“Unleashed once again Lebedowicz flexed his Combo muscles.”- Rui Oliviera
Pro Tour: Nagoya
I have traditionally done well at Rochester draft Pro Tours, I think it has do with the fact that I find it very enjoyable. There’s more player interaction at the Rochester Pro Tour than any other event, and things can get very personal if you’re not careful. All of this generally makes for a very interesting tournament.
My strategy going into this event had changed a lot over time. During GP: Austin, I had really wanted to try and force Black. I went 2-1 both drafts and ended up in the T16, so I figured Black was pretty solid in Rochester. After Austin I started to play more Magic Online than I normally do in preparation for Nagoya. I kept trying to draft Black and I was finding that I didn’t like it as much anymore. White started to look much better to me, so I decided to do for it whenever possible. However, right before I left for Nagoya, I came to the conclusion that I would really want to draft Green and Red as much as I could for two reasons. First, I think both colors are better than people give them credit for, which means they should generally be underdrafted. The other reason was that I found in team Rochester, the Red player would generally have a huge advantage over the Blue player, so I thought drafting Red was just a wise move.
This was my fourth trip to Japan and I can’t say I have gotten use to the long flight over. I couldn’t get to sleep and I had to watch The First Daughter starring Katie Holmes for the second time on a plane, as well as the same episodes of Scrubs, Friends, and Frasier four times in a row. Had there not been a documentary about the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders on, I think I probably would’ve killed myself. The only constructive thing I did during all thirteen hours was test Desire versus other decks, but I’ll get into that later.
I ended up drafting Green and Red four out of the five times we drafted. My record those times was 3-0, 2-1, 2-1, 3-0. The one time I actually couldn’t draft Green and was forced into Red and White instead, I went 1-2, losing to Frank Karsten and the Greek Jeff Cunningham. I finished in 10th place, missing the Top 8 on tiebreakers. None of that is really interesting, I know, but some cool stuff did happen that weekend.
1) Wizards introduced us to the Player’s Lounge, not to be confused with the Playa’z Lounge. I must say this was the greatest Pro Tour innovation since adding a fifth draft. First off, the women in the lounge who were serving us were all very attractive and pleasing to the eye. With Magic tournaments already being such sausage fests, this was a welcome addition. The lounge was also reserved for pro players only, so that means judges and tournament staff are not allowed. We frequently sent a small Japanese woman over to Randy Buehler or Ted Knutson and watched them get escorted out. All in all you’ll be surprised how much free food, movies, and comfortable furniture can make the tournament a whole different experience. I can say for a fact that I’ve never had that much fun at a tournament site before.
2) Osyp tears it up. For those of you who don’t know what that’s in reference to I would suggest looking at the Day 2 blog from the Sideboard coverage. Now I know some people would consider tearing up a card during a draft unsportsmanlike conduct, but I thought it was awesome. Plus, he didn’t take another card away from me for the rest of the draft, so there you go.
3) I found out that I have supernatural abilities. When Anton Jonsson was 9-0, I told him that he would not make T8 of the Pro Tour. At the time I said it, it was only in jest – I mean Anton is a friend and out of everyone at the tournament, he deserved to win more than anyone else. However when he started the fourth draft 0-2, people started to think that I had actually cursed him. It wasn’t until I apologized and wished him luck did he start to win again. The fact that he ended up making T8 by beating me on tiebreakers makes me think I should’ve kept my mouth shut. From now on I’ll probably just stick to making fun of him in the forums rather than cursing him.
I had a pretty good time at the tournament site, but the rest of the trip was pretty dull. I never manage to really have a good time in Japan because of the overwhelming language barrier. With Grand Prix: Boston only a week away, I had to get over my jet lag and start to get back in gear for Constructed.
I had been testing for a while now, not so much for the Grand Prix, but because I needed to write about it, plus I like helping my friends out for the PTQ season. The one deck I really liked was Blue/White Desire. It seemed to me that if you played the deck perfectly and had an average draw, you couldn’t lose. Another thing that really appealed to me was that unlike some other mirror matches, this one was all about skill, with the better, more prepared player almost always emerging victorious. I tested the mirror a lot because I thought it would be heavily played. One thing I noticed was that if your opponent didn’t really know what they were doing, it was very hard for them to simply mize a win from someone who knew what they were doing. Even in situations where your opponent would be far ahead, like having multiple Medallions in play or having more lands, I’ve found that they can easily just throw the game away. Being ahead can make them overzealous and they can become too aggressive when they shouldn’t be, or they’re not aggressive enough when they should be. I’ll get into the intricacies of that match up a little later on.
Desire seemed to be the most consistent of the combo decks, but usually speed needs to be sacrificed for consistency. This meant that other combo decks, like Aluren and Cephalid Breakfast, have a slight edge on you. Goblins was the other deck I found to be a challenge, not difficult per se, but a challenge. Other than those three decks, Desire was doing great against every deck in the metagame and I was convinced it was the deck to play. I was also excited at the prospect of a Life-heavy metagame. With RDW and Affinity taking the top two slots at the PT, it seemed logical that a lot of people would show up with Life hoping they would avoid the combo decks and just play against RDW, Goblins and Affinity all day. If Life showed up in full force it would make my job a lot easier. Here’s the list I played.
4 Accumulated Knowledge
4 Sapphire Medallion
4 Mind’s Desire
4 Chrome Mox
3 Cunning Wish
2 Merchant Scroll
2 Deep Analysis
1 Brain Freeze
4 Cloud of Fairies
3 Sunscape Familiars
I hate going to Boston. Now being from New Jersey, I already have an in-born hatred for all things Boston, but my main cause of dismay is the fact that driving in Boston is like spending 13 hours on a plane to Japan. The streets are incredibly difficult to navigate and I’m convinced the good people of Boston believe there must be gold buried underneath their land because there are always construction workers digging stuff up. Not building or fixing anything in particular, just digging. I do have some good friends from Boston though, and the city itself is nice enough…
I arrive early in the afternoon and check out the Grand Prix Trial. I notice a lot of Desire decks running around, which I am more than happy to see. I also notice Masashi Oiso, Osama Fujita and the rest of the Japanese super crew there.
The Japanese Renaissance . . . other wise known as “The Day the Music Died”
On November 18, 2001, a group of young Magic professionals from North America traveled to Asia to attend a Grand Prix. Not only did one of them win the event, but they dominated it, placing four players in the Top 8, and several others in the T16. Good luck trying that now. The Japanese have finally figured out what we American Pro’s have known for sometime now – they’re better than us. We tried to hide that fact for as long as we can, but it seems like another PT win has made them open their eyes. The days of American’s traveling to Japan for Grand Prixs to accumulate pro points are over. The days of Japanese players coming here to beat us has just begun – get used to it.
Round 1-3: Byes
Round 4: Michael Reitemeyer
Michael’s first few plays were Island, Flooded Strand and Brainstorm, so I wasn’t quite sure what he was playing, Desire or Scepter Chant, but either one seemed good for me. He eventually cast Intuition going for three Squee, Goblin Nabob and I finally realized I was up against Solitary Confinement. Things appeared to be even better for me than I could’ve imagined. The games played out played out pretty much the same way as the Scepter-Chant games play out, only a little easier because they have more bad cards against you like Compulsion and Confinement.
Win 2-0 Record 4-0
Round 5: Domenic Minicucci
When I first saw the pairings, I thought I was paired against a member of the 1996 US Women’s Gymnastic team. Sadly it was only a teenage dude. Domenic was running U/G Madness and informed me that he wasn’t running Yavimaya Coasts because he simply couldn’t afford them. Domenic was a local kid and all of his friends were pretty much in agreement that he was the cutest player in the room. We went to three games, but in the end, his cuteness couldn’t compete with the sexiness of a Mind’s Desire for 12.
Win 2-1 Record 5-0
Round 6: Aaron Wyant
A turn 1 Careful Study pitching a Roar of the Wurm and an Island let me in on what he’s playing right away. I play a Sapphire Medallion on turn 2 and he matches it with a . . . why don’t you guess.
If you guessed c), you would be correct. He followed that up with a turn 3 nothing, which is slightly better than his turn 2 play in this matchup. I can only assume he was hoping I was playing Reanimator when he was choosing whether or not to keep his hand. I win that game quickly and his draw is pretty slow again in game 2 so I win that one as well.
Win 2-0 Record 6-0
Round 7: Steven Sadin
Steve is a friend of mine and I know he’s playing Goblins splashing Black as well as what he plans on doing after sideboard. I win game one because his turn 2 goblin is Flunkies not Piledriver, which I can handle easily, but in game two a Goblin Piledriver and a Cabal Therapy take me out of the game. Game three was very close. He managed to go turn 1 Mogg Fanatic, and follow it up with a Goblin Piledriver. I was on the play this time, so I was still ahead with a turn 2 Medallion. His third turn, I found out after the match, involved a crucial decision that often happens in this matchup. He had the choice to cast a Cabal Therapy and flash it back if necessary, or just cast a Goblin Matron, search for a Goblin Warchief and cast that and the Therapy next turn. The latter would certainly give him a huge advantage, however with me having a Medallion and three lands in play untapped, there’s a good chance he won’t survive my next turn. A Cabal Therapy on turn 3 could buy him some extra time, but it would also mean he would have less pressure on board, so he would be giving me an extra turn to rebuild my hand. What would you do?
Steve decided that if I had an Intuition in my hand – which is a reasonable assumption – then I would probably be able to recover from a Therapy. He decided that he would rather play the Matron and go for the win next turn, hoping that I would have to Cunning Wish for the Intuition and not be able to go off on turn 4. Unfortunately for Steve, I do have the Intuition and am able to win the following turn. In the end, my hand was full of gas, so I would’ve been able to win no matter what he did, but I think Steve made the right decision.
Win 2-1 Record 7-0
Round 8: Jon Pazona
Jon was playing Reanimator and I was happy to see this matchup so late in the rounds because it’s a very good one for me. Game one was easier than it normally is because he used a Show and Tell to get Akroma into play, and I was able to play Sunscape Familiar, Snap Akroma, and cast Intuition. Game 2 was a longer game than usual for this matchup. I bounce an early Akroma and he is waiting to draw another discard outlet. The only reason he is still in the game is because I can’t seem to draw anything but lands. I start draw Accumulated Knowledges and begin to draw my way out of his early discard. He imprinted a Stifle onto a Chrome Mox early in the game, so I realize what I have to play around. I just waited until I drew a Cunning Wish before I went off and proved why Stifle is a poor sideboard option against Desire, especially for a Reanimator deck.
Win 2-0 Record 8-0
Round 9: Jeff Novekoff
Jeff was playing U/w Desire, a match-up I was looking forward to all day. In game one I stall on two lands for a couple of turns, but I get a Sapphire Medallion and a Sunscape Familiar into play. I’m not sure if he couldn’t go off or if he was afraid to, but I survive his turn 4 with only one mana untapped and make it to my turn 4 where I manage to draw a third land. At this point, the game starts to turn into a draw, go matchup, with neither player willing to be the first who blinks. This made me realize that he knew what he was doing, because the one thing I noticed in testing was that the reactive player is often the one who wins. I eventually draw my main deck Brain Freeze, so with a Cunning Wish in my hand already and two cost reducers in play, I felt very confident despite him having six lands in play to my four. He continued to make his land drops and I kept missing mine, and I think this started to make him a little overzealous. He tries to go off the turn he draws his second Medallion and the second he taps out for a Turnabout, I Cunning Wish for Brain Freeze and cast both, milling his deck. I don’t really have an out if he has multiple Cunning Wishes in his hand – I can only hope he was trying to win with a Desire, which he was. Game two was much better for me. I actually get a little ahead by casting an Intuition for two Deep Analysis and an Island. Eventually I am able to go off with a Mind’s Desire and a Cunning Wish.
It was a tense match and I was impressed with his play, it was obvious he had tested a lot with his friends.
Win 2-0 Record 9-0
Round 10: Kenji Tsumura
I wasn’t quite sure what Kenji was playing, but he’s Japanese, so I knew I would have to play my best. I’m on the play, but on his turn 1 he plays a land and a Chrome Mox, signaling he has a Counterspell. Luckily I draw a Sunscape Familiar, so I run my Sapphire Medallion out there anyway, which he does have the counter for. He stalls on land and I am able to build up my board before safely going off with a timely Turnabout. In game two I believe he made two mistakes. One involved his decision to draw first and allow me to play, which is something you don’t want to let Desire do. Second, he kept a two-land hand with no card drawing or deck manipulation simply because it had an Isochron Scepter and an Orim’s Chant, both of which are not very good against me. I end up using my Cunning Wishes to set up a turn 5 win.
Win 2-0 Record 10-0
Round 11: Vincent Chow
I knew Vincent was running Goblins, but I was happy to find out it was Goblins splashing Green rather than Black. Without the hand disruption, he’s even more reliant on a turn 2 Piledriver, turn 3 Warchief hand to beat me. We split the first two games when he gets the combo on the play one time. In game three, I am on the play so despite him having the turn 1 goblin, turn 2 Piledriver, turn 3 Warchief; I am still able to win in time. I find out after the match that he had a Naturalize in his hand, but didn’t draw a Green source. Had he been able to destroy my Medallion on turn 3 instead of playing Warchief, I might have lost.
Win 2-1 Record 11-0
Round 12: John Fiorillo
John is a good friend of mine and he was playing U/w Desire as well. I had explained to him in detail how the matchup plays out and what he has to do to win before the tournament, so of all the people in the room playing Desire, I knew this would be the toughest mirror match I would have to play. Game 1 was a very tricky game. I actually won the game by attacking him with three Cloud of Fairies for about five turns in a row. I built up my hand with Deep Analysis and he was a little behind on me in land. Rather than discard anything, I just ran three Fairies out there. He had already broken two Flooded Strands, so I thought that I could actually force him to do something in a couple of turns or else he would die by Fairy. On his last turn, he is at one and has to try and go off against me when I am completely untapped. I have a Brain Freeze and a Cunning Wish, so I am able to kill him in response. This game took about 45 minutes to complete. In game two I paris to 5 and he is just too far ahead of me to have a chance. We don’t have enough time to finish game 3 and end up drawing.
Draw Record 11-0-1
Round 13: Keith McLaughlin
I tested Desire against the main decks in the metagame; however the one deck I didn’t test against was the new Reanimator deck that plays Goblin Welder and Sundering Titan. The deck is fairly new and was only posted online a few days ago, so although I knew it existed, I didn’t have time to test the matchup. Gibe Walls was playing the deck so I was able to see how it plays against Desire in between rounds and I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of playing against this deck. Keith was playing the deck in question, so when he offered me the draw I thought it would be wise of me to take it.
ID Record 11-0-2
Round 14: TJ Imperlezzi
I’ve known TJ for sometime now and he was playing B/W Clerics, which is supposed to have a better matchup against Desire and other combo decks. The sad truth is that the Black only improves your matchup by 10% or so, now you have a 20% chance of losing. He does manage to take one game from me when I paris and fail to draw land. However, I am able to win games two and three fairly easily. He got a little excited in game three when he resolved a Cranial Extraction on turn 4 and named Mind’s Desire. I just untapped and won, so he was quickly brought back to earth. The fact is that Cranial Extraction isn’t game breaking against Desire. It would be game breaking if you cast it twice, but casting it once can only buy you a couple of turns at most. An Extraction backed with a lot of pressure is fine, but without it, it’s just an expensive Cabal Therapy.
Win 2-1 Record 12-0-2
Round 15: Masahiko Morita
Masahiko is famous in Japan for having made 13 GP T8’s and having never left Japan. This was his first trip to America and he was on the verge of making yet another Top 8. Considering he’s one of Japan’s best players and friends with a lot of top Pros, it probably would’ve been bad for me politically to not draw with him. I find out he’s playing G/w Life and would love to have that deck in the T8, so I draw.
ID Record 12-0-3
So after going undefeated in the swiss, I’m ready for the T8.
The Top 8
I lose in round 1 to Lucas Glavin and his Cephalid Life deck.
All in all, I had a pretty good time. I wish I had won, but Lucas is a good guy and I had no problem losing to him. It’s too bad he made a blunder in the finals to lose the GP though. I heard that after the GP was over; Lucas was seen walking around the site in disbelief with his pants around his ankles.
Both decks aren’t took difficult to beat, but W/g Life has to be the easier of the two. Your main game plan against both decks is to just draw a bunch of cards and set up your combo. They don’t put a lot of pressure on you, so you have some time. One thing you want to play around is Orim’s Chant. They both have access to Meddling Mage, which is only annoying in multiples. The only reason you board differently against the Black version is because of the discard. Cabal Therapy makes Merchant Scroll really bad a lot of times, so I’d rather just board them out. Just make sure to Turnabout their lands before going off and you should be fine.
Again, this matchup is pretty easy. Sometimes they’ll try and board in Phyrexian Negator against you, but that’s not that big of a deal. First of all, they often will not have access to three mana on turn 3, and even then it’s not a fast enough clock. They need to put a lot of pressure on your hand in order to win, and they will more than likely end up using the Negator to flash back a Therapy.
I see people board out the Deep Analysis a lot in this matchup, but I think that’s a mistake. There are a lot of games that involve them simply stripping your hand on turns 1 and 2 and not putting any pressure on you. Those are the games where Deep Analysis can really help you out. All of the pressure is on them to win, not you. If you have an average draw, you can win almost every time if you’re on the play. If you’re on the draw, they really need a Piledriver on turn 2 to have a chance. If they spend the first two turns stripping your hand and not applying pressure, they are in essence giving you two extra turns. You will draw out of it, so unless they have an additional Therapy, things will go your way. You want an extra Turnabout here because it can act as a fog sometimes and can also help out when you try and go off with a Desire for a low storm count because you’re under the gun.
Now that people know my plan it might not be as feasible, however they still have to gamble when they cast that Intuition. Plus you can always Merchant Scroll or Cunning Wish for an Accumulated Knowledge. This sideboard plan is great against a deck like Chant because it allows you to go off at their end step, so they can have a Scepter out on Chant and still lose with it even in play. You almost always want to Intuition for Deep Analysis so I you won’t miss the AK’s much. Test this matchup a lot and you’ll see how easy it is.
Both matchups are tough, because they can go off a whole turn faster than you. With 3 Brain Freeze main after board, you have a higher chance of being able to go off on turn 3 and match them. You basically need to get lucky to beat them if you’re on the draw. If you’re on the play, you will win if they don’t kill you on turn 3. So basically if you win the coin flip, you have a good shot. If you don’t, good luck. Cephalid Breakast is certainly the worse matchup of the two.
This matchup is pretty good. You can lose sometimes if they have a Daze, Circular Logic, Wild Mongrel and an Arrogant Wurm. But even then, Snap can buy you a lot of time. You might have to Turnabout their lands to play around Stifle, but if they have Stifle then they made their deck much less aggressive and I think that’s better for you.
This matchup is very difficult to navigate because either player can combo kill you at instant speed, and your spells can help them do it. All in all, I have to strongly recommend you play test this matchup more than any other. It takes a lot of preparation to master it and understand what needs to be done. You basically need to find the right moment to go off, and only testing can help you see those moments. Some notes I can give you are that you should never keep a one-land hand that contains a Brainstorm in it, no matter how appealing it may seem, you will in all likelihood not draw a second land, and even if you do, it’s less likely there will be two lands on top when you Brainstorm. You should also try and avoid going off when your opponent has a lot of mana untapped. Many people think that the matchup comes down to casting a Turnabout to tap their lands then go off on your turn with a big Mind’s Desire. The problem with that plan is that there are a lot of spells they can cast, like their own Turnabout or a Snap on a Sunscape Familiar, to get around that. So again, if you’re going to try and go off that way, you have to pick your moments. A lot of times you’ll just find yourself going off at the end of your turn in response to them casting Brainstorm or Intuition with a Brain Freeze and a Cunning Wish.
This matchup was heavily debated before the tournament between me and Mike Flores, where I felt it was in Desire’s favor and he felt the opposite. I found that the only times Desire will lose this match is if you stumble on your mana for more than one turn. Some people think that Snaps are bad in this matchup, but they can actually buy you some time. Many times I would bounce a turn 1 Jackal Pup and play a Sapphire Medallion. At that point you’re so far ahead it’s hard not to win. The main thing to remember is that the Snaps will in all likelihood not resolve on a Cloud of Fairies, so don’t feel like you’re wasting them on your opponent’s creatures. It’s actually incredibly helpful if you can bounce one of their guys, untap, and cast an Intuition. This strategy will often help you survive if you don’t have a Sapphire Medallion on turn 2. I think this matchup is slightly in your favor and it is helped out by the fact that most RDW players I see don’t even have an effective sideboard against Desire. Many Desire players find it necessary to board in three Sphere of Laws against RDW, and although I don’t think it’s necessary, it’s certainly a viable option that will insure the win for you.
So in conclusion, I think that U/w Desire is an excellent choice for the PTQ’s because it has an excellent combination of power and consistency. I was happy with my main deck and my sideboard. However, with both Aluren and Cephalid Breakfast making the finals and sure to affect the metagame, I think there’s a sideboard plan that can help against those decks.
I took the Prismatic Strands and the Rebuild out of the sideboard because I was unhappy with them both. First of all, the Affinity matchup is easy without the Rebuild and Cunning Wish for Rebuild is too slow when you’re already behind. I also don’t think there will be a lot of Affinity decks after their poor performance at the Grand Prix. The Prismatic Strands was good when I had a Sunscape Familiar in play and a free turn to wish for it, but I think it’s just too slow against Goblins and not necessary against RDW. I like Ethereal Haze because it’s faster than the Strands, and although it’s only a Fog for one turn, it has a benefit in another matchup. Against Cephalid Breakfast, you can wish for Haze the turn they go off and cast it. This means they can’t go off that turn and will have to cast a Krosan Reclamation and try and go off the next turn. This means that your outs now include Deep Analysis, Brain Freeze, Snap, Echoing Truth, Turnabout, Intuition, and Cunning Wish. They’ll still be able to Therapy you twice, although the number of chances you have to win have increased significantly. Orim’s Chant is already in some Desire sideboards, but as a substitute for Stifle. I don’t think that this is correct, because Orim’s Chant is only effective against a Mind’s Desire in the mirror, not the Brain Freeze kill. So although I don’t think it’s a good substitute for Stifle, I do think it’s a solid sideboard option against combo decks.
I would now like to make a plea to the audience for an invitational vote. Not for me mind you, but for a friend of mine. His name is Gabe Walls, and I feel he greatly deserves a slot at this year’s Invitational. Do you remember Gabe Walls? I’m sure you do, he was good like two years ago. Anyway, here are my reasons why I think he should get your vote.
1. The Invitational is meant to be an entertaining event, and there’s not a single more entertaining individual (with the exception of yours truly) on the PT.
2. He is a true gamer, drafting way into the night at each Pro Tour stop.
3. At GP: Boston this past weekend, the waitress at the restaurant we went to hit him in the face with a Boston Cream Pie.
So for all of these reasons and many more, please vote for Gabe Walls for this year’s Magic Invitational.
Gabe Walls, A True American Hero
Until Next time on . . .
The Black Perspective
Osyp “Joe Black” Lebedowicz