The Black Perspective: PT Honolulu Report *5th*

Magic the Gathering Pro Tour Honolulu!

Joe Black stormed to a Hawaiian Sunday slot, courtesy of a fine U/R Izzetron deck tweaked by Mike Flores. Would you like detailed matchup data and analysis? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to test with Mike? Or are you simply here for the jokes? Read on for a comprehensive and entertaining report, from one of the funniest Pro Players on the tour.

“If you didn’t know the facts of the situation, you shouldn’t have spoken in ignorance, and your rant must stem from some desperate need for attention and approval. If you did, then this little tirade would be what we’d call libel, which is generally frowned upon by the respectable press.”

– Spatulaoftheages in the SCG Forums, in response to my last article.

Hello everyone, and welcome to another installment of the Black Perspective. Fresh off my victory in the Writer’s Ballot (Thank God Cunningham doesn’t write more) I feel even more motivated to write now than I did in the past. Expect to see upwards of two articles every six months from me, as opposed to my traditional one.

There are many issues that I feel need to be discussed this time around, but there’s also a tournament report to get to, so bear with me.

Like Florida but with more Asians

If Hawaii is any indication as to what the Pro Tours are going to be like from now on, then now is the time you have to qualify. The location was very nice; not only were there palm trees and beaches, but the site itself was located right next to a Hard Rock Café. What really made this Pro Tour great were the extra things Wizards did to make the players comfortable and enjoy themselves. Between the surfing games they had in the pro player lounge and Billy Moreno walking around bare-chested, I think there was a little something for everyone to enjoy.

My playtest group for this Pro Tour was pretty small, including only myself, Josh Ravitz, Andrew Cuneo, Chris Pikula, and the current Resident Genius Mike Flores. Testing with Mike can be frustrating because he’ll always leave me voice mails saying he has something urgent to tell me, and then when I call him back this is the type of conversation we have. . .

“Hey Mike what’s up? You said it was urgent?”
“Yeah. Osyp… why is Compulsive Research better than Counsel of Soratami?”
“Is that a real question?”
“Yeah. Why play a conditional two-for-one when you can —“
~Dial tone~
“Hello, Osyp? Are you there?”

In all seriousness though, Mike is actually a genius and comes up with more good ideas than anyone else I know. That is not to say he doesn’t come up with his fair share of bad ideas, but you just need to filter through them and find what works. Mike will ship you and idea; you then test it and see if it has promise. If it doesn’t, you tell him it’s a bad idea. He’ll defend it and you’ll argue with him for a bit, but eventually he’ll concede the point and move onto another idea. If something works, you let him know and he’ll make any necessary adjustments. The great thing about Mike is the fact that he thinks about everything and doesn’t rule out any possibility. A lot of times people will rule out some cards without ever really exploring their potential; Mike makes sure to look at everything before completely dismissing it.

The topic of Mike Flores reminds me of something else…

Casual Players versus Competitive Players

Wilderness expert and all around good guy Ken Krouner recently posted an article on StarCityGames.com entitled I Want My All-Star Game Back! The premise of the article was that the Invitational is no longer the All-Star game it once was, but rather a public relations tool used by Wizards of the Coast to reach out to the oft-ignored Casual Community. If I’m not mistaken, I believe what spawned this article was Mike Flores addition to the Resident Genius ballot (and his win that followed). Now, while I was happy for Flores (I even voted for him), I did feel like Ken made some valid points in his article. I did also feel like he was being a bit harsh towards the Casual community, going as far as saying “I’m sorry, Casual Community, but the Invitational is not your event.”

Get Out Of My Picket Line, You Self-Centered Scab

Just as my sympathy for the casual community was building after the verbal lashing Ken gave them, Talen Lee decided to post this article just one week later… Get The Hell Out Of My Casual Room, You Self-Centered Jerk. In hindsight, I should’ve known that an article written by someone with a name like “Talen” was going to be somewhat combative. However, I would’ve never guessed that he would refer to non-casual players as “arrogant butt-wipes” as many times as he did. Again, Talen did make some valid points as to the situation on Magic Online and what’s going on in the casual rooms. But again, the overwhelming sentiment, at least in my mind, was that casual players were simply morally superior to professionals or non-casual players. Like wanting to win is a curse.

Someone much wiser than me once said, “There’s a name for people who don’t care about winning: they’re called losers”. I don’t necessarily share that exact sentiment, but I do think that a desire to win is inherent in everyone. That is why I think a conflict between these two groups is just pointless. No matter what you may believe, everyone who plays Magic is both a casual player and a competitive player. If you walk around the side events area at any major event you’ll see plenty of “professionals” playing mental magic and DC 10. At the same time, you’re just as likely to walk down into Jeremy’s basement and see Peter argue with Gregg over the exact number of Goblins made with his Goblin Warrens (I’ve actually witnessed said argument). Being playful and serious are not exclusionary; it depends on the individual, and what is weighed more heavily at any given moment. In the end we’re all the same, so to all the casual players and competitive players out there, take all of the animosity you have against one another and channel it towards Ken Krouner and Talen Lee. I think you’ll find it more fruitful focusing your hate on specific individuals than on entire groups of people.

More on testing

Back on track.

Since I was testing with a much smaller group for this event, I needed to find more people to actually test against. My local friends really helped out with this. Between Raj a.k.a. Ashok, Harry Ryttenberg, and Chad Kastelton Steele, I always had plenty of willing gamers to test against. I also found that Magic Online was playing an increasingly important role in shaping the metagame for Constructed events. I used to just think of it as a testing tool, but it is actually a pretty good indicator of what you can expect to see. My good friend Mario Mellillo is always on MTGO, so he provided me with some useful information… the most important being the existence of the Owling Mine deck.

I don’t particularly like beatdown decks so I avoided tuning our Zoo and R/G builds, but I did make sure to test against them. The only thing my testing was really showing was the option of a wide variety of decks to choose from, with nothing really standing out as being the best. Because I expected the format to be so wide open, I didn’t think it would be wise to play a metagame deck like Owling Mine. I knew I wanted to play a control deck, so I eliminated BW aggro, Zoo, and RG from my options. The remaining choices in our gauntlet were BW control, Magnivore, Gifts, BGW Control, Heartbeat, and Izzetron. I personally felt like Blue had the most powerful cards in the format so I focused on Vore, Gifts, Tron and Heartbeat. My Heartbeat deck was similar to Maximillian’s but I wasn’t having much success with it in testing so I dismissed it. I like Gifts, but we hadn’t really made any significant innovations to the deck and it was losing consistently to our Blue based decks, so I dismissed that too. Vore and Tron were both doing fine in testing, but Tron seemed to be a bit more consistent so I went with it.

Once I decided what I was going to play, I tested it non-stop, trying to understand what to do in each matchup. I felt like that was the best thing you could do, going into the Pro Tour. With no clearly defined “best deck,” your best option is to play what you’re most comfortable with and know how to play it well.

This is the list I played at the PT.

Some minor modifications were made to the main deck Flores had originally sent us. Originally, the deck contained three Tidings and no X damage spell. After testing against BW control we realized that the X spell was your only way to beat them many games, so we incorporated Invoke, seeing it as not a replacement for Blaze but rather a replacement for Tidings. We quickly realized though that a Blaze effect would be quite awesome and added the Blaze. In the end the Blaze was vastly superior to Invoke, but having varied X spells as Cranial protection is very necessary.

The sideboard was constantly being changed. I don’t think we actually had a set fifteen cards until the day of the PT. We knew we wanted the anti-control package of Annex and Giant Solifuge. I realized how good Solifuge was simply by losing to it versus Mike’s mono-Red deck. Once we figured out those eight cards and saw how great they were against our control decks, we moved on to trying to find the right seven cards versus beatdown. This was very difficult, because Blue and Red don’t really have great sideboard options versus the “Kird Ape” beatdown decks that exist now. If this were a Boros beatdown field I would be fine, but the Green-based aggro decks were proving quite difficult. Ryusei was probably the only card in my sideboard I was happy with versus beatdown, and it being a six-mana spell says a lot as to what I could do versus them. That being said, the beatdown decks we had were not doing that well: inconsistent draws and Faith Fetters were giving our decks a lot of problems. I also had a feeling that when your average person can’t figure out a format, their default option is to play a deck that can beat beatdown decks. Many people would message me on Myspace telling me it was their first Pro Tour, asking for advice on their decks. Almost every time the deck they asked my advice on contained four copies of Faith’s Fetters and Loxodon Hierarch. This made me think that if I could make it to Day 2, the anti-beatdown decks would take care of the Zoo decks and clear a path for me.

The Tournament Itself

I can’t really remember every single round I played, so I’m only going to feature the highlights.

Round 1: Tsuyoshi Fujita — Zoo

Round 1 versus one of the best Japanese players in the World – playing the one deck I really didn’t want to face – isn’t exactly the way I wanted to start things off.

Game 1 went like it normally does. He was on the play and played a creature the first two turns, and then threw burn at my head for the remainder of the game until I died. In game 2 Fujita stalled on two mana, and since I was on the play I was able to stem the bleeding before the Lions made any significant dent on my life total. I manage to win the game with a Kiega and a Blaze to the head. The final game was very close, but I drew enough permission to halt his burn attack and Keiga finished him off in time.

If you don’t draw at least two permission spells in this matchup, you actually have no chance of winning. Pyroclasm can be great sometimes for you, but a lot of times it will simply kill off an Isamaru. Don’t be afraid to one-for-one them: you have to stop the early bleeding, and hope their hand gets clogged with three-mana burn spells and they don’t get to six mana.

This is how I ended up beating two more Zoo decks throughout the weekend. They don’t play many lands so stalling on three can be common, and with seven or eight three-mana burn spells a timely Remand or Mana Leak can usually give you enough time to win with either Kiega or Meloku.

Round 3: Ruud Warmenhoven — BW aggro

“Have you ever made out with a guy with a tongue ring? Would you like to?”
Ruud Warmenhoven, PT Atlanta 2004 (rejected by a chyk)

In testing, this matchup was actually very easy for me to beat. Almost every card in your deck says “Draw a Card” somewhere in the text, and your Pyroclasm and Electrolyze really shine here. If they don’t play Faith’s Fetters your Legends are usually unbeatable, as Mortify won’t be enough to contain Meloku and Keiga.

Both games went pretty much by the book, with Pyroclasm and Electrolyze dealing with his early pressure and some random legend doing the rest of the work.

I ended up going 3-1 versus BW aggro decks this weekend, with my one loss coming in round 9… although I had to mulligan against him both games I lost, and had no colored mana one game. The second game I lost I still feel was legitimate because he had Faith Fetters, which is the best answer to Meloku that deck can muster (or Pillory as we’ll see later). Had the other BW aggro decks also played Faith’s Fetters I think the games might have been closer.

Still, I won this round, and round 9 was a few rounds away…

Round 6: Shu Komora — Gifts

Most Japanese players are adorable, and Shu is no exception. This matchup was good for me in testing as long as they didn’t have Life from the Loam. I know it sounds odd considering I don’t play Wildfire or land destruction, but Life from the Loam was a card we had in our Gifts deck to combat Blue decks. The one thing I kept noticing was that in the Gifts on Blue matchups, Miren the Moaning Well was very important. As an uncounterable way to sacrifice Yosei, it made every Goryo’s Vengeance much more dangerous. Greater Good was not nearly as good versus the Blue decks, because it could be countered or Boomeranged or Confiscated. Having one Life from the Loam allowed you to search for a Miren with a Gifts Ungiven and was proving to be very useful in our testing. Shu’s version did not have Life in the main, nor did I think he would realize to bring it in versus me, and in fact the matchup was even better for me because he had Hierarchs in the main for the Zoo matchup.

Game 1 was pretty lopsided because he had to mulligan, and it was never really a game. In game 2, Giant Solifuge and Confiscate played critical roles, but once again he stumbled on mana so I can’t really say what would’ve happened had he drawn well. All I can say is that in my testing the match up was even before sideboard, and favorable after boarding.

Round 8: Frank Canu — The Beach House Deck

Frank is a friend of mine who also happens to be aggressively French. I knew he was playing the Beach House Deck and had watched that deck in action all day, and I was not excited to have to play against it. I had a lot of card drawing and more threats than your average control deck, but they had so many discard spells and obnoxious cards that I didn’t think it was in my favor game 1. Annex and Solifuge would surely help me after sideboard, but all in all I felt like the match up could go either way.

I have to mulligan the first game, and he has a Phyrexian Arena, so I’m never really in it. My sideboard really comes through for me in games 2 and 3 (I was able to Annex one of his double lands twice), but I do get fairly fortunate in game 3 by drawing multiple Remands.

So I manage to end the day undefeated, and feel pretty confidant going into the second day. Of course that means I lose the first two rounds of Day 2.

Round 10: Antoine RuelOwling Mine

This matchup is not very good game 1, but it does get better after boarding with your anti-control package. I lose game 1 as expected, and right when I’m about to win game 2 I lose to a Cerebral Vortex mid attack. I blame myself, because I completely forgot about the Vortex after boarding. I could’ve chosen not cast a Compulsive Research the turn I tried to win, instead trying to win in two turns, but I had no permission in hand and felt it was better to just go for it. Even if I had remembered about the Vortex I doubt I would’ve changed my play considering how bad my hand was, especially since if I drew a counter this wouldn’t have mattered.

I think this matchup is probably less than fifty percent, considering that you pretty much have to start the match down game 1, but your post boarded games aren’t nearly as bad. All hope isn’t lost.

Round 15: Ben GoodmanGhost Dad

This match was a feature match, so I won’t go into too much detail… suffice it to say, I got a little lucky. The critical point of the match is when I had eight points of Blaze damage redirected to me. The feature match doesn’t accurately describe the overwhelming feeling of panic and fear that began to wash over me once this happened. For a second I thought Ashton Kutscher was going to appear from behind Randy Buehler and inform me that I was getting Punk’d, but Ashton never came. Fortunately I was able to skillfully rip off the top of my deck to win the game a turn before I would’ve died.

I like this deck, but eight shoals seems like way too many. If you ever have an opening hand against a control deck with more than one shoal it is basically a mulligan. The deck does have good game against beatdown, but even that isn’t a bye as we saw Ben fall to Moreno in the final round. I also don’t think my match up against this deck isn’t nearly as bad as advertised.

Contrary to what certain feature matches will have you believe, this is actually quite a favorable matchup. They have no real counters, their disruption does next to nothing against you (or if you have a Shining Shoal, it actually hurts them), Keiga is a blank unless they draw doubles, and you are very good at winning a war of attrition. You’ll perhaps do a point here, a point there, attack for three every so often, and then they’ll just be dead. Also, if you resolve a Ghost Council, the game is over. Meloku really isn’t as bad as you’d think it is for you, because if you Pillory it and start serving, they have to either wreck their mana base to block your dudes or just take the damage anyway. If you have a Rusalka out, the former isn’t really even an attractive option because they can’t ever win in combat with 1/1s. That they don’t play Miren is immensely helpful to you, as that card is a beating.”
Ben Goodman on Ghost Dad

I’ll be the first to admit that if they draw a Tallowisp the matchup can certainly be difficult for Tron. That being said, if they don’t draw a Tallowisp, I promise you this matchup is very winnable. Shining Shoal does not actually “hurt” me unless you happen to have two Ghost Councils in hand along with two Shining Shoals while being targeted by an eighteen-point Blaze. Considering the White casting cost of his deck tops off at four, and that would require him to pitch the best card in his deck, the Shoal will more often than not only be redirecting two to three points of damage at most. I am more than likely going to draw multiple Legends because every card in my deck draws you cards, so the Pillory won’t necessarily finish me off. What it all comes down to is that this matchup is more difficult than the traditional BW decks because of the Pillory, which, like Faith’s Fetters, is a great answer to the Blue legends. Their deck can actually search for it, making it one of the better BW decks at the Pro Tour. So the success of Ghost Dad benefited many people, but I think the best thing that happened with the success of this deck was the World being introduced to the newest Magic personality.

Ben Goodman — Attorney at Law

I have a secret for you. Are you ready for it?

Ben Goodman really likes his Ghost Dad deck.

I know, I know, I was just as surprised as you were when I found out. I think Ben is a good kid, and I think he certainly has what it takes to make it on the Pro Tour. But what I really like about Ben is the fact that he turns into a tiny pit-bull whenever anyone attacks his deck. There’s nothing like standing up for what you believe in, especially when what you believe in is the strength of a Standard deck everyone already agrees is playable. For those of you who aren’t aware, Ben’s forum name is RidiculousHat and he’s been working overtime in the forums lately responding to all the haters out there. I’ll let the posts speak for themselves…

“Generally speaking, I question the ability of Ghost Dad to profitably interact with a prepared opponent. Certainly at the Pro Tour, few players – and no one on Day 1 – would have been playing around Shoals; meanwhile they would have been misplaying the Pillories.”
– michaelj

“Even if they know the shoals are coming, there’s not exactly a lot that most decks can do about them. Zoo isn’t going to stop attacking or playing burn spells, Owl isn’t going to stop sudden impacting you, and Jitte decks aren’t going to avoid trying to get Jitte active.”
– ridiculoushat

“I like the Ghost Dad deck, I was doing very well with it at my local card store and even made it to the finals of my FNM. I almost won but I lost to a Zoo deck in the finals. Nice deck!”
– limitedmaster

“I find it hard to believe that you lost to a Zoo deck, you must have messed up. Did you get manascrewed perhaps, that’s the only way you can ever lose, ever!”
– ridiculoushat

“I like this deck, but it’s not like it can cure cancer or anything.”
– steweygriffin

Tumor Humor

“Actually, scientists at the University of Michigan have been studying the effects of the Ghost Dad deck on malignant tumors. They believe that the interaction between Tallowisp, Thief of Hope, and Orzhov Ghost Council is so strong that it can actually destroy cancer cells. So far the results have been positive.”
– ridiculoushat

Long way down, one last thing

Top 8: Eventual Champion Mark Herberholz — RG aggro

I lost!

In Conclusion

I liked my deck for a wide open metagame like the one we had in Honolulu, but I can’t recommend it for the Team Standard season. A deck like Tron gets much worse once the format becomes more clearly defined and decks get better tuned. In a format like three-man Team Standard, the format is likely to be much more narrow and defined and Tron probably won’t thrive there. Considering that there’s about a 1/3 chance you’ll have to play against Zoo I would say think twice before committing to Tron. If you do choose to go with Tron however, might I suggest this sideboard?

4 Annex
4 Giant Solifuge
3 Pithing Needle
2 Pyroclasm
2 Ryusei, the Falling Star

The Needles are there to help you against Ghost Council, but can be quite effective against Gifts, Heartbeat, and Jitte.

In three months, look forward to my next article. In the mean time I would like to give a shout out to two players I feel are deserving of your vote for this year’s Invitational: Gerard Fabiano and Mark Herberholz. Both players bring a lot of heart and personality to their game, and I know they would make the Invitational interesting for everyone following it. So please vote for Gerard and Herberholz for this year’s Fan Favorites… so that I have someone else to go drinking with in Los Angeles.

Osyp “Joe Black” Lebedowicz