then Antoine, Rafa, and I – test the quarterfinal matchup versus Terry Soh, and we come up with a simple conclusion. Terry Soh may be a formidable player, but his deck is simply not good. The Cobras don’t accelerate into anything relevant, the Goblin Guides are often made on turn 2 because you can’t even cast them on turn 1, and so on… However, after boarding, the deck gets a lot better when Baneslayer Angel replaces the 2/2 haste guy. The matchup seems like Manu 75-25 main, Terry 55-45 sideboard.
Oh, I almost forget to mention Frank Karsten’s glorious tournament. He was 6-5-4 with three rounds to go, and decided to go for 6-6-6, because it would be cool. After his round 16 opponent declined to draw, he got his 24th point fair and square. The only things left were left the two losses. He conceded to his 17th round opponent, and then played the last one for fun. He waited until he’d almost won the match, and then scooped. I’m not sure his opponent understood what happened there, but Frankie had fulfilled his crazy goal. Congrats man!
When Manu loses game 1, we know a come-back will be really hard to achieve. When he loses game 2 as well, it seems almost impossible. But when he brings it back to 2-2 ,we start believing again… until a cruel game 5 in which Terry draws perfectly to beat a pretty good draw from Manu. In the meantime, there was another quarterfinal match in which I was interested: William Cavaglieri versus Bram Snepvangers. Two weeks prior to Worlds, Will sent me a long email of encouragement for Worlds and for Magic in general, giving me his decklists in order to help me perform well. His Standard deck seemed pretty good, but I couldn’t really consider running a deck not playing Baneslayer Angel for the sole reason that it was too expensive on MTGO. Don’t get me wrong, it was probably the right choice not to run it in William’s deck, as he has built a deck in order for Conqueror’s Pledge to replace it, but I still found it funny to see him making Top 8 with a “budget” decklist.
So if you’re reading this, congratulations William, and thanks a lot for your help. Even if I didn’t end up running any of your decks, it still helped a great deal and made me feel a lot better. Eventually, as both Will and Manu had lost, I turned to the side event stage to go register for an Invasion Sealed Deck tournament, along with Antoine, Rafael, and Guillaume Matignon.
For those of you who have never played IPA, this is the R&D’s masterpiece. In Constructed, the archetypes were very well balanced, and in Limited you had to pay attention to everything, as new synergies showed up every time a card was played. Also, many bad cards can deal with bombs (Pollen Remedy versus Magma Burst), and the format has a lot of good tricks.
After I beat Antoine and Ben Stark, I made it to the Top 4, in which I lost for the second time to Guillaume, but I still had a great day. It felt so good to remember, if only for a day, just how good Magic could be.
Andre Coimbra — who’d left it very late before deciding to play in Worlds – and China were crowned champions in the meantime, which made a pair of strong surprises. It’s always good to see a well-known face representing Magic all over the World, as it gives the game credibility, and it is also good to see new nations shining at Magic. Yes, China will be one of the teams to beat in 2010.
On the road to the airport, I’m nothing but excited. I’m going back home, eventually. Magic hasn’t been as good as I would have liked this year, but I’ve had weeks to get over the disappointment. I won’t play nearly as many GPs next season, as they would cost me more money than I made over the last two years despite being a Level 8 mage, and also because, out of the 6 European GPs, one is 1500-plus players Legacy tournament (a format which seems good, but I hate the concept of a GP at which card availability means players can’t play the exact deck they desire) and a second is a 1500-plus players M11 tournament.
However, I’ll still play a lot. I’ll keep on attending Pro Tours and some GPs next season, and I’ll playtest a lot, not only to get ready for those events, and to bring you something interesting to read every Friday, but because I love this game so much that I’ll keep playing for as long as I’m breathing.
Thanks a lot for reading this column over the season, and see you next week!