The Nose Knows – Amsterdam Preparation

Wednesday, September 8th – What did Kyle do right in preparing for Amsterdam, and what did he do wrong? Plus, Kyle shares a couple of fun Standard decks!

Preparing for a Pro Tour can be a daunting task. It seems like every time a Pro Tour rolls around, I do some things right and others wrong – so let’s look at how I managed this time around. This article will especially helpful for anyone who is qualified for a Pro Tour (or has aspirations of doing so in the future).

Things I Did Right
I think I did a pretty good job of familiarizing myself with all of the popular archetypes. Most Pro Tours these days have a Constructed format that is in its infancy – which does not mean that we know nothing about the format. We have results from Magic League and Magic Online.

For this particular format, there was R/G Scapeshift, RDW, Faeries, and assorted combo decks. These will generally be the most popular decks because they are the easiest to find. Not everyone has hours to test each deck and see what they like. There are players who feel comfortable taking a popular deck and seeing what happens.

When you have a good idea of what the big decks do and how they plan to accomplish such things, you can get a better idea of what to play. It is easy to pick up any deck when you know the format very well. I personally think it is the best way to playtest. Know every deck, and then create technology based on theory – as well as a little testing to see if it really works.

Another thing I think I did well in my testing was that I was able to quickly identify which decks were contenders. There are a lot of options in a format like Extended because of the vast amount of cards.

The first deck I wanted to play was Faeries, but I quickly realized that the format was too hostile. Most decks were packing cards like Punishing Fire, Great Sable Stag, or Volcanic Fallout. I do not want to go into a tournament with a deck that has a tough time against some of the most popular cards in the format.

Merfolk was a deck that seemed good because Cryptic Command is a very powerful card. This was an aggressive deck that can use the card well. It turned out to be another deck that was soft against Punishing Fire, so I quickly dismissed it.

I like to test decks to see if there are ways around the problematic cards, but there’s only so much time. It doesn’t seem wise to spend a lot of time trying to make a deck to beat decks that have fundamental advantages over you.

That trapped many players during the Faerie dominance over Standard. Everyone tried to play their favorite deck, just packing some hate cards to beat Faeries. Being a Faerie player myself, I knew that this plan never worked. My opponents played cards that were just weaker – so they lost. Sometimes it is important to realize when it’s time to throw in the towel and just sleeve up the most powerful deck.

At Pro Tour: San Diego, I decided to play Jund because it was the most powerful deck and was aggressive. One of my rules for virgin Pro Tour formats is to be proactive. There are many groups of players who all come together for a Pro Tour, and you don’t know what decks they’ve created. I would hate to play a deck that can lose just because you don’t play the specific cards needed to win. I usually play decks like 5-Color Control, but I try to avoid them when I don’t know what questions I am trying to answer.

I was also able to identify the powerful decks that didn’t receive a lot of press. Decks like Pyromancer Ascension, Hive Mind, and U/G Scapeshift are good, but they don’t get played in tournaments. Why? Because people want to keep it a secret for the big tournament. Make sure to be prepared for the combo decks that receive the smallest amount of attention, because those are the ones that usually perform the best.

A deck that is usually more played than it should be is RDW. My plan is usually to try to break the format, defaulting to playing a fast aggro deck if I fail. This is the plan of most players, because everyone tries to make the next Elf combo deck and take all of the glory. Since you can’t always do that, so it’s best to have a consistent plan B.

I did my best to talk to everyone in my area about what they thought about the format. Even players who weren’t qualified had opinions I listened to. Just because they are not qualified for the Pro Tour doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas… It makes me more confident in my results when other players reach the same conclusions that I do.

Mental preparation is also important. It may be a coincidence, but I imagined myself in the Top 8 photo before Pro Tour: San Diego. The mind is a powerful tool. I always imagine myself winning the tournament before it even begins to get in the positive mindset. Just look at Brad Nelson and his ridiculous stream of Top 8 finishes. He must have the winning mentality in order to accomplish such a feat.

Traveling overseas can be an exhausting task. I wanted to avoid getting jetlagged, since there is a six-hour time difference for me. My flight was on Tuesday, because I wanted a day to get used the time difference and to get comfortable with my environment.

Things I Did Wrong
I did not do enough M11 drafts, and as such I was still unfamiliar with the format. I often get overwhelmed by a new Constructed format and forget to do practice drafts. I still know what the pick orders because of the various drafting walkthroughs that are on the internet, but I could have been more familiar.

I also did not talk enough about the M11 drafting. My biggest piece of advice to prepare for big tournaments is to talk with everyone about their opinions. All you have to do is talk, and you gain valuable information. It’s simple enough to do – which is why I’m mad at myself for not doing it enough.

Another thing I did not do enough of was trying new things. This Extended card pool has so many options, but I stuck to familiarizing myself with the established archetypes. I did not spend enough time putting my knowledge to good use by creating something new.

My biggest mistake was my lack of networking for this tournament. There is no excuse for not working with a bigger group of people to increase efficiency. If there is anyone in your area that you can practice with, I highly recommend it. We are also living in a highly technological age, so distance shouldn’t be a big factor. You can practice with anyone in the world on Magic Online or Magic League.

No, wait; my biggest mistake was not enjoying myself. I travel around the world playing cards as a profession. This is a special opportunity I have. I may never return to these places, so I should make the best of it.

That’s it for my Extended discussion, because the lessons are more important to you than the actual cards and decks I discussed. Since they won’t be relevant for the PTQ season, why go into them?

I played a couple of Standard tournaments last weekend with a couple of different decks. We still have some time before Scars of Mirrodin is released, so Standard is still relevant. I went 4-1 with Jund at RIW Hobbies. I lost to the mirror match, playing for the tournament win. I was defeated by the Crystal Ball technology I wrote about last week. My opponent mulliganned to five, played Crystal Ball, and still won the game.

Here’s the list I played.

This deck was very good, and I would recommend this list in any upcoming Standard tournament. The Sylvan Ranger was extremely good, and I would have lost a couple games if it was something else. I would probably add a fourth Obstinate Baloth by cutting an Anathemancer – the Baloth was by far the defining card in the Jund Mirror.

Last Saturday, I played at Time Travelers with Soul Sisters. I tried to assemble a Titan Ramp deck, but I could not find all of the cards, so I borrowed Mono-White. I’d never played a game with the deck before, but I managed to win that tournament. The list was very close to the deck played by Conley Woods and Gavin Verhey at Nationals.

Here is the deck for reference:

This deck was fun to play, and also quite good. I beat R/G Titan Ramp, U/W control, Jund, and RDW. It was quite a diverse set of decks I played against, and I won against them all.

Standard is a very fun format right now because there are so many options. You can also use my suggestions for tournament preparation for your upcoming FNM – but people usually prepare for those tournaments differently. I would prepare for FNM by taking note of what the regular players play. Most players stick with the same deck for a while because it is expensive to change decks. Card availability is usually not a problem at the professional level. If someone wants to play a deck, they’ll find the necessary cards.

Take this information and make the best of your next Pro Tour. Good luck in your upcoming tournaments. Tell me what you liked and disliked about this article in the forums.

Thanks for reading!
Kyle “The Nose” Boggemes