My preparation for Pro Tour: Philadelphia really started a month or so before Pro Tour: Atlanta. I asked Sam Gomersall if he wanted to stay with me from the time between PT: Atlanta until PT: Philly, promising that he would also be able to get in Grand Prix: Detroit and avoid paying for a flight to Philly, as we could drive there. He was still hesitant, as he was at rock bottom and couldn’t even afford to eat – he once told me a story about how he hadn’t eaten for three days and was forced to eat blackened toast that his roommate had discarded.
Another selling point was the fact that he had a new desire to become an alcoholic – and my friends, if any of you feel the need to become an alcoholic, Michigan State University is the place to come, and a Spartan is the mentor to choose. I didn’t take this request half-heartedly; as I relay the progress of our playtesting for the block format, I will also relay Sam’s progress in becoming an alcoholic.
Okay. So my former roommate (and playtest partner ever since I started slinging the spells), Joe Durante, put together some decks before Atlanta to try some new ideas out. Joe isn’t really known, as he is a casual player and doesn’t really PTQ – but I really respect his opinions and ideas, although he always tries to pull off crazy combos or cast large monsters; I suppose it’s the casual player in him. We put together some decks – and right off the bat, Joe had designed some competitive decklists for Snakes and the Heartbeat of Spring/Sway of the Stars deck that was Olivier Ruel eventually piloted. I started with a splice/arcane deck that tried to utilize the most powerful spells in the format: Final Judgment and Cranial Extraction. Here is my first list, which almost remained unchanged throughout most of our testing:
4 Cranial Extraction
4 Final Judgment
4 Peer Through Depths
4 Eerie Procession
3 Hana Kami
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Kodama’s Reach
1 Soulless Revival
1 Joyous Respite
1 Wear Away
1 Horobi’s Whisper
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
1 Ethereal Haze
4 Tendo Ice Bridge
Undeveloped at this point
You’ll notice that this deck is lacking Gifts Ungiven. I originally tried it out in the deck, but it seemed a little too slow; I was always using my mana to find my Final Judgment or to Cranial Extraction them. This deck’s main goal was to Extraction them for their answer to your Hana Kami/Soulless Revival/Ethereal Haze lock, then lock them. It was very good and posted winning percentages against WW and Snakes – the two decks that our testing group thought would be the two most-played decklists.
I met up with Sam and the TOGIT guys before Atlanta, and we discussed decks for the Block format when we got bored of doing team drafts. We even proxied up some decks and my deck was posting good results. The other splice decks that didn’t play white for Haze were having problems with Kodama of the North Tree, but my deck had answers to this guy in the form of Final Judgment and Ethereal Haze.
I quickly realized that the splice deck needed to play Final Judgment. It was the best answer to creatures in the format, stops a Meloku and his tokens while Horobi’s Whisper or Sickening Shoal doesn’t, prevents you from being double-Yoseid, and it takes care of Kodama. You see, sometimes you would lock your opponent with Ethereal Haze and they would eventually draw some way to disrupt you, then smash with their army of monsters. Final Judgment helps prevent that, as when the board gets scary, you just reset it.
Pro Tour: Atlanta was a bust – which was quite unfortunate, as I thought my team was among the best when you think about which teams have the talent to win the Pro Tour. It was also quite unfortunate in the sense that I had basically went all in on my plane ticket to this event, counting on making some money. At one point in time during the weekend, Sam and I were so broke that we combined our funds to use as a collective to eat and booze it, at the end of Friday night we had approximately $32 to our name. We were forced to hustle gamers in pool at the player’s lounge for pocket change, and we won a few money drafts where we put literally every last cent on the line.
By the time we left Atlanta, we had about a hundred bucks between us – so naturally, when we got home to East Lansing, Michigan, we did what you do when you’re at rock bottom: Drink!
Now this was playtesting for a format I knew that I was already going to win. I started showing Sam the tricks of the trade; which bars have the drink deals, which beers are affordable, how you can take cans back for the deposit money to buy more beer, and – my personal favorite – drinking regular beer as opposed to light beer in exchange for missing a meal. The last one is especially relevant, as we were often presented with the choice of drinking or eating, and like any true Spartan we chose drinking.
Sam’s progress was slow and costly. He clamed upon our return to Michigan that he would write articles to make us some money so we could afford to drink – but instead, he just slept all day and chatted on IRC. I returned from a hard day at class, only to find him sleeping in a pile of crumbs and empty beer cans. While I was off learning, he was living like a king, drinking all of my beer, and eating all of my food. Let me tell you, friends; you can teach an Englishman to drink, but you can’t teach him to pay for drinking.
However, since I myself was a helpless alcoholic and all we alcoholics look for is a drinking buddy, I was stuck in the middle of this moral dilemma: do I continue paying for Sam to drink, so I am not forced to drink alone? Or do I “no sir” him and keep my hard-earned dollars?
I’m sad to say that I chose the former. Sam may have been a lazy miser – but that lazy miser was my friend. So I supported him and watched him learn and grow as a drinker. Now, the times weren’t always easy or happy, Sam had to go through his hard times which involved leaving the bar early to retire to the apartment and be sick, and since my friends knew of his quest to become an alcoholic they assisted him by buying him many a shot at the bar. All in all by, the end of his stay Sam was asking me when we could drink every day and he was ordering beers with his meals – a notable accomplishment from a man who grimaced at every sip of beer a month ago. Some of the highlights along the way involved women being enamoured by his English accent and throwing their panties at him at a random house party, Sam strolling into my friends house at 4 a.m. reeking of booze and claiming he just came home from the bar – the bars close at 2 a.m., folks, hmmm – and finally, Sam getting his first faceful of tear gas at the MSU riots after we lost in the final four.
So after these times, do I look back with regret at all the money I’ve spent? No! I look back with adoration of the boy that I have single-handedly turned into a man.
So back to the testing. Our testing list was, in actuality, the list of every single last non-Japanese pro. I originally posted my splice list and it was discarded as being unplayable; people were afraid of the lack of win conditions and the time issues in a Pro Tour, where draws count as losses. But I stuck to my guns and kept posting the list, claiming that it wasn’t losing to any single deck.
This claim was true…. until we sideboarded.
The problem with my deck is that it didn’t support that much black – and as you can see from many of the Top 8 sideboards, the good sideboard cards are all black. Nezumi Graverobber, Nezumi Shortfang, Cranial Extraction, black fatties, Psychic Spear, and so forth. (Otherworldly Journey was also a problem for the deck if the WW players sided into it to protect their Hokori.)
Somewhere in the middle of this a part of our list – Tim Aten, Gadiel Szleifer, LCG, and so forth – broke off to form their own list. Now, I was pretty worried that this would be a great leak risk and was rather disappointed that these people would do this. In all honesty, I don’t really see myself working with any of those people in the future on any testing lists, and I can’t see anyone else really wanting to work with them either – how can you when people leave your testing list after you have started posting decklists? They basically just got the information they needed, then stopped telling us anything and left with our decklists.
So I was scared, and I stopped posting my decklist, worried that the wrong people would see it and the information would get out to the other testing groups. I told Osyp of this at Grand Prix: Detroit – and I also told him how well my deck was performing. I said that the people who weren’t contributing on the list (or who were close with those that left) needed to be cut from the list before I would post anything else.
Was this me being irrational or harsh? Maybe. However, I think it was just me being safe. When you think you have broken the format, you want as few people knowing about it as possible.
The necessary cuts were made and I posted my list. At first, it was posting very good results and the testing group quickly realized how powerful Cranial Extraction was – which was good, since it was disregarded early on as having not a large enough impact on the game. Here was a post from Frank Karsten after he had tested the G/B/U/w Splice deck, WW, and G/B rock.
“I think lots of creatures are better than cards like Cranial Extraction. Extraction has never been good for me anyway and I don’t think any deck should run it. Also, take a look at my sideboard plan; I tried to make sure the total of 75 cards is well thought-out.”
This was very surprising to me, as Cranial Extraction was so vital in my testing.
Jelger came into town for Detroit and stayed with me until the Pro Tour. We tested my deck and posted the list, however we started sideboarding. We were now losing to decks packing Psychic Spear, Hisoka’s Defiance, and Cranial Extraction after boarding. Although my deck was no longer the best deck, what it did do was make the group realize just how powerful the splice deck was and how you had to tune your decks to beat it. In response, our Snakes deck transformed from R/G to G/B to support more disruption to stall the splice decks, and our GW control deck now splashed blue for Hisoka’s Defiance.
What was a winning matchup before now became a losing matchup. This was disheartening, as my pet deck was now slowly becoming unplayable – but it helped the list realize how big of a part the splice deck or one like it would play in the format, and how decks needed a way to break the Haze lock.
So now that my deck wasn’t winning, it was time for me to jump ship and find another boat to pilot me to a Top 8. But since I had done literally all of my testing with the splice deck, it was the only deck I knew how to play. I was leaning towards Rich Hoaen and Jeff Cunningham W/g/u control deck that Steve Wolfman made the Top 8 with, but after messing up ten or so games from misplays I was very unconfident switching to that. I was also very wary of the fact that the deck had fits dealing with a Nezumi Shortfang – a card I thought would be played in many decks.
It was about a week before the Pro Tour that Jelger was talking to Rogier Maaten and got his splice decklist, which used more black for answers to Hokori and Hideous Laughter for WW, which also conveniently allowed it to play the powerful sideboard cards. He was originally losing to random fatties from creature-based decks – but then he added the Final Judgments after he read some of the posts that I put up about my deck and how good Final Judgment was. His list looked basically like his Pro Tour list – but the sideboard wasn’t yet fully developed. Here it is.
Now there were a few things that I didn’t like about this list: First of all, the second Horobi’s Whisper main seemed odd to me, mainly because you don’t want to draw it early; you really want to splice it and never hard-cast it. Since it is a better late game card, I replaced it with a second Hideous Laughter, the reasoning being that it is more important to Hideous Laughter against WW early than it is to Horobi’s Whisper early against the Legend decks or Snake decks. Another thing that came up that didn’t come to my attention until I started playing the deck was that you can play Hideous Laughter to splice a Soulless Revival onto with no creatures in play; you can’t do that with the Whisper.
The other change that I made to the main deck was changing the Meloku the Clouded Mirror to a Kokusho, the Evening Star. The reason that I choose Kokusho was because you have all these Sickening Shoals in your deck and you don’t have enough black cards to remove from the game to utilize the alternate casting cost. Also, against control decks you want to just be bashing with your fattie rather than returning your lands and having them Final Judgment your army away while leaving you about four to five lands behind.
He also chose to run Three Tragedies, Hero’s Demise, Psychic Spear, and Cleanfall over Nezumi Shortfang. I love the Shortfang; I would have a love affair with him if I could, since he’s a savage beating against control decks. In fact he single-handedly won me at least two matches over the weekend. I just couldn’t understand not playing him, so I cut a bunch of the random one-ofs and some of the spears for three copies of the Shortfang and another Nezumi Graverobber. Here is the list that I ran for the Pro Tour:
So now I have given you a look into my quest to turn Sam into an alcoholic, and my preparation for the Pro Tour and the evolution of the splice deck. Next, I will give you the tournament report from PT Philly itself and what changes I would make to the deck.