The Quest For Level Five #3 – Pro Tour: Kobe

Raph continues his quest to level up to Pro Player Club Level 5… today’s installment looks at the ups and downs of Pro Tour: Kobe. Raph was 5-1 going into the third draft… where did it all go wrong? This article contains sume invaluable Time Spiral Limited advice, perfect for those travelling to Grand Prix: New Jersey this weekend. Who knows, maybe you can beat Raph at his own game…

I woke up around 6am this morning. I tried hard but couldn’t manage to fall asleep again. I had stuff to do, and I guess I wouldn’t have had the time to do it later anyway. University stuff, and the Wizards Ask the Pro column. I can’t thank enough the guys who invented Wireless! I was able to do everything I had to do on my own computer, and managed to set an appointment with Geoffrey and Antoine via MSN. We’ve traditionally had a hard time setting appointments in Japan, when we were staying in different hotels. But it’s all good now!

They came up to my hotel around 10am. We drafted a couple of times and went to the players “dinner.” A huge Karaoke building had been rent by Wizards. I really appreciate all the efforts they have made for us lately. The dinner in a typical restaurant in Prague was a real success – the food was excellent and the atmosphere was great. The idea of gathering us in a Karaoke “Mansion” wasn’t a bad one… but it was maybe a little too small. Players want to draft before a Limited Pro Tour, and the karaoke venue wasn’t the most convenient place to hold drafts. The rooms were really small, and it was hard to find your opponents in the maze of the floors. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the party – I sang out loud along with Amiel, Bernardo, Gabriel, and Justin (a friend of his). After a last draft back in Antoine’s hotel room, Bernardo and I headed back to our place. We went to bed around 12:30am.

October 20th, 2006

PT Kobe, Day 1

I still hadn’t recovered from the jetlag. I woke up again before 6am. This time, adrenaline kept me awake. Last season, that’s not something that would have kept me from sleeping. I just didn’t have as much motivation as I have now. The stakes are important, and I don’t want to blow another chance to collect points.

There was no one in the lobby – that made us think we may have forgotten to change the time or something. We shared a cab and got there in time, ready to start things off!

My pod 1 had no big names in it. I felt confident, but still had the fear that Athens’ curse strikes again…

My first 3 picks were Red – Rift Bolt and 2 Orcish Cannonades. I decided to go Blue with a fourth pick Spiketail Drakeling. The draft just went perfectly. I collected my two Grapeshots and a very late Viscerid Deepwalker (making three in total). The Deepwalker is probably one of the most underrated commons in the set. When I was playing my deck between the rounds, many asked me if I liked the card. The first time I was asked, I just frowned “Dude, try the card!” but after the third and fourth time of asking, I understood that people didn’t value the card as highly as I did. Blue was underdrafted at the table – I received pick 5 pack 2 a Vesuvan Shapeshifter (I had already drafted a Brine Elemental, just in case), and a Fathom Seer sixth. In pack 3, fourth or fifth pick, I had the choice between Fathom Seer, Brine Elemental, and Looter il-kor. A second Brine Elemental would have been a nice addition to my Shapeshifter – same goes for the Seer – but I picked the Looter, which is probably the best of the three overall.

My deck ended like this:

The deck was definitely exciting. A bunch of good removal spells, good creatures, and good curve. I left Desert in the sideboard. While I like the Desert a lot, I don’t think I really needed it and that it would just hinder my manabase. I also thought Magus of the Jar would be nice in the deck, but you never really want to sacrifice a 3/3, and the situation where you have enough mana to replace the 3/3 you just sacrificed and play extra spell on the same turn is very seldom. It’s probably much better in a B/U madness deck.

I did expect to go 3-0, and anything less than that would’ve been a major disappointment.

I played my round 1 against Jun’ya Takahashi, a player that I had never heard about but who showed some playing skills. Unfortunately for me, it seems that the game had something against me. I hadn’t drawn my mana right in either games, but still managed to put up a good fight against turn 3-4 Call of the Herd in both games. Game 2 is the same story as in Athens. I managed to stabilize the board, but I need an extra turn to take control of it for good. He used Greenseeker for the second time in the game at the end of my turn. A removal spell would win him the game right away. He had no cards left in hand (except for the Greenseeker land), he had played a fair share of removal already… I cut, and he drew what he admitted to be the last removal spell in his deck.

His deck was far from bad. Call of the Herd, two Duskwood Baloth, four removal spells. But mine was far superior. Picking up my first loss, in the first round, with that deck… I sure felt bad about it.

I won my next 2 rounds quite easily. My round 2 opponent was the other Blue drafter at the table, and one of my game is worth mentioning. I passed two (or three) Brine Elementals, and I was 99% sure that at some point his two morphs were Brine Elementals. They couldn’t have been any other Blue morphs as it was quite late in the game, and my opponent was stuck on six lands and would have unmorphed any other Blue guys by that stage. It took him five turns to draw his seventh land. When he finally drew it, I tapped down far enough (I kept two mana open) to bait him into unmorphing one of them. When he finally did, I was very satisfied to reveal my Vesuvan Shapeshifter and explain to him that he would never untap again.

My tiebreakers after the first draft couldn’t be worse. My three opponents collected a total of two wins. That meant that it was likely that none of them would make Day 2, and that my tiebreakers wouldn’t ever improve. 2-1 in the first draft isn’t bad, but could definitely have been a 3-0.

At that point, I just needed to stay focused and draft a good second deck, to at least make Day 2.

My second pod starred Bram Snepvangers and Antti Malin.

I opened a Firemaw Kavu and got passed a Lightning Axe. I stuck to Red cards with Coal Stoker and Bonesplitter Sliver in the next two packs, but from then on, there were no good Red cards to be seen. Pack 5 offered a Might Sliver and a Blazing Shield Askari. I told myself that I might as well take the good card, and went for the sliver. I got passed some nice Green cards like Tromp the Domain (still in pack one) and Penumbra Spider. The rest of the pack didn’t really offer anything special.

Pack two, and I opened Call of the Herd and decided (surprisingly, given what I thought of the color), to go Green. I got passed a second Might Sliver in pack 2 and a third one in pack 3. I picked carefully and ended up with this:

Even though I thought I would go heavy Red, I ended up almost mono-Green, but that’s the kind of deck you want when you draft Green. A couple of quality removal spells, a perfect mana curve, and efficient combat tricks. While I like Strength in Numbers, I think Aether Web is the combat trick Green needs the most. Not only does it pump the creature permanently, but you also have an answer to pesky evasion creatures. I’m not even talking about the quality of the creatures of the deck – three Might Slivers is just absurd.

One of the most underrated card in the deck is Primal Forcemage. I always see this guy in the last five cards of a pack. Green isn’t so popular, but it is much better than people think. Of course, you need some cards along with it, but they are not so hard to get. In my deck, it has good synergy with: Firewake Sliver, Nantuko Shaman, Ashcoat Bears, and Scryb Ranger. That’s quite a lot, and its effect is really interesting. It is hard to play around a 5/5 surprise blocker.

That time, however, I managed to pull my 3-0. The deck turned out to be very powerful, just as planned, and I kinda changed my opinion about Green all of a sudden. Not that I didn’t know you could end up with a good deck, but maybe I’ll try to draft it in future if the right conditions are met.

So, 5-1, advancing to Day 2, which also meant drafting again and play another round today. I had already secured an extra point and was ready to collect more!

My 3rd pod had quite a few named players: Pedro (Pierre Canali), Quentin (Martin), Osyp (Lebedowicz), Willy Edel, and Thomas Didier Jean.

I opened a Red removal spell (for a change), in the form of an Orcish Cannonade. Quentin on my right, passed me a very mediocre pack, with Orgg and nothing else. As I quite like that monster (it helped me qualify for my first French Nationals in 1996, along with Tinder Walls, Mana Vaults, and Ernham Djinn! Nothing would have been possible without you, Orgg!), I picked it, and I was looking forward to getting some more Red removal to go with it. I was passed a third-pick Sporesower Thallid, with nothing relevant in the other colors. I read that it was a good sign for me to go Green. In fact, the only playable cards in the packs were Green. I wasn’t very surprised to see that Quentin was W/R and Pedro, two seats to my right, was U/B. It wouldn’t have been bad news, if only I could have gathered a good deck. During pack 2, and I was passed in a row: Spectral Force and Thelonite Hermit. So I was the only Green drafter on that side of the table… but still, I couldn’t manage to put together all the necessary parts of a Green deck. I saw Aether Webs passing by, and I postponed the moment I would pick one a few too many times. I ended up with none, and that was probably the biggest mistake I made.

I would’ve been happy with a 1-2. Anything better would be a miracle. My deck had only one removal spell – Orcish Cannonade, with RR in its casting cost – no way to deal with any creature with evasion, and no real game breaker. I had some fine cards, but that wouldn’t really make the difference.

I played my first round and was swept by a very mediocre U/G/W deck that I would have beaten with any other deck.

I went back to the hotel with a 5-2 record and a deck I was not feeling confident with. Before going to bed, I played a couple of games with it in the hotel lobby. I ended up winning some of them.

I felt that tomorrow was going to be a tough day…

October 21st, 2006

Again, I woke up at 6am. Bernardo snoring woke me up a couple of times (note to self: don’t room with Bernardo again!) I still hadn’t recovered from the jetlag. Yesterday was fine, but I felt very tired today. I hadn’t slept too well either, as I wanted to play my games out, and was hoping to pull a win with my deck. I went downstairs and met Pedro in the lobby. He was likely to be my next opponent and we decided, while waiting for the cab, to play a few games. I won seven out of eight games in less than fifteen minutes. That was quite reassuring, but it didn’t really mean anything.

I was paired against him round 1, and felt that if I had to pick up a win, it was then or never. I won game 1 thanks to the fast and aggressive draw my deck can provide. I had the same draw in game 2, but it was hindered by a Telekinetic Sliver on Pedro’s side. It was a question of time until I drew my second mana source to play the Orcish Cannonade, kill the annoying sliver, and attack for the win… but that would have been too easy. It took him about seven turns to stabilize the board on two life, and to start attacking me. The second Red source never showed up.

Game 3 was frustrating game. I had opened an Avatar of Woe in my second pack, and I’d shipped it to my right. I was quite surprised to see it again in the pack on the way back. I took another card over it, thinking Quentin would probably take it from Pierre. But he did not, and Pierre ended up with a tenth pick Avatar of Woe [that’s ridiculous. – Craig, amazed]. I had to mulligan that game, and kept a marginal hand that still had Pierre down to seven life before, ironically enough, he stabilized with Avatar of Woe (that he cast off a Basal Sliver which gave him his two missing mana). I had no way to deal directly with the Avatar, and my only out was Stuffy Doll, which was actually in my hand, waiting to be cast as soon as I would draw my fifth land. It finally hit the table, and was starting to ping Pierre while he was taking care of my guys. He was attacking me with a Foriysian Totem and trampling for three while I “pinged” him for two every turn. I was holding Undying Rage in hand, and some more creatures that I could cast all at once, as soon as I would draw my mountain. I would therefore outnumber the Avatar, play the Rage on my Stuffy Doll and force two more damage that would have been lethal at some point. That, unfortunately, didn’t happen. I never actually drew my Mountain.

One interesting thing about that match is the fact that Pedro didn’t play so well – he made a couple of mistakes because the game was played in a friendly manner. It’s sometimes harder to focus when you play against a friend. In a match, no one is your friend. You play to win – anything your opponent could say, even if outside the game he’s your friend, could be deceiving. You may let your guard down, thinking that your opponent/friend would let you take back if you make a mistake. But that never happens…

Osyp was my final opponent. When leaving the draft pod, he was very satisfied with his deck. He still was, but couldn’t understand how he lost twice. It didn’t sound too good for me.

I played one of these games that you think you are going to win, and you could bet a lot on yourself, but still lose.

It’s game 2, and I lost a very close game 1. He is down to six life, with one card in hand. I have been attacking him with a Weatherseed Totem for some turns. He finally reached six mana and has a couple of 3/3s on the board. As I didn’t really see how he could deal with the Totem on the long run, I decided to wait to lay my eighth land (I’d sat on seven for some time already), to avoid being Mindstabbed when the Treefolk would come back to my hand (he played Mindstab in game 1). It showed up quite fast, and I traded my Treefolk for one of his 3/3s. I tapped three more mana to cast my Totem again… to eventually meet Draining Whelk….. Ouch…

What I feared the most happened. I 0-3ed that draft. Not that I was not expecting it, but it’s not a turn of events I really wanted (no sh**…).

I would, at that point, be drafting for a couple of extra PT points.

My fourth draft was a very average W/R deck, not a 3-0 deck, hopefully a 2-1, and definitely a 1-2.

I drafted the Coal Stokers in pack 1 and looked for a way to abuse them through the remaining packs. I found nothing really interesting. I even had to add the token book so I would have another way to not burn for three. That has been an underrated card in the beginning and an overrated card at some point. I think it’s a decent/good card, but it doesn’t live up to everything that is claimed about.

I lost four games straight and got the last round bye.

At that point, I wasn’t fighting for anything else but pride.

I was drafting in my last pod with Antti Malin and Ruud Waarmenhoven. This time I ended with a somewhat better R/W deck. There was maybe one Green drafter at the table. And even then, I couldn’t play Green. Even with a third pick Durkwood Baloth, a fourth pick Sporesower Thallid, a third pick Spectral Force in the second pack. I tried hard for the first 2 packs, but stopped when I got my second Desolation Giant in pack 3 and decided to stick to R/W.

The deck lacked focus, but packed enough good removal to allow me to win a match today. I’m not a huge fan of the Aetherflame Wall. It’s just there to stall the ground for a while, when I’m setting up the Desolation Giant.

I finally managed to win a game during my last round, nine hours after the first one I had won today. Unfortunately that would also be the last.

The PT was over. I went 7-8, 2-6, including 2 byes, and won a total of two games on Day 2. I made top 128, which means three PT points (or “one extra”). I would need 8 more points (6 extra) to level up. I missed again a good chance to make some lost ground.

Unlike in Athens, where any number of tiny details could have put me in a more favorable situation, I felt totally helpless here. In Athens, I was one game away every time from collecting more points. Here it wasn’t even close.

October 22nd, 2006

I drafted a couple of more times today, but the heart wasn’t there anymore. I don’t really know what to think about the whole thing. It started bad with my first round loss, improved a lot in the next five rounds… but after I drafted that Green deck, I couldn’t win anymore. I definitely tightened up my game during that PT (nothing to do with Athens). Not so much today, when I just couldn’t play at all (sorry to my draft partners). I want to believe that it’s just the way it goes. Sometimes you just can’t win, and that’s it. Maybe it’s just to put more suspense in my quest. It would have been lame to collect all the needed points at once. What would I talk about later?

I remain confident for the GPs. I did badly here. Many would like to say “I did badly, but still made day 2!” but again, it could have been worse. I could have thrown away a decisive match, and that’s far, far more serious. But I don’t think that happened. I didn’t play a decisive match anyway. I learned a lot about the format, and about Green in particular. I believe you can make a Green deck that works, but if you miss, you might end up with a really bad deck.

I don’t think I feel bad about the PT, just helpless. In the last two events – Athens and Kobe – I had never seen that many situations in a row getting out of my hands for a long time. I force myself to believe that it’s just a bad run, that the tables will turn. I have no choice anyway, with the GPs and Worlds coming up next month, I have to keep it up.

And there I’m off for 30 hours of happy travelling on my way back home.

October 23rd 2006

Finally back to Sweden. After visiting five different country airports – Japan, Dubai, Greece, The Netherlands, and Sweden – in less than thirty hours, I feel a bit… hmm, Timeshifted… yeah, that’s the appropriate word… I will spend the next ten days here, to recover a bit, and then I’ll head to Paris for the French Team Cup, a popular team tournament in France, before heading to New Jersey and Yamagata.

First things first: I need to go to bed…