This last weekend I was able to play in a Grand Prix Trial for GP: Columbus and a prerelease for M11 at Comic Relief in the Flint area. I spent the weekend in Grand Blanc with Jason Terry, Donald Kastner, and Alex John. There was an exorbitant amount of Legacy testing that occurred.
On Saturday, I began by playing the GPT. I did not get much sleep, which was my first mistake.
I guess I am getting ahead of myself. You guys don’t even know what deck I played or why I played it.
Let us rewind to Thursday, where I decided to sift through various Legacy tournaments and found this four-color Landstill deck doing well. It was the most popular control deck that was having success on Magic Online. There were also a few of these decks that did well in real life, which was important to know because it is not just a deck that plays a role in the Magic Online metagame.
I built the standard version of the deck to see which cards I liked and see how the deck plays. Usually, I begin my initial testing with a deck by playing solitaire in order to find the more subtle interactions before I actually test against a real opponent. This makes all of the testing valid, because I have a better idea of how the deck works so the first few games are not just a warm up.
I consider myself to be a very technical player because I spend free time thinking about subtle interactions that my chosen deck has with other popular cards in the format. It is another way of testing, but you practice different aspects of your game. I would not conjure up many of these plays in a tournament if I had never considered making the play in my head before. All of us miss very small interactions, and we will continue to do so unless we sit down and think about them.
An example of this is when I thought of the interaction of saving my Mutavault from two Peppersmokes. If you attacked with a Vault and your opponent gave it -1/-1 twice, you can animate it after the first Peppersmoke resolves to make it a 2/2. Animate the Mutavault again to keep it from dying, and to negate any reduction in damage.
This specific example may come up again, but that is not why I am talking about it. I thought about this play before Grand Prix Los Angeles and it came up about three rounds into the tournament. It was extended so instead of Peppersmoke, it was Darkblast, but the point remains the same.
I had been playing faeries for many months and never made the play so I can assure you it has come up numerous times and I missed it each time. I mentioned the play to other players at that Grand Prix and some of them came up to me later in the weekend telling me how the play came up for them, too!
This was what made me realize just how many times I miss a play that most players would miss as well. We have so many opportunities to make a great play and just don’t do it because the thought had never occurred.
If you spend more time thinking about cool plays and interactions outside of a tournament, you have time to reflect. In a tournament, we do not have infinite time to ponder each play. This is especially important in control decks because you do not want to be going to time every round. I have been doing this for every tournament for the last three or four years and I have been able to play faster because I am familiar with more interactions.
The only concern I have is that I become too familiar with certain formats and I spend less time thinking of great plays. I sometimes feel content playing on auto-pilot because I research formats so extensively.
The overall lesson is that you get out what you put in. I did not get to the Top 8 of a Pro Tour on skill alone. In fact, most of my success can be attributed to my large amounts of preparation for tournaments. The fire is so crucial to winning, and when I don’t feel it, I will skip a tournament. I spend hours and hours obsessing over card choices in Constructed tournaments. I go over which cards I want to open in Sealed Deck, and which archetypes are going to be the most popular. Draft picks go through my head before Pro Tours and Limited Grands Prix.
It is always difficult for me to get sleep before a tournament as a result of this. I would like to turn off my brain from Magic and just get some sleep, but it that is easier said than done. This just means that I have the fire and the will to win. If I don’t feel the pressure before an event, I would rather do something else with my time.
There are Kai Budde and Jon Finkel in this world. Kai got to the top by wanting it more than everyone else in the word and put in the effort to make it happen. This is not to say Jon Finkel does not put in effort to win a Pro Tour, but he just has the gift. He can retire from the game for years and come back to win a PT. Kai retired and came back only to put up mediocre performances.
We should all realize that most of us fall into the Kai category. Don’t feel down if you have been on the PTQ circuit for many years and still failed to break through to the next level. I played every PTQ in the Midwest area and parts of Canada for about four years before I had PT success. I wanted it and was willing to put in the effort, along with a hint of persistence, to make it on the gravy train.
I knew that if I tried my best for an indefinite amount of time, I would achieve my goals. This can be applied to Magic as well as every other aspect of your life. I wonder at times how much different and less interesting my life would be without this game and the lessons I have learned.
Knowing that you are most likely a Kai Budde and not a Jon Finkel can help prevent you from up and down performances. After Pro Tour: San Diego, I could have taken some time off from testing. I made sure to remind myself that my hours of preparation got me there. My skill level did not dramatically increase after one tournament. If I wanted to do well at another tournament, I would have to work hard again.
Humility is very crucial to growing as a player. I have been guilty of dismissing an idea from a player I thought was not very good, but ended up being correct. Just because you are at a certain level of play does not mean that you know everything that players below you know.
I feel like we got a little bit off the subject of why I decided to play Landstill. Here’s my final decklist.
If you enjoy a good control deck, then you should definitely play this. My performance was not great. I lost to Zoo because I did not play around Price of Progress for one turn. I also lost to a Mono Blue Faeries deck that had more things to do when a Standstill was in play. That deck was probably my worst possible matchup, and I was still close to winning. I beat Goblins and Reanimator pretty handily.
The normal version of this deck has Stifles, along with Wasteland, to make the Daze more useful. Stifle can be awesome at times, but has a lot of variance in terms of utility. It can just sit in your hand for an entire game without being useful. I replaced them with three Sensei’s Divining Top. This allowed me to sideboard Counterbalance, which I boarded in two of the four matches. Top also helps the deck become more consistent. This is a four-color deck that wants to hit land drops, one that features eight colorless lands. I am not sure why every one of these decks does not play at least three Tops. They are also awesome to have on the battlefield when you have a Standstill down.
I have some random singletons in the sideboard because they are good in decks with shuffling effects and Divining Tops. You get to see so many cards so the deck becomes more versatile. Gabriel Nassif winning deck from Grand Prix: Chicago is a great example of this. His deck featured 15 singletons in the sideboard, and he was able to find more cards for unique situations since the deck could see all of them at some point with Top.
I would suggest practicing a lot with this deck, since you have to play a lot of turns each game. The deck plays out in such a way that you give yourself many options to screw up the game. It is also a very powerful deck, so it is worth the effort to become a master at it.
I also played an M11 prerelease tournament and ended up 3-1. I was lucky enough to open up the Green and Black Titans, so my deck had some great late game cards. Green was the only color that was deep enough to make a good deck. My Blue pool had about five playable cards. The same went for Black. I opened up two bombs in Red, but they were both triple Red and the rest of the cards in the color were pretty bad. White was decent… it had some tappers and some removal, so it was much better than the other colors.
I learned that this is a slow format, and Crystal Ball can break games. It is usually correct in Sealed to play two colors and splash some removal. The cards in the Titan cycle are all absolutely insane. Roc Egg is pretty good against non-Blue decks. Green decks have to attack into it, and then you get a three-power flyer.
I almost always play second in Limited, and this format is certainly no different. I would advise going second every game, and playing 16-17 lands depending how many colors you play (as well as your curve).
As far as the PTQ season goes, I would still play the Blue / White Control list I posted last week. The only change I would make is to add a Mystifying Maze for the Evolving Wilds. I don’t want to cut any Tectonic Edges because land screwing Jund decks is one of the best strategies.
I hope the lessons I have learned over the years can help you grow as a player. Good luck at your upcoming PTQs, and I will see you at Grand Prix: Columbus. Tell me your thoughts in the forums.
Thanks for reading.