Hello StarCityGames.com fans! Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Murray Evans, some of you may know me as “The Mauler” and I live in Edmonton, Alberta. Recently I have had some great success on the Pro Tour (excluding Columbus where I went 2-6), but I have been playing on the Pro Tour since 2000 and have attended approximately ten PT events, though I have never attended a Grand Prix. Why all this success lately? In my case, it is just the simple answer of a little older/wiser and all my practice and experience paying off. My goal long term is not to win a Pro Tour or make five more Top 8s, but simply to be a competitive player at every single event, playing important matches late in every tournament whether it’s for Top 8 or Top 64.
Enough about me, what you care about is what I can do for you. In this article, I will summarize my performance at Pro Tour: Nagoya and discuss my thoughts on Champions of Kamigawa Limited with some thoughts on what will change with the inclusion of Betrayers. Let’s start at the beginning.
After Pro Tour: Columbus I was not as disappointed as one might expect me to be after posting a 2-6 record. I am terrible with Extended, had no clue what was going on with the format, had no one to test with and most importantly, had no decent deck to play. I considered not attending but my one goal at the beginning of the year was to finish top 50 in the Player of the Year race and every 2 Pro Tour points would count if I were to achieve this. There was certainly more I could have done to at least give myself a chance in Columbus and not doing so is my only regret, the 2-6 finish did not bother me.
I was looking forward to Nagoya even before Columbus had come and gone. In preparation, I did several booster drafts on Magic Online nearly bankrupting my account in the process. I think my Magic Online rating is somewhere around 1730 right now which should tell you just how much I was losing. Based on the number of cards I accumulated in my account I would guess that I did between eighty and ninety drafts. The conclusions that I drew were that I loved aggressive White decks, despised Black/Red spirits and did not know how to draft Green very well. I also liked Blue a lot, but it did not seem to go well with any of the colors. Red was a riddle that I was unable to solve because it was over drafted and the Red decks I had success with were my White decks splashing two Lava Spikes and a Glacial Ray or Yamabushi’s Flame. While I wasn’t successful in figuring out all the nuances of every color combination, I had a good understanding of the format as a whole.
Traveling to Nagoya was a rough ride for me as was detailed in the video feature in the coverage, but the only thing that would really bother me on a trip to a Pro Tour is some sort of flight delays or cancellations that would cause me to miss the event. This was my first trip ever to Japan or anywhere in Asia, but to me Japan feels more like Canada than the United States does. I was lucky enough to find a shuttle bus that ran from the airport directly to my hotel so that was no problem. I had to leave my house in a hurry and did not bring any of the tournament information with me, so Thursday night I had to first determine what the tournament location was and then where it was. After getting some internet access I located the place and had some vague directions. Nagoya station was less than a five-minute walk from my hotel, but once inside the station it took me half an hour to find the correct train line. [Been there, done that. – Knut, now a veteran of Japan, but still amazed at how big some Japanese train stations are] I got on the train and then realized I had no clue what stop I needed. Consequently I rode the train to the end of the line without recognizing which was the correct stop and then took the train all the way back to the station, what a waste of an hour. Back at the hotel, my roommate Jeff Cunningham finally arrived and since he took a $100 cab ride from the airport to the tournament site he knew exactly where it was.
I did not get a great night’s sleep, but was refreshed and ready to play some cards when I woke up at 7:00 so Jeff and I could get to the exhibition hall early to register. We discussed some specific card preferences on the way there and Jeff seemed amazed that I did not have very much respect for Kabuto Moth (more on this later). He also mentioned that Blue/Red was his favorite color combination, something I had not considered or drafted once on Magic Online but it really got me thinking.
After registering, I was eager to head over to the player’s lounge to see what all the hype was about. My initial impression was that it was very unspectacular as they only had some crackers and flavorless doughnuts available for snacks and two weird tea drinks and diet Sprite for beverage selection. The Matrix 2 was playing on all the televisions they had set up and Jeff was watching the big fight scene with Neo and all the Agents to pump himself up. I was trying to calm down and relax, since my nerves always get to me at the start of big tournaments.
The first draft was underway shortly and got off to a great start for me as I snagged a first pick Devoted Retainer out of seat four. My plan was to draft White supported by Red for burn, Green for Kodama’s Might and Serpent Skin or Blue for fliers and bounce. My ideal deck probably would have been 18 White cards 5 non-White cards. The plan was going great, as I was getting late Samurai of the Pale Curtain, which was what I thought to be the best card in the set for a White deck at the beginning of the tournament. A third of the way through the draft, I picked up three Call to Glory in a row all very late picks and I knew exactly what to do with them. At the team PTQ my team won for Atlanta, I had a deck featuring four Battle-Mad Ronin and three Call to Glory as well as eight other samurai.
With no second color, I moved into Black to increase my samurai count, as the Battle-Mad Ronins were just not coming to me. In the end I had two Cage of Hands, two Kabuto Moth, two Samurai of the Pale curtain mixed in with seven or eight other good samurais and the three Call to Glory. I particularly liked this plan, because people would have either not kept track of exactly how many Call to Glory I had or would not have noticed that I had any as they were all my second picks from the packs where I got them.
The draft was quite easy overall and although the White was split between four players, I came out with the best of it by far. One guy who was mono-Black at the time seized his opportunity to get a piece of the White by snagging a late Lantern Kami out of a pack that had Black Honden. You could make a case for the Black Honden being one of the most underrated cards in the set, but I think most good players know its true power. Gerrard Fabiano was the only player at the table who worried me, but his draft did not go well so I did not have to worry about his deck. The next most notable player at the table was Reinhard Blech, who is not notable because he makes people warm and fuzzy inside when they hear his name mentioned. I don’t remember if he was number one on Jeff’s Pro Tour nemesis list, but I’m sure he was at least in the top 3. Luckily I did not have the displeasure of playing against him.
My three opponents were Laurent Payen, Hugh D Moore and Ken’ichi Furukawa, all of whom made game losing mistakes vs. me. I won’t go into great detail about the games as I only have a couple points worth mentioning. Laurent had a Black/Red spirit deck with Kokusho but no Devouring Greed or Rage which made this match slightly in my favor. My draws were not the greatest but he allowed me to catch up in every game. In the first game I played a turn 7 Konda, Lord of Eiganjo and he conceded one turn later… didn’t this guy have a Kokusho in his deck? In the second game he Distressed me turn 2 and chose Cage of Hands over Honden of Cleansing Fire which lost him the game on the spot. He got his Kokusho on turn 7 and still could not beat my turn 4 White Honden.
In the second round my opponent had the first game won in two turns with Soratami Mirror-Mage and Wicked Akuba plus seven Swamps. So why kill in two turns when you can kill in one turn? He Blind With Angered my only untapped creature and attacked with everything only to lose his whole board to my second Call to Glory. Game two he stalls on mana early and I have no Swamps but a lot of White cards, so I am getting in for four damage per turn while he proceeds to draw land for every other turn of the game. On turn 6 he has a cruel deceiver vs. two of my weaker creatures and I feel the game slipping away as he taps all six mana. The end result was that he had no blocker, I still had both my creatures and I was gaining two less life per turn. Let this be a lesson to you next time you decide to play Reweave in your deck. Round three featured turn 2 and 3 Pale Curtain accompanied by turn 3 and 4 Kabuto Moth with a similar draw in game two.
Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling any less pressure sitting at 3-0 because I still had to win one of my next three matches to advance to Day 2. One of the eight people at my second draft table would 0-3 in embarrassing fashion and miss Day 2. I was third seat in the draft and the first pack contained Yamabushi’s Flame, Mothrider Samurai and Ronin Houndmaster as the only reasonable cards and thy were picked in that order. From the first pack on, there was no way I could draft white and I had to go to the backup plan. Red/Black? No chance. Green seemed overdrafted in my first draft with three people and not enough good cards to support them. I had nothing against Blue cards, so I was leaning that direction and when I opened Glacial Ray Jeff’s suggestion of trying U/R seemed like a perfect fit. I started out with all spells and no creatures in the first pack, but I had excellent splices for my Glacial Ray and the creatures always come eventually. My other two packs contained Kumano and Earthshaker and while Earthshaker may not be considered one of the top cards in the set, I have always seen value in it so I knew that the Earthshaker was truly the best card in my deck. I had fourteen ways to trigger it and only 4 creatures without flying or less than two toughness.
Jelger Wiegersma was the best player at this table and he was the one taking all the White cards in front of me. In the second pack I actually took a White card after he took a Kabuto Moth out of the pack because there were no extra special picks for me and I wanted the guy behind me to stay out of White so I could be certain Jelger would take most of the White cards, and this worked perfectly as he never took a single card that I would have wanted for my deck. Vasilis Fatouros was also in this pod and had a powerful deck, although it was three colors. I played vs. Jun’ichirou Bandou followed by James Sanguinetti and finally Vasilis Fatouros. My deck was insane and I cruised through all three rounds with ease. In the first game of round four I mulliganed twice into a hand of three lands, Glacial Ray and Yamabushi’s Flame. I drew lands, Jushi Apprentice and Kumano, but since his draw was weak I pressed my advantage by drawing cards with the Apprentice and ended the game without even casting Kumano.
I was feeling great with another 3-0, where I would have been happy with just a 1-2 and the pressure was on for the third draft which promised to have a full table of solid players. I was confused the whole draft and never knew what colors I should be in. Josh Ravitz on my right started off by taking only Blue cards, while I took only White cards, but then Josh decided he wanted White cards too. This puzzled me because he had a ton of solid Blue and drafting White would not put his good Blue to use. River Kaijins are not good in a White deck, where with Red they can control the board with ease. If you are just going to play a Blademaster, what is the point of having a River Kaijin?
Eventually I started taking Black cards going for a samurai deck like the first draft, but this time I did not get a Call to Glory or any good two-drops. My deck was a collection of three- four- and five-mana creatures, none of which were all that great. Because I had no two-drops, I picked a Blademaster over a Moth with my reasoning being I needed to play a creature that did something in turn 3 to stay in the game. I received a lot of criticism for this particularly from Anton Jonsson both after our match and in his tournament report. After getting demolished by Anton in the first round of the draft, I realized that it is probably never right to take Blademaster over Moth and admitted it was an all-around terrible pick, but that didn’t stop people from continuing to bring it up throughout the tournament. I drafted such a poor deck that I could not even mana screw one of my opponents into a single game victory. It was not a good feeling to wake up Saturday morning knowing I would need a minor miracle to win one of the next two rounds.
So from 6-0 with thoughts of another Top 8 finish I dropped down to 6-3 needing to win out to make Top 8. At the same time, it takes away a lot of the pressure off worrying about how many losses you can afford and how long it will be before you use up all of your losses. I had to win out my last six round of Worlds last year to make Top 8, so going through that experience really helped me keep a positive attitude this time.
I arrived at my fourth draft table determined to draft Red/Blue and expecting to 3-0 if I did. I was in seat two and the first pack of the draft had Ronin Houndmaster and no other decent cards so seat one took the Houndmaster. I took a Blue card and then opened Kumano in my pack. Luckily for me the player in seat 8 decided to seize his opportunity to go Red as well and with people drafting red on either side seat one had to give up Red and I was free from people being in my colors on either side. I opened a Glacial Ray in one of my packs which was key, and I also got an Earthshaker through two Red players, which was lucky for me. This deck had many of the same cards as my first Blue/Red deck, but had a lot of cards many people would consider weak like two Battle-Mad Ronin and two Psychic Puppetry. However, since they each work so well in the color combination I felt the deck was not any weaker.
My opponents in these three rounds were Gionata Dal Farra, Mark Zajdner and Tomohide Sasagawa. I nearly threw away the first game vs. Gionta when I had three creatures to choose from to play as a blocker for his creature equipped with Tatsumasa, Dragon’s Fang. I could play Soul of Magma allowing me to play both River Kaijin and Initiate of Blood the next turn, giving the potential of two extra damage in attacks guaranteed thanks to my racing Mirror-Guard. He had no cards in hand and peeked with Brutal Deceiver such that I knew his top card was a spell. If it was Yamabushi’s Flame I would lose by playing Soul of Magma and I caught myself at the last second and played the Kaijin instead. He did draw the Flame and killed my Mirror Guard with it, but I drew a Hanabi Blast for the last two damage. This play reminded me how tight I would need to play not to lose a match and that the littlest play can turn out to be the play that wins (or doesn’t lose) you the game. No matter how many mistakes you make, if you still make the important plays it is hard to lose. Too bad you can usually only tell which the most important plays were after the fact.
In game one vs. Mark I kept a hand of 5 lands, Battle-Mad Ronin and Psychic Puppetry, which I thought was a fine hand but when I told him that was my hand after the match he was (almost) speechless. I had so many insane cards for 5 and 6 mana like Earthshaker and Kumano I figured any hand with 5 lands was good, and with Ronin and Puppetry I was able to control at least the first 4 turns without drawing anything else. With two Reach Through Mists to help with my splicing and mana base, I was only playing 16 lands anyway, so I had lots of spells to draw into.
I am always looking to use bad cards such that they become quite good in the right context. No one can expect to draft a deck and have 22 or 23 powerful cards to work with. I was not drafting Battle-Mad Ronin and Puppetry over better cards, I was drafting them early when there were no good Red or Blue cards in the pack and other people would have chosen different colors. Blue/Red is about getting the powerful five and six-mana cards combined with efficient cheap creatures like River Kaijin and Ember-Fist Zubera as well as other Blue fliers for the offense. Of course Glacial Ray is the best card of all, so you can’t ignore cards like Psychic Puppetry and Eye of Nowhere. When you are playing these cards something like Soul of Magma can become a powerhouse and it makes your other cards like Frostwielder or Initiate of Blood that much better, especially with Psychic Puppetry. In all six rounds I played with a Kumano in my deck, I played him once and he was no better than a Psychic Puppetry, as all he did was to kill a Horobi securing my win. So when I open a Glacial Ray, please excuse me when I pass you the Kumano or Keiga. Kokusho is a six-mana 5/5 and only interacts with your other cards in that it is a spirit and will never ever do anything in a game while you have less than six mana. When I’m playing Limited, I want options and Glacial Ray gives you many while Kokusho gives you one option: spend six mana and attack for five a lot.
Having discovered how Red/Blue can be a powerhouse with a single Glacial Ray as the only requirement I intended to stop at nothing to draft Blue/Red in the last draft where I needed to go 2-0-1 to make Top 8. No more fooling around with my shaky White pick orders… I knew for sure that I could draft Blue/Red without error. The draft started in the typical fashion with me taking many sub par cards like Puppetry early and getting set in my colors just waiting for the good stuff to come. In the fifth pack of the draft a pack was opened with Glacial Ray, Jugan and Soratami Savant. This did not excite me at all, as I saw myself getting the Savant with me having third pick and Savant is one of my least favorite cards in the set. If you are ahead in the game great, you get some insurance. If you are behind, you have a four mana 2/2 that will not help you come from behind. A card like Soratami Mirror-Mage would be much better in this situation, since it has great come from behind power.
Of course I had no worries as the other Red/Blue player first-picked Savant and the next player who was mono-White at the time picked Jugan. How lucky! The draft finished with me getting two Frostwielders and a sixth pick Earthshaker. This time I had no Battle-Mad Ronin to go with my two Puppetry and the only pick I regretted was taking Ember-Fist Zubera over the only Reach Through Mists that I saw, which was a mistake because early on I was planning on playing both Puppetry. In the second to last pack of the draft I experienced the most infuriating thing possible when the Green/White player with Jugan opened a pack with Blind With Anger and a lot of solid White and Green cards. He took the Blind With Anger leaving me no pick. That’s fine, nothing wrong with that as Blind With Anger is a solid splash. When I played vs. the guy in the first round of the draft he was splashing Black, not Red, for only a Pull Under! Needless to say I crushed him, as when he played Jugan I made him pick it up with Eye of Nowhere splicing Glacial Ray and killing him shortly after with a Puppetry on Jugan splicing Ray the next turn. I lacked answers for his Humble Budoka in game two – that card really is the nemesis of Glacial Ray and U/R in general. Fortunately his deck was a three-color mess and I handled his Moss Kami easily and he had no game plan after that.
Had that guy had Glacial Ray and Blind with Anger in to go with his solid White he would have been dangerous, but one pick ruined him. So I found myself playing for Top 8 in a feature match and my nerves were really chewing away from me waiting for it to get started. Having been in this spot only two Pro Tours previous, I was able to compose myself once the match started. I was playing vs. Julien Goron, who had a very solid multiple Moth deck which had many problem cards to interfere with my Glacial Ray, but no answers beyond Reciprocate for my Frostwielders. First game I got both Frostwielders going with Puppetry and all so he was not in the game.
Second game I mulliganed into a shaky hand but come turn 7 I had everything I needed to win the game. My Soul of Magma and Mirror Guard vs. his Kami of the Ancient Law, Kitsune Healer and Mothrider Samurai. I had some trick in my hand like a Puppetry that I was waiting to use with Soul of Magma to ruin his board, but then I drew Earthshaker which made things even better. So just trade Mirror-Guard for the Mothrider using my arcane trick then play Earthshaker next turn and win right? Well, I played the Earthshaker right away and it got countered with Hisoka’s Defiance and that was the defining play of the game right there. I had time to make sure he didn’t have Defiance and play around it, but I got impatient and compounded my mistake by trading my Mirror-Guard, Glacial Ray and Soul of Magma for his Healer, Ancient Law and Mothrider. Had I kept my Soul of Magma around, I would have been in so much better shape but I was impatient again and tried to clear both boards. In the end his Ghostly Prison ruined me, as my creatures were two River Kaijin and two Kami of the Fire’s Roar, which I could not get through for damage because playing spells to remove his blockers left me with no mana to attack and his fliers took me down.
Third game started with a mulligan into a shaky hand on the play for me. My first couple draws did not yield anything spectacular and I was really starting to fear my mistakes game two would cost me Sunday. I focused on the game at hand even though things were looking grim and had the key Hisoka’s Defiance for his turn 3 Moth. A few 2/2 attackers came out on his side and when I was able to get a Soul of Magma in play with Ray in hand, I had a glimmer of hope. Of course, he had Hisoka’s Defiance. Pain Kami was a decent draw but he had too many creatures. I just attacked with it one turn while his creatures were all tapped and he pounced with a Call to Glory. He blocked not with his Samurai of the Pale Curtain but with his Hundred Talon Kami since I had tapped down to 3 lands before combat and he could keep his Pale Curtain safe from my Pain Kami, since I did not kill it in response to the Call to Glory. The most important part of this deal for him was that he would get to soulshift back his Moth and keep his men safe from double Glacial Ray insanity – or so he thought. Really he traded Pain Kami for Call to Glory and Hundred Talon Kami while I double Glacial Rayed his two creatures with a Glacial Ray off the top, and his Call to Glory was unable to save the Pale Curtain now. A Frostwielder for me and one-toughness creatures and a mountain lands for him conspired to make him pay for his mistake with the game just like I did.
I drew into the Top 8 the next round and was feeling great. Even better was that Mark Zajdner won out after losing to me and Jeff Cunningham finished strong, while Rich Hoaen won his last round for a 2-1 record at my table, putting four Canadians in the Top 24 making this what I can only assume to be Canada’s best Pro Tour to date. It was great to keep the momentum going after our strong performances at Worlds. Maybe now we can actually have a national team do well at Worlds – with so many players doing so well it will be the toughest nationals ever coming up this year and I can’t wait. The most prestigious event I have actually won is the Alberta Provincial Championship (three times, in a row) so it would be nice to have a first place finish on the world or even national stage. As great as finishing Top 4 was, my goal is consistency and that is something that can only be achieved in the future so I won’t be practicing any less because I am content with my accomplishment.
That stuff is all great but I am really the only person who cares about my own goals and finished. So now I will try and explain just what made my Blue/Red decks so successful and how this deck can be drafted consistently every time with a few thoughts on Betrayers, although I have only done a couple drafts with the set so far. One card I have not yet mentioned that you can feel comfortable first picking and moving into Blue/Red is Teller of Tales. This guy is everything you want. Offense, defense, tricks etc, he does it all. I only had one in all three of my decks and never played, it but I know for sure it would have been almost as good as Earthshaker, which was the second best card for me after Glacial Ray. In one of the drafts I had two Initiate of Blood in the absence of any Frostwielders. With Soul of Magma and Psychic Puppetry, they worked brilliantly making up for the Frostwielders in every area except dealing damage to players. Considering how many times I forgot to Frostwielder my opponent on the weekend, I can assure you I did not notice the difference. Zuberas are also very useful in the deck as long as you have powerful spells for the late game. One of those spells I haven’t mentioned yet would be Sire of the Storm. He’s guaranteed to draw you cards in these colors and you can always use another 3/3 flier. River Kaijin is essential if you are planning on attacking with your Rainshapers and Mirror-Guards.
So these and many of the cards I mentioned from my deck are all cards I like. What are the cards I don’t like? Kami of Fire’s Roar would be number one on the list, as it is an expensive and smaller River Kaijin when your plan is to kill with fliers or something giant like Earthshaker. Brutal Deceiver is quite poor as well, since it is a three-mana two power attacker or blocker, neither of which cuts the mustard in this format and it has no potential to yield card advantage. Callous Deceiver on the other hand fits in quite well, as in any given game you will need him as a three-toughness blocker on turn 3 or a two-power flier later in the game.
It seems every American player was saying that Sensei’s Divining Top was complete garbage or at least overrated. I will play the Top in any deck, but in the U/R deck – which is more a tricky balance of spells, creatures, and land than any other archetype – the Top really shines. Honden of Seeing Winds was amazing as well because with good defenders such as River Kaijin and some removal for those creatures it can’t block, the card advantage will lead you to victory. Pain Kami is still a decent card, but with no soulshift at all and suffering from Brutal Deceiver syndrome, it is at its weakest in this deck which is still not that bad. A card like Blind With Anger that I normally do not think highly of is likely very good in this deck, since it will be removal, card advantage or a good finisher – all of which are needed in the deck. Soratami Mirror-Mage is better than Savant because it allows you to use your mana now and deal with trouble cards like Moss Kami later.
For the splicing aspect, Consuming Vortex is obviously amazing but Eye of Nowhere deserves respect too. On the play there is no better turn 2 play in this deck than Eye of Nowhere on their land, as the discarded card will certainly hurt them in the long run. Reach Through Mists should be picked highly if you have Glacial Ray or Vortex and even if you plan on playing Psychic Puppetry which some people might be hesitant to do when they have a Brutal Deceiver they could play instead. Mystic Restraints is a card that I believe to be overrated in almost every case and in general unplayable, but I would upgrade its status to playable in this deck. The biggest strength of U/R is its lack of cards that cost two mana of one color for four mana or less, so your manabase will always be solid. Akki Coalflinger seems to be an exception, since I find it to be an excellent card as an early blocker or protecting your fragile Soratamis in combat if your opponent has a Lantern Kami. Mana curve is of course important to consider, so cards like Ember-Fist Zubera go up in value just so you can play something on turn 2. Your card advantage later in the game will even make up for playing cards like Guardian of Solitude and the previously mentioned BMR.
Betrayers gives you a card that is what Soratami Savant wants to be in this deck: Callow Jushi. With all the spirit and arcane spells, you will easily flip him quickly and maybe even with three counters by turn 5. Floodbringer is not the worst card around, but it cannot compare with Soratami Cloudskater. With so many better Soratamis, your lands in play will have better uses unless your opponent has a Genju. As for Genjus, I do not like them at all in this deck, as you cannot afford to have lands dying in combat.
The two Glasskites on the other hand will be amazing in making up for the durability problems of the Soratamis and can play defense too. Minamo Sightbender will take pressure off your fliers, which is always a good thing. Mistblade Shinobi is only slightly worse than Ninja of the Deep Hours, because there are plenty of ways for you to make it unblockable or deal with a single blocker. Phantom Wings is great when you have a River Kaijin to hold the fort and you don’t have a flier yet, but versatility of the card is what makes it really good because it can protect one of your own creatures or bounce an opponent’s.
Quillmane Baku is expensive but big bodies are hard to come by in these colors so surely it is playable but I would rather have something for less mana. Soratami Minesweeper seems like a first pick for obvious reasons. A flying River Kaijin with half a Dampen Thoughts built in is very versatile. Teardrop Kami is probably a card worth playing more in this deck than any other, especially with the two common Blue ninjas. This card will help you on any turn of the game. Toils of Night and Day is certainly a good card but should not be picked highly when Puppetry and Teardrop Kami are both available. Veil of Secrecy is a useful trick and with something like Consuming Vortex to splice onto, it can be very devastating. All of these are cards I would be happy to play in any of my Blue/Red decks, so it seems like Blue might be one of the deepest colors in Betrayers. Some people think the commons drop off quickly after Ninja of the Deep Hours and Shimmering Glasskite but Shinobi, Floodbringer and Teardrop Kami along with a couple others I mentioned are very playable. The best part is many of the cards are very cheaply costed, something of paramount importance to this deck.
Betrayers Red is not nearly as deep as Blue, but has its fair share of solid and cost efficient cards. Torrent of Stone is clearly insane in a deck that should always have a few arcane spells in it. First Volley is a better version of Yamabushi’s Storm for U/R, as there are too many one-toughness creatures in the colors and any time you have a Glacial Ray or Torrent of Stone, any playable arcane spell is that much better.
Turning to Red creatures, Frostling is superb where Goblin Cohort is complete trash. Perhaps Goblin Cohort would be a good blocker, but there are already so many with more uses available. Like Callow Jushi, Cunning Bandit will certainly be at its best in Blue/Red, where with you defensive creatures you are likely able to catch your opponent unable to do anything while you build up enough counters and creatures to steal all his creatures and alpha strike for the win. And a five-power creature is the biggest you will see, which is needed when your deck can clear blockers out of the way with ease. Frost Ogre, on the other hand, is not so good because if you can’t deal with your opponent’s blockers, it will trade with any three-power creature. Blademane Baku is probably in the barely playable category since it can block and kill a big creature or attack for a lot of damage. It just occurred to me now that I forgot to mention Hearth Kami under cards I dislike in the deck. It is simply inferior to Ember-Fist Zubera or even Floating-Dream Zubera because aggression is not what you look for in your two-drops, especially if they become useless once your opponent has a three-toughness creature. If they are not the one blocking your creatures, it will make most of their combat tricks useless, as it is easy enough for you to play around them when they are attacking.
As you can see there are a lot of cards I like in Betrayers of Kamigawa that might seem rather weak at first glance. All these cards build on the strengths of U/R from triple Champions, and I can see the color combination coming to the forefront in the new draft sets while White will likely get weaker. Green also will be a lot stronger and look out for Matsu-Tribe Sniper! There is no pick order for this deck – it is all about having a well-balanced deck where every card in the deck makes every other card better. Blue and Red are two of the weaker, more shallow colors when played separately, but if you want to play them together it opens up a whole new group of cards that would be nearly unplayable in other decks. While most of your deck may look like filler, just wait until you Psychic Puppetry your Battle-Mad Ronin when your opponent attacks on turn 3 with his Wicked Akuba!
It was really amazing to have the key to my success be the one color combination I had most overlooked before the event, and gives me a new perspective on the format. I can’t wait until Atlanta, where I will be facing a new challenge of playing teams – and area I have had no success before. Maybe I’ll just take the U/R deck every time and let my teammates figure out the rest.
As fun as it was to be playing in the Top 8 with all the cameras (not on my matches), the one thing I enjoyed the most all weekend was drafting with “Shades.” Who or what is Shades? Well he is going to be the next big Japanese pro, at least that is my prediction. He was an acquaintance of Mark Zajdner that Mark played against in Columbus. Shades was wearing sunglasses around his neck, allowing Mark full view of his opponents hand at all times and Mark still lost! That is how Shades earned his name and Mark decided since he couldn’t beat him, he would join him for a money draft and I was lucky enough to be their third. Mark is a very entertaining guy, but he is nothing compared to Shades. In one match, he tried about three different ways of improperly casting Soulblast, a card that both Mark and myself counseled him not to play in his deck. I’m eagerly awaiting the next Pro Tour he attends so we can team up again, but this time I’ll make sure to have all Japanese cards in the draft.
Perhaps the second funniest thing on the weekend was listening to Randy Buehler announcing the United States’ record in feature matches after every feature match with a U.S. player ended. Did he forget we were in Japan? He also announced every feature match in a way that was completely demoralizing to the loser, which was actually rather funny to listen four times every round.
So that wraps things up here I am hoping that this article has illustrated the importance of being flexible and trying something new, even at the Pro Tour. Red/Blue might seem woefully underpowered on paper, but if you first pick a Glacial Ray there is no better option for you. I am hoping to cover every subject I can think of in my future articles except Extended – I am terrible at that format. Regionals aren’t too far off and even though they aren’t a relevant tournament for me, I enjoy playing Constructed a lot on Magic Online, so I’m sure I will be able to come up with an article or two on Standard as well as many more on Limited.