I spent a lot of time picking the words for the following statement, but eventually I settled on “Charleston is dull,” which was one of the possible names for my team. It’s not exactly the easiest place to travel to in America, and it’s one those cities where you either have a car or you’re confined to wander between the tournament site and your hotel, because there’s nothing in between. We realized it as soon as we got there.
In Charleston, we finally got the chance to have all of us together at the same time. For the final tweaks in our decklists, we grouped ourselves by archetypes. Since every team agreed with sticking to Plan A, and each player was concerned the most with his own deck, why not discuss the final changes with someone who’s going to play the exact same deck and leave your team mates to do the same? The decklist I submitted for PT: Charleston was the following:
- 2 Boros Guildmage
- 4 Skyknight Legionnaire
- 4 Watchwolf
- 2 Blind Hunter
- 4 Burning-Tree Shaman
- 4 Giant Solifuge
- 2 Gruul Guildmage
This deck was called Oli-1 during playtesting. Olivier was the one who designed – or at least, the one who played it the most. When I arrived he was already playing this deck. It tries to play all the best aggro elements from each color, using the multiple Duals and Pillar of the Paruns. If you have a Pillar of the Paruns in your hand, you can probably play all your spells during the game.
Playtesting revealed to us that the beatdown decks were much worse than the control decks. Soon we figured they were too vulnerable, as there were many good cards against them – Savage Twister, Loxodon Hierarch, Carven Caryatid, Electrolyze, Rolling Spoil, Faith’s Fetters, Ribbons of the Night, etc… Oli-1, however, is not like a regular aggro deck.
- Other than Giant Solifuge, it doesn’t play with one-toughness guys that are easily swept away, such Frenzied Goblin, Scorched Rusalka, Dryad Sophisticate, Dark Confidant, and Lyzolda, among others.
- It has ten creatures with haste, and six with flying. Haste is very good when your opponent is tapped out having dealt with a previous threat on the board, and flying gets you past Carven Caryatid and Loxodon Hierarch. The remaining creatures – Watchwolf and Burning-Tree Shaman – are really difficult to kill via burn spells. Usually, if you play first and have a turn 2 Watchwolf, that’s game.
- The deck is optimized to accrue as many wins as possible. I know this statement seems a little dumb… after all, aren’t all decks built that way? Let me explain. The deck punishes the opponent if there’s something wrong. Missed land drops, lacking a color, not having the right solution on the immediate turn, slow draws, etc. We all know this happens a lot, because many things can go wrong during a game of Magic. Oli-1 doesn’t let them recover. Even if they have a normal draw, sometimes this deck just wins. Hit / Run can hit pretty high sometimes, and allows some ridiculous draws.
- Sometimes, the initial rush is not enough to kill your opponent. If they stabilize the board when at a single-digit life total, you still have a very reasonable shot. When testing, and mostly because Olivier was there, every time one of us was playing with the deck, when down to one card in hand and with no chances of winning other that topdecking something… we would say, “end of turn: Char you… I like the play!” You would be surprised by how many times the plan worked. Imagine you just cast Char at the end of turn, and the opponent is down to 2. The number of cards that can potentially deal the final two is no less than 28 – half of the deck. Everything except Watchwolf and Burning-Tree Shaman has implicit ways to deal damage immediately. The 3 Seal, 4 Helix, 3 Char, 2 Blind Hunter, and (if you have 6 mana) the 2 Gruul Guildmage will deal damage no matter what’s on the table.
After Olivier left Bernardo’s house, Julien and I tried some obvious changes. We added a fourth Char, cutting a Seal of Fire, and we replaced the Blind Hunters with Rumbling Slums. It seems good to run the full set of Chars in this deck. After intensive playtesting, we realized Olivier was right. Blind Hunter is damage and evasion. And the Seal of Fire is much better against other aggro decks, as they ensure that Hit / Run hits much harder. However, Geoffrey tested much less than us, and so when he got the deck he was lagging. He added the Slums and the fourth Char. His team-mates convinced him the Hunters were better, but he still played the four Char… and you know what? He 13 – 1 with it.
Here are the lists my team-mates used:
Seat A: Bernardo da Costa Cabral – The GBwu Control
Seat B: Kamiel Cornelissen – UG Graft
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Vinelasher Kudzu
- 4 Dryad Sophisticate
- 4 Cytoplast Root-Kin
- 4 Plaxcaster Frogling
- 2 Plaxmanta
- 4 Simic Guildmage
Even though we started the Pro Tour with a win, things went downhill as we progressed. Somehow, we found ourselves with a 1-3 score and facing elimination. I can’t speak for my team-mates, but I was having quite the impossible matchups, having faced 2 Green/White/Blue decks full of goodies against beatdown – Loxodon Hierarchs, Court Hussar, Moldervine Cloak, Carven Caryatid, Simic Sky Swallower, Glare of Subdual, Faith’s Fetters, Supply / Demand, etc. I also played against a Sunforger control facing the same Hierarchs and Faith’s Fetters, but this time with Helix and Savage Twister backup. The truth is, even though I struggled a lot, and won some games, I was losing more.
By now, I felt we should be out of the tournament, I mean, you’re 1-3 and you still have hopes of Day 2? In a Pro Tour with 525 players? Seems a little ridiculous, but we didn’t give up and continue to fight for it. We managed to pull a comeback from it and grab the necessary 4-3 needed. My matchups were also a little better – as they couldn’t possibly be any worse. I played against Rakdos in round 6 and Gruul in round 7, winning because both of my opponents got a little unlucky at one game or another, and my deck punishes that.
Day 2 started a lot better. We won our first 3 rounds, going from 1-3 in the previous day to 7-3 by now. It’s really awkward, because you have the feeling that you’re performing really well in Day 2, but you’re still in the middle of the field due to an overwhelming attendance. In the fourth round of Day 2 we have a very tight round against “Virginia is for Lovers.” My team is 1-1, and relying on me. I went to three games against Gruul, and the game dragged into topdecking mode with multiple rips from each side. It was one of the most exciting matches I played, but in the end my opponent won by a close margin. We lost the following round too, crushing any hopes (we still had them, even though we now knew it wasn’t possible) of Top 4.
We won the last two rounds, and thought we would finish in the money with a score of 9 – 5. As it turns out, there where some teams who didn’t cash with 27 points. Even though 9-5 isn’t great, it’s still a respectable score if you consider we went 5-2 on the second day. But we finished 33rd, not even getting a third Pro Tour point! As you can imagine, I don’t care for the $300 for Top 25, because after taxes and conversion fees it’s something like 150 Euros. Prices in Europe are pretty much the same amount in Euros as they are in U.S. dollars, and you can’t do much with $150 in America. I am pretty upset about the Pro Points, though. An extra PT point was awarded for the Top 32 teams. It seems really bad to finish the Pro Tour 9-5, and receive the exact same thing as finishing dead last. I share the same view of many other Pros who think that 500 player Pro Tours is a bit much… but there’s nothing I can possibly do about it. I guess it’s even worse for Kamiel, who finished 12-2 and didn’t even get a third Pro Point as a small compensation. It’s not nice going 7-0 on Day 2 and winning nothing. But well, it was Kamiel… he shrugged and didn’t complain.
So I finished Grand Prix: Torino and Pro Tour: Charleston with 25 Pro Points, missing one tiny point to Level Up, after some bad beats with tiebreakers in Charleston. Luckily for me, my journey wasn’t ending here. I was still going to Grand Prix: Toulouse just a few days away, and Grand Prix: Malmo the following month.
I guess I still have good shots, right?
Or maybe not…