So Many Insane Players – My 2007 Magic Invitational Report, Part 1: Cubing with Kenji

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The 2007 Invitational was not without its fair share of controversy, particularly over the choice of competitors. And once the dust had settled after the first three rounds of Cube Draft, the current Vintage World Champion Stephen Menendian sat proudly at 3-0. Unfortunately, the Auction of the People did not go quite so well… for more details on Stephen’s performance in the first half of the tournament, read on!

So there I am, drafting the Cube, wedged in between Kenji Tsumura and Shota Yasooka. Can you imagine feeding cards to Kenji and getting fed by Shota in a draft format? Then consider the impact of your decisions when just beyond Kenji and Shota sits Gabriel Nassif, Tiago Chan, Rich Hoaen, and Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, and so many other insane players.

No single word is adequate to capture the experience, the undulating fear, and ultimate surreality of the situation.

Playing in the Invitational is like playing in a Top 8 that never ends. It’s fifteen rounds of cards against the most battle-sturdy warriors on the planet. The line between success and failure is narrowly drawn. My mental approach was simple: play one game at a time, one play at a time. Do not worry about standings, do not worry about matches. Just play a game at a time. Five Formats, Fifteen Rounds.

The Cube

I first heard of the mysterious “Cube” some years ago at Origins. It was rumored that Ben Bleiweiss had a box of cards containing every single unique Magic card ever printed. The idea was to draft decks out of this monstrous box.

Years later, fellow Ohioan and Meandecker, Tom LaPille, begins constructing his Cube and writing about it. Unlike Ben’s Cube, Tom’s stack is just 400 of the best cards ever printed. He’s decided, along with many other Cube enthusiasts, that including every single card is cumbersome and unnecessary. The flavor of the Cube is preserved by merely including the best.

At the Future Sight prerelease, Tom offers me an opportunity to participate in a Cube draft. I’m at the prerelease searching for Street Wraiths, hoping to pull some and make trades for other Vintage Future Sight playables. I get my first glimpse of Tom’s Cube without being able to play with it.

Then, Mark Rosewater announces the formats for the Magic Invitational. Cube would be among them.

After both of us were knocked out of the swiss at the most recent StarCityGames.com Power Nine Vintage tournament in Indianapolis last month, I knew Tom would be up for a Cube draft. This was my first opportunity to try and learn the format.

Not entirely unassisted, I drafted myself into a solid U/B control deck built around Psychatog, Palinchron, Future Sight, Upheaval, and draw such as Careful Consideration. Although I made a play mistake that punted the first game in our draft, I ended up sweeping the rest of my matches. For my first Cube draft, I felt pretty good about the format.

Here’s how I understand the Cube: The Cube is the perfect midpoint between Limited and Constructed. You are drafting Constructed decks. And depending upon the power level of the Cube, you could be drafting Vintage Constructed decks.

So, the rules, as they were explained to me were:

* Draft Good Mana. Take a dual land as high as third or even second pick if it is in your colors.
* Sol Ring is the overall first pick from the entire Cube.
* Do not pass Library of Alexandria.

Practice is Perfect?

To familiarize the Invitationalists with the format, Wizards held a practice Cube draft the night before the Invitational. Mike Turian watched most of my picks and even offered some solicited advice from time to time. I drafted a heavy Blue utility deck with a splash of Black. My cards included: Temporal Adept, Man-O-War, Tradewind Rider, Waterfront Bouncer, Gilded Drake, Voidmage Prodigy, Remand, Memory Lapse, Withdraw, Repeal, Upheaval, Isochron Scepter, Library of Alexandria, and Mox Jet.

We only had time to play two matches. While others were still working on building their decks, I asked Kenji to play me.

After Kenji played a land, I was ecstatic over the opening play of Mox Jet, Island, Isochron Scepter. Without putting much consideration into the play I imprinted Remand on the Scepter. Kenji played turn 2 land, Grim Monolith, Voltaic Key, and with much tapping made Solemn Simulacrum. I then carefully inspected my hand and realized that I was holding Gilded Drake and Withdraw. Since I was holding Gilded Drake, the correct play has to be Withdraw on Scepter, not Remand. With Grim Monolith and Voltaic Key, Kenji now has enough mana that he can play two spells per turn so that my Remand/Book Scepter is simply not enough to keep up.

Things slowly slip out of control and I’m forced to take drastic action. I build up my mana and play Upheaval. I was unprepared for what followed. After discarding something like ten cards, I passed the turn.

Kenji played Mishra’s Workshop, Grim Monolith, Voltaic Key, Mind Stone, Solemn Simulacrum, and found a basic Swamp and put it into play tapped.

What an incredible turn. Suffice to say, there was no way I was winning this game. Apparently Kenji first picked Mishra’s Workshop. I can’t say I blame him.

Game 2 was worse.

Next up, I ask Frank Karsten for a match and he obliges. Frank has drafted a U/R counter-burn deck. Once again, I open with an early Isochron Scepter, but this time I imprint Withdraw. Although I’m sure he could probably burn me out if the game went long enough, I’m confident that this play will be my trump card. That is, until he drops Fire Imp on turn 3 and follows that up with Ghitu Slinger a few turns later. My Scepter plan didn’t account for men that have “comes into play” abilities that burn me.

At the same time that I’m taking small beats with Fire Imp, my small Blue creatures are repeatedly cleared off the board with other burn spells and cards like Mogg Fanatic. My Upheaval plan suddenly looks pathetic when he suspends Greater Gargadon. In both games I also made the mistake of playing Gilded Drake with his suspended Gargadon available to eat it before I can return it to my hand.

Things weren’t looking so good for me. In the practice round, I didn’t even win a game. There was little I could do at this point, so I turned my attention to other things. I resolved to try and force Blue if possible, and that would be that.

We arrive at the site the next day and it is quite a show tent. They’ve got a fancy Wizards booth set up, and an oversized magnetic board that tracks the progress of all of the players. You could tell that this was Wizards’ attempt to showcase the game of Magic. Banners hung everywhere and the imagery of Magic was all around.

The Set-Up

The pods are announced and the tables are set up. We are informed that we’ll be playing the person directly across from us on the table. That means my first opponent will be Rich Hoaen.

Everyone’s Cube is different, and everyone drafts the Cube differently. Forsythe made a list of over 700 cards that he asked Ben Bleiweiss to ship to Wizards for the Cube draft. Unlike Evan’s and Tom’s cube, this stack includes every awesome Magic card, from Bazaar of Baghdad to Black Lotus.

But there was one other critical difference. In normal cube, the best colors tend to disproportionately represent themselves in the card pool. This is because colors such as Blue have more of the “best cards” than lesser colors such as White. To “correct” for that, Forsythe set up the cube as follows.

Every player in each pod would be given three “packs” of fifteen cards, just as is done in normal Cube draft and most pack drafts. The first pack is drafted to the left, the second to the right, and the third to the left. The difference is that each pack would have at least two cards of each color. While one could speculate about the impact this change might have upon the Cube draft, you couldn’t be sure. I speculated that this change would hurt Blue and help other colors, particularly Red. On the other hand, if you could get into Blue, this would theoretically make you even stronger. Your opponents could be more easily forced out of the color if you could get a stranglehold on it early on.

I resolved to try and force Blue, but to also remain flexible and open to the prevailing opportunities that may arise.

As we begin to take our seats, Antoine gets our final predictions as to whom we think we make the finals without predicting ourselves. If memory serves, I believe I predicted Paulo and Tiago to make the finals. Many players at my table predicted Shota to make the finals. Once seated, we chatter for a while as Forsythe and company begin to distribute the packs. To my immediate left sit Kenji Tsumura and Gabriel Nassif. On my right is Shota.

After a heavy night of drink and debauchery, everyone is glad of the yellow nameplates that remind them who they are.

The Draft

After each pick, we were instructed to write down our selection so that by the end of the draft, our entire card pool would be on record. This way they could reconstruct the entire card pool and replicate the draft for coverage purposes.

A number of people, including Mark Rosewater, wandered over to see my first pick of the draft. After carefully reviewing my first pack, reading unfamiliar cards, I narrowed my first choice to two cards: Time Walk and Dark Confidant. There were a number of considerations to be taken into account.

This pick would establish the flow of colors for the remainder of the draft. Time Walk was the only good Blue card in this pack. If I pass Time Walk to Kenji, he will obviously take it and move into Blue. If I want to be in Blue, this means that I’ll be fighting him through the entire second pack. A great deal of Blue cards will get cut off before they see me. On the other hand, if I give Kenji Time Walk, I can try to cut him off from Blue for the remaining picks this pack and maybe he won’t be looking for Blue as much in the second pack. If I take Bob, that pretty much sets me in Black for the remainder of the draft, for good or ill.

Another question was the relative worth of both cards. Time Walk helps develop your early game and is an amazing finisher when played at the right time. It’s one of the best cards ever printed and is easily splashable.

Dark Confidant, on the other hand, is probably one of the best creatures ever printed. It generates a great deal of card advantage, attacks, but is less splashable. It’s a card that is best early on.

I then asked myself: which card would I rather see in my opening hand? The answer seemed to be Bob, but then the rest of my hand would probably have quite a few Black spells rather than Blue, a prospect that seemed like an unfair trade.

After some thoughtful reflection, I came to the realization that I couldn’t reason my way to the answer. Instead, I did a gut check. I selected Bob and shipped Kenji the Time Walk.

The next pack rolls up. I quickly count the colors. At least two Blue, two Red, two Green, two Black, and two White… damn, I can’t tell what Shota took.

I see Delay and some big, unplayable Blue spell. I know I want Blue, so I take the Delay over the other, better cards in the pack. Now we’ll see if I can take Kenji out of Blue. Subsequent packs arrive and I see fewer and fewer Blue spells, so I take Black cards instead. I take cards like Vendetta, Smallpox, and Hypnotic Specter. Towards the end of the pack, I’m seeing some of the Black cards I agonized over return to me.

We pick up the next pack. I take a mediocre Blue spell followed by a solid Black spell, and suddenly the third pack comes around and there are no Blue cards. That means that Nassif and Kenji both took the Blue cards. I’m completely cut off. The best I can hope for is to take Kenji out of Blue in the third pack. But as I see more and more solid Black cards come around, I have little difficulty going deeper and deeper into the color.

When I struggle with a particular pick, I resolve the difficulty by thinking about how I would feel with a particular card on my board or in play under my opponent’s control. I pass Phyrexian Negator for that reason. I take Graveborn Muse over Juzam Djinn. I take Necropotence.

In the third pack, I take an early Trinket Mage. I see Phyrexian Dreadnought go by, and two packs later I see Illusionary Mask. I decide to take the Mask both on the off chance that the Dreadnought comes back and in case I face a heavy permission deck. Mask makes all of my men uncounterable. Forsythe later informs me that Shota took it right before me.

When I walk away to begin constructing my deck, I overhear Kenji and Shota laughing about the cards I shipped them. Ouch.

I begin to evaluate my card pool. Upon the first pass, I’m looking at maybe six Blue spells with sixteen or seventeen Black spells. However, as I begin to puzzle out my cards, I start to take a look just at the Black. I have powerful hand disruption such as Duress, Thoughtseize, Hymn to Tourach, and Smallpox. I have land destruction par excellence, such as Sinkhole and Strip Mine. I have men like Hand of Cruelty; Knight of Stromgald; Dauthi Horror; Order of the Ebon Hand; Rakdos Guildmage; Stromgald Crusader; Sarcomancy; Dark Confidant; Hypnotic Specter; Braids, Cabal Minion; Nantuko Husk; Rotlung Reanimator; and Graveborn Muse. Finally, I have finishers like Corrupt and Profane Command. Necropotence is just the icing on the cake.

While the Blue isn’t bad, if I play it straight Black, I can run as few as fifteen lands, including the one Strip Mine. Most of the players, particularly if they were forced into multiple colors, will be running significantly more. My inherent card advantage, in concert with my efficient disruption, should put most decks off balance. I remember that, back in the day, Vintage Suicide Black, which does not look wholly dissimilar to the deck I’ve drafted, ran about nineteen Swamps in a sixty-card deck. I quickly goldfish the deck twice and the mana seems just right. I asterisk the cards I’m playing maindeck, and we begin.

Here was my decklist:

There was one other card maindeck, of course… sadly, I can’t recall what it was.

Round 1: Rich Hoaen

I imagine that Rich probably thinks this is his bye. I’m understandably nervous.

He wins the die roll and elects to go first. He opens with Forest, Jungle Lion.

I play a Swamp and pass.

He plays Mountain, Blurred Mongoose, and beats me for two.

I think for a moment… I have Dauthi Horror, Hand of Cruelty, and Knights of Stromgald, and I think one other guy, the flyer. Which should I play? I drop Hand of Cruelty. He burns him out and attacks me to ten.

That’s where the bleeding stops.

I play Graveborn Muse and suddenly he loses interest in attacking. My next play is a zombie, so I start drawing two cards. I find Sinkhole for his Mountain so he won’t be recurring Hammer of Bogardan. I drop Braids next, and the game ends shortly thereafter.

I sideboard in Bottle Gnomes.

Game 2: He’s on the play and opens with Forest, go.

I play Swamp, Thoughtseize, and see:

Wild Mongrel
Flametongue Kavu
Chandra Nalaar
Reckless Charge

I barely hesitate in taking Wild Mongrel. I know that FTK will two-for-one me, but that’s a given. I’m holding Vendetta. I check Wild Mongrel to remind myself that he changes color if need be. Indeed he does. Mongrel it is.

He plays land, go.

I play another BB dude, and on turn 3 I drop yet another, knowing that one will get burned out by the Kavu. However, I drew Profane Command. On turn 4, I tap out for four and give Kavu –2/-2 and return the burned out guy to play. I swing for four.

Rich plays Llanowar Elf and Blastoderm. This is when things get tricky. I murder his Elf with a removal spell and then play Smallpox, forcing him to sacrifice the ‘Derm. My pressure continues to mount with a Strip Mine on his Red mana source.

At the critical juncture he tries to Briarhorn, but I’m holding Vendetta for it before blockers are declared. Rich is dead.

Round 2: Shota Yasooka

He wins the roll and elects to play. He plays a land and passes.

I play Thoughtseize and see:

Rising Waters
Future Sight
Voidmage Prodigy
Rishadan Port

His hand is surprisingly bad. His game plan has to be to survive to play his bombs, but my plan is to curve out BB dude, Hypnotic Specter, and Braids. The only problem is that I’ve only got two other Swamps in my opening hand, but I know it’s not that big of a deal because I’ll draw more, and I do.

I take the Prodigy.

He plays Port and Ports me.

I play a Swamp and pass.

He plays another Island and passes the turn.

He Ports me again, and I play another Swamp and cast Knights of Stromgald.

He plays draw, go, and Ports me again. This time I topdeck the fourth land and cast Hypnotic Specter.

The turn afterward, my Specter nabs the Rising Waters. I play Braids, Cabal Minion, and his game starts going to hell. He untaps, floats two mana, plays Gush, casts Opt, and scoops.

Game 2: I keep a one Swamp hand with Vendetta and Thoughtseize on the draw. My top card is a Swamp.

I open with the same play as the last game, only this time his hand is:

Simic Growth Chamber
Plow Under
Krosan Grip
Time Spiral

I debate between Farseek and Time Spiral, but in the end it’s no choice. I take the Farseek.

I wait until he plays the Growth Chamber and I Sinkhole it. I draw Hypnotic Specter again, and it goes most of the way.

Round 3: Tiago Chan

Tiago is playing U/W.

Game 1: My hand has Thoughtseize plus Duress, and solid bombs like Necropotence.

Turn 1 Thoughtseize sees:

Eternal Dragon

I debate Morphling over Tithe, but it’s no contest. Morphling will be dealt with when he hits, if he hits. I take Tithe.

He plays a land and passes.

I play a dude.

He plays another land and passes.

I debate what to do. I can drop Necropotence right now, but I decide to Duress him and play a small dude. I see Reflecting Pool, Plains, Morphling, Eternal Dragon, and Disenchant. I take the Disenchant. I can play Necropotence and draw a few cards for the next few turns, or I can just lay another man. I decide to play Necropotence and refill my hand by putting five cards into it.

I attack him some more and he manages to play Akroma’s Vengeance before too long, and I regain my draw step. Now I untap and drop a bunch of men onto the table, and they take me all the way.

Game 2:

Tiago opens with turn 2 Merfolk Looter. The Looter repeatedly activates, trying to help Tiago fashion a usable hand. I apply pressure and begin to lower his life total. Once he hits four mana, he plays Phyrexian Processor for three life. I Strip Mine his land, thinking that he may not have kept land in hand while using his Looter. I drop a Hypnotic Specter onto the table, and suddenly Tiago is on the ropes. While he manages to get some defense on the ground, my Specter and Stromgald Crusader take to the air and he falls from ten, to five, to zero life.

Auction of the People

Every year, an auction format is part of the Magic Invitational. The idea is to start with seventeen decks and have players bid on them. This format tests your ability to evaluate relative strength in a rapidly changing environment.

This year, the decks selected were Legacy format decklists that contained a card for every letter of the alphabet. The decklists can be found here.

The auction was a disaster. Unlike the Cube, this was a format that I had put a great deal of time preparing for. Approaching the auction format is tricky business. You can test all of the decks, but they will only give you a rough idea of what you will actually face. The variable hand size and life total makes a big difference in terms of the matchups.

My approach was as follows: familiarize myself with each of the decks by playing each one against a randomly selected auction deck. After running through each of decklists, here were my initial impressions.

First of all, the Time Vault deck was clearly the most powerful deck in the abstract, but if bid low enough, I could imagine half of the decks out there being able to compete.

Second, I would never play with the Transformers deck, nor the Choose Your Own Destiny deck. The Transformers deck was incredibly bad, despite Tiago’s 3-0 score. It uses super janky artifacts like Barbed Wire, and turns them sideways using Xenic Poltergeist. The one thing going for it was that it had four Wrath of Gods and plenty of Disenchants should it face the Time Vault deck. Although this deck isn’t objectively in the bottom two or three, its manabase is so wretched I immediately decided this was a deck I never wanted to play, to avoid frustration if little else.

The incorrectly named Choose Your Own Destiny deck was probably the worst of the whole bunch. Rather than choosing your own destiny, your opponent chose your destiny for you, punishing you at every turn. This deck is full of cards like Shivan Wumpus and Breaking Point. There are far too many scenarios in which you would need one effect only to have your opponent select the other.

Third, the Land deck was a bit slow and probably misbuilt. It had strategic inferiority to the Time Vault and the non-basic hate deck. I wanted to avoid it if I could.

Fourth, the Brand deck was the most fun deck to play. However, it had no way to beat Time Vault. It also struggled against the Green decks.

Fifth, while there is a great deal of variation in power among the decks, any given deck had the potential to beat any other deck, particularly with hand and life total variation that would strive to even out those differences.

With those as my initial impressions, I needed a methodology for deciding which decks I should push to take. Once I had familiarized myself with all of the major decks, I decided to choose one of them and just play a deck until it lost, and then play the winner until it lost. Using this procedure, I would arrive at a baseline for understanding the relevant matchups.

Using this method, I came to the following conclusions, assuming a full hand of seven cards for each deck:

1) The 42 Land deck generally can’t stop a quick creature rush aided by a relatively full hand from one of the green decks.
2) The Test of Endurance deck isn’t actually that bad. If both decks have a full starting hand, Test actually beats Reanimator. The problem is that it can’t beat the Time Vault deck at all.
3) The Legendary Puppets deck is one of the worst decks from an objective perspective.
4) The Reanimator deck isn’t that good. Its creatures are slow and small compared to what they could be. A smaller starting hand size just murders this deck.
5) Elves beats Test of Endurance, although the matchup is close.
6) Suicide Black beats the Time Vault deck, but struggles mightily against the Green decks. The matchup is even if the Green decks have lower starting hand sizes.
7) The Artist deck can beat Time Vault at times. But it’s so slow.
8) Elves beats most of the decks, Ode To Jamie Beats Elves, and Ernham Geddon Beats Elves and Ode to Jamie. That makes Ernham Geddon the best deck in the entire format, so long as Time Vault is neutered, which I expected it to be. Elves key play is Summoner’s Pacting up Kamahl and Overrunning. Ode to Jamie uses Survival for the same result. Ernham Geddon trumps all of this by Natural Ordering up Nishoba, which few decks can handle.

Based upon all of that, I knew that I’d be going for the Ernham Geddon deck, hoping to nab it at around six cards and maybe fourteen-fifteen life. I was hoping that people would look at Ode To Jamie and Time Vault and Reanimator and similar decks and conclude, without testing, that those were the best decks.

My strategy was as follows: win one of the Green decks with a starting hand of six or more. I thought since the Ode to Jamie deck was probably the obvious deck, I might be able to get Ernham Geddon or Elves at a deal, also hoping that people overbid Time Vault and Reanimator.

My auction strategy started off fine. I was selected to go second and Raphael Levy stood next to me and asked me what he should nominate. I suggested the Time Vault deck. This way we could neuter that deck from the get-go. He agreed with my suggestion, but I left my reason to myself. You can read the auction here.

I was surprised with how the auction turned out. I did not expect such aggressive bidding. What I should have done was examined the previous Invitationals and see roughly how many decks are bid to five cards, and how many to six. In 2006, five decks were bid to five cards. In 2001, the last year of the paper Invitational, six decks were bid to five cards. That should have been the clue that I should have done a second full round of testing to evaluate the best decks at five cards, against the middle decks at six cards, and the worst decks at seven or eight cards. Moreover, that sort of notation and testing would have told me which decks were deals and which decks were overpriced.

Instead, what happened was that I panicked. The first two Green decks were for six cards and very low life totals. Life totals I didn’t feel comfortable playing with against even the slow aggro decks, such as the non-basic hate or the Sanctuary deck. It came down to the very last Green deck, and the bidding went to six cards and twelve life. I couldn’t go six cards and eleven life. Such a bid would put your back up against the wall tactically and strategically. You’d have to stabilize before you could execute your game plan. I was happy with 5/25 because I thought that the additional life would equal another turn. I was wrong.

First of all, a five-card hand murders your ability to mulligan. If you have no land or only Gaea’s Cradle hands, you won’t know whether your top cards are lands or not and you’ll have to mulligan.

Second of all, the Elves deck is the worst of the three big Green decks at mulliganing. While I just wanted any of the Green decks, they are not the same decks. The Elves deck has more uber-expensive cards like Akroma’s Memorial, and multiple Biorhythms. That makes mulliganing even more difficult. Thus, it should not be surprising that in my first two matches alone I had to mulligan in four out of five games.

The key information that I knew but ignored was that most of these decks had the potential to beat any of the other decks. While some decks were awful, the truth was that most of the decks were awful. Thus, the auction determines everything. It isn’t the deck so much as the total package that matters. I underestimated that. I understood how the decks interacted, but I blew the auction.

Round 4: Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

This match is a feature match covered here.

Guilliame won the 42 land deck at seven cards. He wins the die roll and elects to draw. I’m in trouble.

He keeps his hand. I fan open my hand of five… it’s Xanthic Statue, Biorhythm, Llanowar Elf, and two Forests. It’s already a functional hand of three, so I ship it back. I keep a weak hand of four.

I play Forest, Quirion Ranger, and pass the turn.

Guillaume opens with Land, Exploration. He then played a tapped Treetop Village and passed the turn.

I play turn 2 land and pass. This was a mistake. I was holing Summoner’s Pact. I should have Pacted here for Priest of Titania, played it, and then paid the Pact upkeep with her next turn.

Instead, I just passed the turn.

Guillaume must have just topdecked Manabond because he played it, put the rest of his hand into play except for two Life From the Loam, which he discarded.

I then went for the Pact after drawing Hurricane, upset with myself for not making this play sooner. Turn 2 Priest would have enabled me to at least do something on turn 4. I played Priest of Titania and passed the turn.

Guillaume dredged the Life From the Loam on his turn and saw Ghost Quarter and Barbarian Ring. I knew immediately that I was dead. He only returned those two lands to hand when he played Life From the Loam. He Ghost Quartered himself and then achieved Threshold to shoot my Priest. An upkeep trigger from my Summoner’s Pact sealed my doom.

Game 2: I chose to be on the draw this time. The only problem was that I drew a hand of five that was three Forests, Akroma’s Memorial, and Overrun. I had to ship that back.

My hand of four had only Gaea’s Cradle for mana, but plenty of mana elves. I couldn’t imagine that a hand of three would be better than this.

Guillaume also mulliganed to six. He seemed to have an anemic hand, but mine was worse still. I couldn’t even capitalize on my opponent’s weaknesses.

I decide to play my Gaea’s Cradle in case I start topdecking lands. It’s immediately hit with Wasteland. My next two turns are dead draws while he just plays land. Eventually he hits Manabond and then Life From the Loam. He dredges it for several turns, developing his board.

Finally I topdeck a Forest and play an Elf. Wafo once again finds Barbarian Ring and starts to off my Elves. I try to play more than he can answer, but I’m getting nowhere. Shenanigans with Quirion Ranger and untapping lead to nothing. Eventually my hand is depleted and he’s attacking me with Nantuko Monasteries, and I am dead.

Round 5: Willy Edel, playing Legendary Puppets

His deck is bad. Really bad. It uses Puppet Strings to “combo” with Ertai, Wizard Adept and Merieke Ri Berit.

In game 1 I just maul him. I have turn 1 Llanowar Elf, turn 2 Quirion Ranger and Priest of Titania, turn 3 Morph, and I’m holding Overrun. My plan is to unmorph my Tribal Forcemage and Overrun in the same turn. I have to wait one turn longer than normal, but I pull it off on turn 5. His puppet strings doesn’t stand in my way.

Finally, my confidence surges again. Willy’s deck is awful, really awful. I’m confident that I can win this matchup despite the realization that I’ve blown the auction.

However, I decide to keep this hand in game 2: Kamahl, Akroma’s Memorial, 3 Forests. I fail to draw anything playable. I draw multiple lands and then Biorhythm and Xanthic Statue.

On turn 3 he plays Merieke Ri Berit and Karakas afterward. Every creature I play is killed by the combo of Merieke bounced by Karakas. Laughably bad, but it still beats me. A few turns later, he resolves Zur the Enchanter and I just scoop it up in frustration.

I decide to draw game 3. Four the fourth time in five games, I mulligan. My hand is actually playable. I have a Forest, a Llanowar Elf, and a Dust Bowl. He plays a Tundra and passes.

I play my Elf and then my Dust Bowl. He plays two Underground Seas. On my third turn, I draw Summoner’s Pact.

The time is now. If I Pact for Priest of Titania, I’ll be able to start blowing away his lands, one at a time by throwing my Forests at them with Dust Bowl and using my Elf mana to play whatever I want. The alternative is just to try and blow up his lands now since I have a Forest or two I don’t need. The problem is that I have just a lonesome Llanowar Elf to support this plan. With full knowledge that he only has 1 Wrath of God in his trash heap called a library, I decide to go for it.

I play Summoner’s Pact for Priest of Titania.

No sooner have I passed the turn than he flashes me Wrath of God. Anticipating my next question he reveals the Tundra to play it.

I’m shocked. I’m stupefied. I’m dumbfounded. I just lost to one of the absolute worst decks in this auction. I suppose I could have tried to Dust Bowl him for a few turns before going for the Pact. My board only had two Forests and the Dust Bowl, but I had another Forest in hand and another on top of my deck. But that’s mostly just bad beats. I guess you have to play for every eventuality in a tournament like this.

I finish the day 3-2, happy enough, I suppose. I’m disappointed that I lost to Willy, since none of my matches will be better than that one. But it’s time to move on.

We arrive at the show early next morning, and I’m paired up against Jelger, playing the Suicide Black deck.

Round 6: Jelger Wiegersma

After my humiliating and humbling losses to Willy and Guillaume, I am pessimistic about my chances in this match. The only key advantage will be my life.

Game 1 is a blow out. I mulligan to four, and a turn 2 Hymn to Tourach takes me out of the game.

Game 2 is interesting.

Jelger opens with Carnophage. I open with Llanowar Elf. My opening hand has Akroma’s Memorial, but ironically, that is precisely my strategy this game. Resolve the Memorial, win the game.

He plays another Carnophage and attacks in. He uses Lake of the Dead to play Juzam Djinn a few turns later. He calculates the damage he needs to kill me. While his life is dwindling, I decide to play Caller of the Claw at instant speed. As a result, he feints. He only partially attacks. This lets me untap and use all of my mana and mana elves to cast Akroma’s Memorial. Now I stabilize at one life and begin using my protection from Black, vigilance elves to kill him.

Game 3 is just a bore. It’s a welter of sore memories and painful recollections. I remember the ghastly vision of Phyrexian Negator joining the fray while my few elves could hardly stave off his frontal assault. I was plain murdered.

What a blow.

If there was just one thing I wish I could change from the Invitational, it would be my auction deck. The auction was the road to my ruin. If I had managed to pick up wins in the auction, I could have stayed in contention. I could have sustained my momentum. I could have moved forward with confidence. Going to five with a deck that has to mulligan but cannot afford to do so was a tremendous mistake. Invitationalists 2008 and beyond: beware! Beware the five-card starting hand! Heed my warning, the ghost of Invitationals past!

Wrap Up

Next week, the fun returns! I managed to abscond with my Winston draft decklists, including Kenji’s decklists in his match against me. We’ll break down Lorwyn Winston draft, examine the various drafting strategies and the strong and weak parts of Lorwyn. I’ll also compare my approach to the format with Kenji’s. Join me for next week’s “Drafting With Kenji.” You won’t want to miss it!

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian