At Pro Tour: Prague most of the teams for Charleston were already formed. I was teaming with Bernardo da Costa Cabral and Kamiel Cornelissen. We approached some other friendly teams, inquiring about playtesting together. I let Bernardo know about my availability – I could move at any time, to any place, for testing purposes. In the end it was decided we should all gather in Brussels in Bernardo’s own house, after Grand Prix: Torino. Since all the other guys were taking trains or buses from Paris (or from the neighbouring country, the Netherlands), we didn’t quite agree on a starting day. Everyone was randomly arriving in Brussels after GP: Torino. I was the only one who actually had to purchase a plane ticket from Lisbon in advance, so I blind scheduled it for Thursday after the tournament.
We (or they, as I didn’t want to get involved in this subject) restricted the group to four teams, which seem a good number of players to work with while keeping to group small enough to prevent leaks. The players who were at Bernardo’s place at some point or another were:
- Bernardo and I, from our team.
- Julien and Rogier, teaming with Wessel Oomens.
- Jelger, Raph, and Geoffrey. Though Geoffrey had commitments, he still made his best to pass by – he lived a 15 minutes walk away.
- Frank, Olivier and Antoine.
- Vincent, Pavlos, and Stan (due to some communication problems, we extended the group to include them).
Phase one of our testing had each one us try to individually reach to the best line-up with three decks. Then we would meet in Brussels and see which decks were the best, and how we could make the best line up with them. That way, we expected to have all the possibilities covered.
In Portugal, I worked with former National Champion Mauro Peleira. He had won a PTQ for Charleston, but since the prize was some boxes of Ravnica his team was probably bailing. We easily built a UGR control deck with Simic Sky Swallower, then an agro-control GWB with Glare, but we were having troubles settling on a third deck. Our options were R/G aggro, R/B aggro or U/W/R. Before we reached further conclusions it was time to go to Brussels, and since Mauro’s team wasn’t going he quitted testing.
As I expected, when I got into Bernardo’s house there were infinite decks built. I dare say every possible idea was built and tested at some point. There were some very useful items that really helped testing – like the bag of sleeves, which was a plastic bag were all the random leftover sleeves were tossed. When someone wanted to build a deck, they just grabbed 60 of those regardless of color and size. As we were advancing in testing there were more and more decks being built – even if some of them were just evolving from previous ones – we left the originals built for testing purposes. We didn’t expect all the teams to test as much as we did, so they would probably still have previous versions of some decks.
When you have a decent sized playtesting group, it is possible that one person is assigned a certain deck or decks for getting results, and for tuning cards and sideboard. This led to the awkward situation where we started calling decks by the name of the person who built it or who tested it the most. For example, instead of asking, “does the GBW splash Blue deck have the advantage we expected against the GBW control deck?” we’d ask, “does Frank 2 have the advantage against Pavlos 1?”
As the Pro Tour date approached, we eventually had to discard some decks in order to concentrate on tuning the ones we thought were the best. Our best decks were:
- U/G/R Control, or Frank 1
- G/W/B splash Blue, or Frank 2
- U/G Graft, or Julien 1
- 4-Color Zoo, or Olivier 1
- G/W/B Glare, or Tiago 1
- G/W/B Control, or Pavlos 1
- R/B good stuff, tuned by Jelger but codenamed Rakdos
- G/R aggro
Everyone almost agreed the best deck was Frank 2, which started as a 4-Color “Leftovers” Control, but as we start adding stuff to it from other decks it became really good.
Plan A: Frank 2, Julien 1 and Olivier 1. Or we can just call them THE control deck, U/G Graft and 4-Color Zoo. Frank liked this plan and the only cons were some of us weren’t completely sold on the Olivier’s Zoo, while others were unsure about Julien’s UG Graft deck.
The best thing about this plan was Frank, le Tank. Frank Karsten, when in testing mode, is a War Tank – unstoppable. Frank focused our testing, making sure we weren’t playing irrelevant games, and establishing some plans and goals for the day. He also kept track of scores and other stuff in his paper block. While in the house, our days were all the same. Wake up after noon and play. Have a bite to eat if hungry, while playing. Cook dinner and eat. Play, play, and play into the small hours. Do a cleaning session, and go to sleep. Repeat the following day. The only time where I wasn’t playing or eating was the full hour and half where I watched the football game Portugal versus Angola.
The day Frank was leaving (at 4PM) there were still some things to be tested, so we woke up earlier. Frank asked us to playtest some deck against other, because he had to study for an exam he was taking the next day. He would play something like 50 games before leaving. And he did that, in the short breaks from his study. So it’s safe to assume that Plan A was a solid plan.
Plan B: Despite having a good plan A, it’s never bad to have a plan B. Plan A was tested and tuned, so we had time to see if there was another plan we liked. In our individual testing the GWB Glare deck, or Tiago 1, performed really well. If Plan A was all around Frank 2 – The Control deck – Plan B was around the Glare deck. With the Glare deck, we couldn’t have Olivier’s Zoo, mostly because it uses 20 dual lands. R/G aggro was the natural replacement, now that the Moldervine Cloaks were available (as we weren’t using Julien’s UG graft deck). However, the Glare deck shared cards with the control deck: Loxodon Hierarch and Civic Wayfinder. As I was the one who playtested more with the Glare deck, I knew I could lose one of those, but not both, so we tried to build a control deck without one of them. However, our tries were frustrating because of the Signets, Farseeks, and Civics adding and cutting colors, and we weren’t really progressing, so we stick to Plan A. Had the Pro Tour been individual Ravnica Block Constructed, I think the group would’ve split with most of us playing Frank 2 while the others playing Glare.
I’ll be posting decklists of Plan A tomorrow where I talk about PT: Charleston, but I leave the deck that didn’t make it to the Pro Tour, because it was one of our top decks in playtesting and because the core was built by my friend Mauro Peleira.
4 Birds of Paradise
2 Elves of Deep Shadow
4 Selesnya Guildmage
4 Vinelasher Kudzu
3 Civic Wayfinder
4 Loxodon Hierarch
2 Ghost Council of Orzhova
3 Glare of Subdual
2 Angel of Despair
2 Skeletal Vampire
3 Chord of Calling
4 Temple Garden
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Godless Shrine
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
3 Orzhov Basilica
2 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree
See you tomorrow,