Reflecting Ruel – Pro Tour: Austin Deck Choice

Visit the StarCityGames.com booth at Grand Prix Tampa!
Friday, October 16th – The Pro Tour has officially begun, and Olivier Ruel is in fighting mood. Today, he shares his two choices for battle on the eve of the tournament, plus a few ideas on how to come out of the Magical Closet…

Short in inspiration this week, I did not know on what topic I should write. So I asked a few friends what they would like to read…

Friends: “A Grand Prix: Melbourne report?

Nah… I am going to write a fair few reports in the coming weeks, alongside articles about Zendikar, so I’d rather wait until I know the format a little better. My comments should then be more relevant.

Nevertheless, here is my super-fast report from GP in Koala Country.

I ended up 6-2 on Day 1, winning the last match to ensure Day 2 play. I won my first draft, then the first round of my second, and lost the last two matches when playing for Top 8, finishing 21st. I also had a split with Martin Juza who ended up 9th on tiebreakers. So the tournament was not bad, but still disappointing. Catching Level 8 will be difficult this season.

And now, back to the discussion…

Friends: “Write about girls!”

Sorry, but my article has to be centered in Magic Strategy.

Friends: “Then what about the strategy of hitting on girls?”

Interesting, I guess… but I’m not sure my editor would publish such an article. It may not be what he means by “Magic Strategy.” [For more on this topic, check out Quentin Martin article from today, published here – Craig, amused.]

Friends: “How about an article on how to explain to your relatives that you play Magic?”

Okay, that one is actually interesting. When introducing the topic of Magic to your relatives, here are a few different points you could put forward:

The Opportunity to Travel
Even if you’re not a pro, if you’re asked to attend a family gathering that you’d planned to skip due to PTQ attendance, mention that you’re there to win a trip to Japan. If by any chance you are a pro, mention the countries you’ve visited, thanks to Magic.

The Opportunity to Make Money
Also, mention that the winner of that tournament in Japan actually makes $40000.

The Intellectual Aspect
Devise your own sentence to explain the game to people who have no idea what it is about. Here’s an example: it’s kind of a mix of chess for the tactics and poker for the bluff and the importance of reading the opponent’s strategy. Then explain that there are actually people making a living from the game, as it gives it some legitimacy.

The Perpetual Renewal
The printing of new cards every three months makes the game infinitely deep, as you have to rethink your strategies all the time. Also, the rotations keep the game from being elitist; remember, the “outsiders” consider that not everyone has the cards, and that the richest player often wins.

The Friends You Meet
The “all-guy stinky tournament room” stereotype is not the easiest one to shake, so you generally won’t insist first hand on the communitarian aspect of the game. However, if they know cool buddies of yours they actually like, tell them you met them through Magic, it will affect positively the image they can have on the game.

And here are a few things not to do no matter what:

It’s Like Role-Playing
Usually, they bring this point up by themselves (“Magic you say? It’s like a role-playing game, right?”). Unless you’re talking to a role-player, inform them that the game has a heroic fantasy background, but the game in itself is closer to poker, chess, or any strategic game for which they have respect; sadly, this usually doesn’t apply to role-playing games.

Almost All Players are Male
If they ask, admit there is a majority of guys on the tournament scene, and jump on to something else. The stock and tired explanations (for example, that women are more interested in playing for fun than the competitive aspect of the game) are not always convincing, so use them only if they ask.

[Editor’s Note — Personally, I disagree with a portion of Oli’s advice here. While positive spin is obviously important, I think that masking your love for the best game in the world behind duplicitous doublespeak such as “it’s just like poker AND chess!” or “the fantasy story isn’t important at all, look at the cash I’ve made!” does the game, and the players, a disservice. If you can’t be proud of your hobby, how the hell can your relatives and non-gamer friends? – Craig]

Back to the original discussion…

Friends: ” An article on ‘How to Come Out of the Magical Closet’ is helpful, but it’s probably not what readers would expect from a premium article. How about you write about the deck you’re playing at Pro Tour: Austin?”

Actually… Why not? People shouldn’t have access to my decklist until Day 2, so let’s do that!

At the moment, about 16 hours from the event, I’m not one-hundred-percent sure which deck I’ll be playing tomorrow. As I’ve been on the road for most of the PT buildup, I haven’t really have the opportunity to playtest much. Maybe thirty games or so before I arrived in Texas. I may feel confident about the limited portion of the event, but I can’t say the same for Extended.

However, after playing a few games with the Guillaumes (Wafo-Tapa and Matignon), I have good news. First, the only deck I’ve been playtesting – a Hexmage/Dark Depths deck – seems decent. Second, they had a Snow-White deck they were not intending on using, which seemed to lose to… well, to nothing at all.

At first, my brother thought of the Hexmage combo, but we didn’t really try to build a deck around it. Then, as I realized Antoine and Manu would probably work everything else out, and as the combo seemed to be fun, I built a Mono-Black version of it. It had Beseech the Queen and Infernal Tutor to search for both parts of the combo, as well as 12 discards spells (Thoughtseize, Duress, Distress), plus Chrome Mox and Sickening Shoal to help empty my hand so I could ensure I’d be casting the Infernal Tutor as true. Unfortunately, Urborg and Dark Depths being legendary cost me the ability to empty my hand far too often.

Therefore, when I arrived in Austin on Tuesday evening, after a couple of hours of testing, I left the Guillaumes playing. I decided to go work on a new build, as my combo deck was good, but just not good enough. I added Green to the deck, which I did before without being fully convinced (in a Smallpox, Life From The Loam, Raven’s Crime build), but this time I simply added a land searcher: Sylvan Scrying. I cut the Infernal Tutors, and added a pair of Shred Memories (which would be able to search for both parts of the combo).

The deck looked a lot better. I was ready for more testing. When Matignon came back to the room, he told me:

GM: “Good news! Your deck is really good. We just made a couple of changes and added some Green to it.”

OR: “Yeah, me too… Sylvan Scrying, right?”

GM: “Don’t you prefer Into the North?”

OR: “… … … … …”

It was funny that we had reached the same conclusion – add 4 land-search spells and 2 Shred Memory. However, they had also replaced my Doom Blade with Damnation.

They quickly gave up on the deck, but their help was very precious to me. Two days later, here is one of the two decklists I’m considering playing at the PT:

At the moment, the deck basically loses pretty badly to Blue control decks (Cryptic Command plus Path to Exile plus Spell Snare decks). It has a roughly 50/50 match up versus Zoo, and it beats pretty much everything else.

On the other hand, we have the Snow White deck. To put it simply, the deck barely loses to anything. If you really want to beat it (or if you are expecting a lot of Dredge, and therefore have much graveyard hate) you will. Otherwise, it has awesome matchups against any Blue control deck, it beats Zoo, and it should also win against Hypergenesis versions which run big guys better than Venser / Cloudskate / Primus. I didn’t do so much testing on that, but I still like it a lot.

Here’s the list I have at the moment:

The deck has many options. You can play it Mono White, so you don’t suffer from the fetchlands, but you’ll lose the card advantage engine. If you want to draw cards, you’ll either go WU or WB. Blue can give you Compulsive Research, Mulldrifter, and Aeon Chronicler. Chronicler is too slow against most decks, so I’d rather keep it as a sideboard option versus control. Mulldrifter and Compulsive Research are about equal in power, except that Compulsive Research can help you deck your opponent. However, the 2/2 can be reanimated by Emeria, which is why I like it a little better.

Another option would be to play Black and Phyrexian Arena. If you do so, you will need a second dual and eight fetchlands. It’s harder to cast but more efficient when it touches the board, as losing life is not such a big deal as long as you don’t face Zoo or burn. Also, you have many good sideboard options, such as Extirpate for the mirror match, or Cranial Extraction for Scapeshift.

The Felidar Sovereign is not meant to be hard-cast before Iona, Shield of Emeria, as you don’t want it to be removed by Path to Exile. You usually cast it when you need a blocker very badly, because you’re rushed by the clock, or in the mirror match to win after Iona has hit the battlefield.

The metagame I’m expecting is for this even is highlighted below. Between the parentheses is my estimation on the above decks’ matchups against the relevant strategy; the first number is the Hexmage matchup, the second is the Life equivalent.

Zoo 20% (50/70)
Blue Control decks 20% (20-90)
Hexmage/Depths 12% (50-35)
Hypergenesis 12% (65-50)
Burn 7% (65-90)
Scapeshift 7% (90-90)
Dredge 5% (50-60)
Life 5% (65-50)
Other decks 12%

Luckily, even though I haven’t had much time to test so far, I’ve two decks I totally trust. Life has better scores globally, but it’s also a deck which will gain you draws, which can be a handicap when you need 15 points in six rounds.

The player party is about to begin. I’m off to the site to grab the cards I need to complete both decks. The sideboards are not ideal yet, so I’ll wait for next week to give you my in and outs and a final version of the deck. Until then, have a great weekend!