I can’t deny that Team Belgium had high hopes going into the inaugural World Magic Cup. We had over 450 Pro Points divided between the four members of our team. About 80 Pro Tours under our belt. Our whole country was counting on us. They wanted us to wash away the bitter taste the Olympics had left in their mouths (winning only one silver and two bronze medals).
The setup was perfect. I won the first World Magic Cup qualifier, Christophe Gregoir the second, and Peter Vieren the third. Three wins. Three wins with U/W Delver. Duh.
For those of you who don’t recognize any of those names, let me introduce our all-star team:
- Vincent Lemoine: Two-time National Champion. Made Top 8 at PT Paris 2011 and locked up Gold Level last year. He enjoys talking about Magic and has played in about 20 PTs. Loves travelling and meeting new people, but HATES losing. :)
- Christophe Gregoir: Been on the train for ages without much effort. Made Top 8 (with Jund) at PT Honolulu 2009 and Top 8 (with Jund) at GP Brussels 2010. He has quit Magic for about seventeen times but always comes back after two months (and wins the first PTQ he plays). Has played in about 20 PTs. Loves cascading.
- Peter Vieren: The eldest of the Vieren brothers. Made Top 8 at GP Lyon 2010. Tends to be "kind of" stubborn when it comes to choosing his constructed decks. :) Has played in about 10 PTs. Loves drawing cards.
- Marijn Lybaert: Known for his boyish looks and sharp comments. Made Top 8 at PT Geneva 2007, PT Hollywood 2008, Worlds Rome 2009, and PT Amsterdam 2010. Member of "Boys of Summer" (famous rock band). Has played in about 30 PTs. Loves the combat step.
A lot of people in Belgium supported us. Our local game store (Outpost Gamecenters) provided us with boosters and sleeves, and several people came over to help and test. We can’t thank them enough. It was a pleasure playing for all these great people.
The four of us started testing right after GP Ghent. Team Sealed, Block, Modern… We had it all figured out.
For Standard we waited a little bit longer. The results of SCG Standard Opens shake up things every week, so we thought it would be a good idea to test the other formats first. I was convinced that the four of us should just play Delver anyway. For over two months people have been claiming that they have found a way to beat Delver, yet no one has really come up with an answer.
The last few months of Standard have basically looked like this:
- Delver is on top.
- Someone comes up with the perfect answer.
- Gerry Thompson changes three maindeck slots and five sideboard slots to the current Delver decklist consensus.
- Delver is on top again.
- Rinse and repeat.
Things weren’t different this time around. Everyone was packing Thragtusk plus Cavern of Souls as their perfect answer to Delver. To combat this, we figured out that we should play Spectral Flight. Spectral Flight my Geist of Saint Traft, attack you for eight. Nice uncounterable 5/3 vanilla you have there. At least you can still draw into Whipflare or Crushing Vines! Oh wait, those cards don’t actually do anything…
I feel like the version of Delver we played was close to perfection. The only thing we weren’t sure about was the number of Mana Leaks we wanted (zero, two, or three). The question was not how good Mana Leak is, but how much we wanted to play with Augur of Bolas. We felt like playing Augur of Bolas and Mana Leak in the same 60 was just wrong.
Let me explain.
In most matchups Delver is the aggro deck. You want to be applying pressure, so you want to play your creatures whenever you can. This certainly applies to Augur of Bolas since he’s only a 1/3 which won’t do a whole lot in the late game. Plus, he lets you dig for Gut Shot, which is at its best in the early turns. Basically, you want to drop Augur of Bolas into play on turn 2. But what if you are holding Mana Leak and Augur of Bolas?
If you play the Augur, you risk that your Mana Leak will become dead in your hand for the rest of the game (both Naya Pod and Wolf Run Blue play Cavern of Souls, so you need to counter the small things to enable you to land your Geist of Saint Traft on an empty board). But if you keep up Mana Leak, your Augur of Bolas will be much weaker. On turn 3 you’ll probably want to drop Geist into play, and on turn 4 you might have Snapcaster + Mana Leak or Restoration Angel. Don’t get me wrong, Augur of Bolas is a fantastic card (especially with Restoration Angel and/or Runechanter’s Pike). But we had to decide between him and Mana Leak.
In the end we all settled on Mana Leak, as we thought there would be a lot of ramp decks against which you really need the Leaks. If we would’ve been sure that 75% people would be playing Zombies, Delver, or Naya Pod, we would have run Augur of Bolas. But that was a bet we weren’t willing to take.
This is the list Christophe, Vincent, and I ended up playing (I believe theirs were one or two cards different from mine). I would run the same 75 again without looking back.
Many people have talked about Delver before, so I’m going to leave it at that. I will post a sideboarding guide in the forums if any of you are interested. If you have any more questions about this deck, feel free to contact me because I’ll gladly answer them.
Of course Peter had other plans. There was no way he was just going to play the best deck in the format. Peter wanted to draw cards, LOTS OF cards! After M13 was spoiled, Peter told us the following: "I’m going to try Mono-Red Trading Post. If it fails, I’ll just play Delver like you guys. But I just gotta try this." At first I was hesitant, but after playing some games against his brew I figured it was worth giving a try. After all, who was I to take the little kid’s card drawing spells away? After a lot of testing, this is what Peter came up with:
Peter’s deck was tuned to beat the decks he expected the most: Zombies, Delver, and Birthing Pod. During the World Cup Qualifiers, Peter played Delver, and it paid off. For the World Cup, on the other hand, he felt like the field would be very focused. He thought it would be hard to get an edge by playing Delver since everyone would be much more prepared and ready to handle Insectile Aberrations.
If you are interested in this deck, Peter talked about it in a deck tech you can see here. I think his deck was solid and definitely a good choice for this tournament. The deck certainly has its issues (mainly 6/6 trampling issues), but if you expect the metagame to be mainly Zombies, Delver and Birthing Pod, I’d certainly give this deck a try.
Thanks to Magic Online Block Constructed was pretty much set in stone. We knew 80% of the field would be Jund (with or without white for Restoration Angel). Vincent loved the Reanimator deck he played at PT Avacyn Restored, but the deck was kind of weak to Bonfire of the Damned. I insisted on tweaking it a little bit in order to beat Jund. The matchup wasn’t great, but we felt it was the best we could do. This is the list we would have run had we gotten to play on Day 2.
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 3 Fiend Hunter
- 3 Geist-Honored Monk
- 2 Disciple of Griselbrand
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 3 Angel of Glory's Rise
- 3 Cathedral Sanctifier
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see this deck in action, but I think it would’ve been a good choice for this tournament. Most Jund decks were only packing two Grafdigger’s Cage, and it’s the only card this deck really loses to. I do think this deck has a future in Standard. Disciple of Bolas is a great addition to this deck as it comes back with Angel of Glory’s Rise and lets you sacrifice Geist-Honored Monk to gain a ton of life and cards. With one more way to fill up your graveyard, this deck could be the real deal.
Modern was a completely different story. There were a dozen decks to choose from and we had no idea what the metagame would look like. We expected the most played decks to be Affinity, Delver (U/W/R or RUG), Jund, and Naya Pod, so we started by playing these decks against each other just to get a feel for how the matchups played out. After a handful of games, this is what we learned about these decks (please keep in mind that we only played about fifteen games of each matchup so our observations might be biased):
- Affinity: The best game 1 deck (as usual), but after winning the last GP, everyone would be packing too much hate. The good thing is that you get to sideboard four Blood Moon, which wins games on its own. Best matchup: Naya Pod (Affinity is a turn faster and has Galvanic Blast to stop Naya Pod from comboing). Worst matchup: RUG Delver (since they usually board a good amount of hate).
- U/W/R Delver: Both Peter and I hated playing this deck. The deck can be very powerful, but it has only twelve real threats and, unlike Standard, it has no card draw to get to them once your opponent deals with the first few. Best matchup: Naya Pod (the Pod deck has no removal for Delver/Geist so one threat + some removal to keep Naya Pod from comboing is usually enough). Worst matchup: Jund (if Jund packs enough removal to handle Geist).
- RUG Delver: The deck Peter and I liked the most, although it had some problems handling big creatures like Restoration Angel or Tarmogoyf. Best matchup: Affinity. Worst matchup: Jund (Tarmogoyf and Kitchen Finks backed up by removal for your own Goyfs is a beating. Vedalken Shackles really shines, but sometimes it just gets destroyed by Maelstrom Pulse).
- Jund: Powerful but quite random. Sometimes you draw three discard spells in a row when all you need is one removal spell. Sometimes you cascade into the nuts on turn 4 and there is no way you can lose. For some reason we didn’t really like Dark Confidant. Against U/W/R Delver it was just bad (it either gets killed or it kills yourself), and in other matchups it seemed a bit slow. Best matchup: U/W/R Delver. Worst matchup: Anything with four Kitchen Finks.
- Naya Pod: A great deck, but we didn’t have the time to figure out all the subtle plays the deck allows you to make. A mistake we often made while playing this deck was trying to combo when there was no need to do so. Once you get Birthing Pod going, there is no need to combo against most decks as they can’t handle the constant stream of threats. The one card we really hated in this deck was Chord of Calling. Best matchup: Jund (just don’t get fancy and don’t try to combo when you can play it safe). Worst matchup: U/W/R Delver.
In the end we decided we’d play RUG Delver since it seemed to be the most consistent deck. It could beat about anything and would let us run a bunch of sweet one- and two-ofs which could really surprise people. This is the list we would have played on Day 2:
Modern is still an open format, and I’m sure there is much brewing to be done. I’m guessing that the Players Championship and Pro Tour Return to Ravnica will showcase how strong of a format Modern really is. Right now all decks seem a little bit clunky (we actually believe that Standard U/W Delver is better than Modern U/W/R Delver), so there is a lot of room for improvement. Lingering Souls hasn’t found its home yet in the format, but I’m sure there’s a deck for it out there. It was a pity to see the US lose in the Top 16 as they were running a sweet Five-Color Zoo list with Lingering Souls.
The Tournament Itself
With all these sweet decks and such an all-star team, why didn’t we just win the whole shebang?
I’d love to say we got unlucky, but that would be too easy. In fact, I don’t feel like I got particularly unlucky in this tournament. I thought it would be fine if I just concentrated on the Constructed formats, but as a result I screwed up BIG TIME in Draft and deserved nothing better than 0-3. I drafted a nice U/B control deck with double Switcheroo, Murder, and Talrand’s Invocation, but my deck could have been so much better. Twice I picked Wind Drake over Archaeomancer, while the latter was clearly the right pick for my deck. I just hadn’t drafted this kind of deck before, and I was a bit too worried with my curve since I’m more used to drafting aggro decks.
I immediately got punished by someone who clearly knew better. His U/B control deck featured the two Archaeomancer I passed with double Essence Drain and Diabolic Revelation. A matchup I couldn’t really win. In round 2 game 3, I didn’t mulligan a hand of five lands, Divination, Archaeomancer on the draw against an aggressive R/B deck and got killed on turn 5. My deck had enough early drops to make this an easy mulligan. And in round 3 I got crushed by a mediocre R/G deck without really doing anything. Justice, I guess…
In most tournaments I’d be done with an 0-3 start, but this time I had a reason to keep fighting. I apologized to my teammates but told them nothing was lost and promised that I’d keep fighting. I came back, going undefeated in Standard thanks to some tight plays, but it wasn’t meant to be. When I started winning, my teammates started losing. Peter got quite unlucky with his Trading Post deck in Standard and lost twice to Delver and once to Zombies, matchups where he should’ve been favored. Both Vincent and Christophe lost two mirror matches, something I feel we could have avoided had we practiced the mirror a little bit more. I didn’t see their matches, though, so I don’t know what happened.
It was a pity to see our tournament end before it really started. We had practiced quite a lot of Team Sealed and felt like we had a great chance if we could survive Day 1. We prepared for this tournament as a team, so it was extra painful to exit before the team competition really started. Seeing a bunch of great teams play on Day 2 made me wish we could have been there. I really liked the new setup of the tournament and feel like Wizards is on the right course with it.
Looking back, there are three things I’d change. First, I’d practice Draft a lot more. The truth is that I’m no natural and need a lot of practice before I understand a format. I still feel guilty for letting my team down in the first three rounds. Second, I’d try to convince Peter to play the same deck as the other team members. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming Peter at all. His deck was decent; if it hadn’t been, I would’ve just stopped him before he played it.
It’s just that we had to spend a lot of time testing against his Trading Post deck, time which we could have used to get a better understanding of the Delver mirror match or the Draft format. Third, I’d tell Christophe to put on the exhaust while cooking bacon. Otherwise your smoke detectors start going off and a few minutes later you’ll see and hear two fire trucks with sirens blazing pulling into the hotel parking lot. A nice anecdote, but certainly something to be avoided.
Thanks for reading. If you want to know anything about any of the decks I posted, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.