The Quest For Level Five #4: France, New Jersey, and Yamagata

The latest installment in Raph’s saga to get to Pro Player Club Level 5, Raph edges closer to his goal by flying all over the world once again! In France, he attends the French Team Cup and tells you the biggest mistake you can make in Two-Headed Giant. Then it’s off to New Jersey, where he cracks a solid card pool for Sealed and finally breaks a long-running curse. And what happens at Yamagata? Read on!

November 3rd, 2006

After ten days spent in Sweden, recovering from Kobe, I headed to Paris to play in the French team cup. This tournament consists of two days played in Two-Headed Giant: Day 1 is Limited, Day 2 in Standard. It used to be a three-player team tournament, but as the 2HG is becoming more and more popular, they changed the structure.

These are the lists of the decks we (Jean-Baptiste Mathieu and I) played in Standard:

If we had to change the decks, we would take out Krosan Grip from Deck #1, and add some Think Twice to Deck #2 (and move one Wipe Away from Deck #2 to Deck #1).

The concept of the decks is quite obvious. Player #2, who plays with the combo pieces (Enduring Renewal and Wild Cantor) and draws a cards on the play, tries to draw into them while keeping some mana open to counter and buy some time… while Player #1 only tries to stall, while holding the kill card (Grapeshot and Ignite Memories). Trickbinds and Voidslimes are key in a format where the best decks rely on the storm mechanic for the kill. Teferi is a total house in the format. It allows you to start a counter war at the end of your opponent’s turn, and go off during your turn.

We 4-2ed the Limited portion and 5-1ed the Standard one.

A few thoughts about 2HG:

Constructed is fun and will remain fun, as long as no one has a clue. When decklists start appearing on the Internet, it won’t be as much fun anymore, because I’m pretty sure the only viable strategy is running combo and counters in both decks. Forty life is far too much to allow aggressive strategies to work against decks that only need a couple of cards to put a killing combo together.

The biggest mistake you can make is “trusting your team-mate.”

I’ve played my share of 2HG tournaments, and what I’ve been witnessing during games, from two good players is the following:
One player wants to make a play. The other says, “they’re your cards, do what you want.” The first player understands this as, “go for it,” thinking his team-mate agrees with the play. He plays on, and both players realise they made a mistake.

The solution: go through your plays and your team-mate’s plays every time. Don’t think he knows better, because he doesn’t. Don’t hesitate to argue every play. That’s the key to succeeding in 2HG.

We ended up sixth, tied with the third and fourth team, making 200 Euros on the way, paying for my stay and my flight back to Toulouse.

November 9th, 2006

I’m off to New Jersey. Leaving Toulouse (where I rested a couple of days and was able to see my doggie), I met the other idiots in Amsterdam: Julien, Tiago, Quentin, Jelger, and Frank. Pedro and Antoine would join us in the U.S. We have a whole day to rest and playtest Constructed tomorrow.

Tom’s River, the town/city/place where the Grand Prix will take place, is probably the most remote place I’ve been to for a GP. About an hour away from Newark, the city hasn’t much to offer, at least from a European point of view. It doesn’t matter so much to us – we’re not here as tourists.

November 11th, 2006

GP: New Jersey, Day 1:

The first chance to collect the eight points I need to level up. More than 900 players in the middle of nowhere. As usual, I took a deep breath and opened my pool:

(The White and Green are pretty much irrelevant)

Magus of the Jar
Dream Stalker
Temporal Eddy

2 Think Twice
Coral Trickster
Stormcloud Djinn
Errant Ephemeron
Venser’s Sliver
Phyrexian Totem
Dreadship Reef

Gemstone Mine
Evil Eye of Urborg
Deathspore Thallid
Tendrils of Corruption
Trespasser Il-Vec
Vampiric Sliver
Funeral Charm
Sudden Spoiling

2 Pit Keeper
Urborg Syphon-Mage
Drudge Reavers
Viscid Lemures
Mogg War Marshal
Bogardan Rager
Aetherflame Wall
Flowstone Channeler
2 Lightning Axe

Ironclaw Buzzardiers
Basalt Gargoyle
Firemaw Kavu
Fortune Thief
Ghostflame Sliver
Sol’kanar, the Swamp King

The pool itself is quite solid. No real bomb, but many good removal spells, and decent creatures in two colors.

My build:

The only real choice I had to make was how much Blue I would play. The problem with straight Red/Black is that I would lack a real late-game plan. No big flyers or finishers… that Blue would provide in the form of Errant Ephemeron, Storm Djinn, and Sol’kanar. Two Islands and a Dreadship Reef should support the splash.

The matches themselves were painful. I lost round 1 without much of a fight. At that point, I really needed to break that losing streak. I won game 1 in round 5, but eventually lost again, to someone who shouldn’t have been in the 3-1 bracket with a deck packing: Sacred Mesa, Serra Avenger, Disintegrate, Desolation Giant, 2 Lightning Axe, 2 Orcish Cannonade, and a bunch of good Red and White guys.

I finally broke a fifteen-match streak without a real match win in the next round. I hadn’t won a real match since round 6 in Pro Tour: Kobe. Five byes and nine losses since then. I don’t think I’ve ever had that bad a run. My deck showed its potential in two rounds, but I was savagely beaten up in the penultimate round. That loss knocked me out of Day 2. I decided not to drop; I had nothing better to do. To add insult to injury, my final opponent didn’t show up.

It felt that the “curse was gone,” but a couple of rounds too late. Starting the tournament 0-2 (3-2) doesn’t really suggest success…

November 12th, 2003

Even though I broke that streak, I feel really bitter that my game is gone and winning is just a distant memory. We’ll be leaving NJ in two days for Yamagata – time to draft a few times, playtest Constructed for Worlds, go to the cinema, eat at Tiffany’s… twice a day. The GP in Japan is next week. Anything worse than Top 8 would be disappointing…

November 15th, 2003

We finally got to Japan. It took about twenty hours to get from Newark to Yamagata. I remember in Kobe, when I was thinking about how long would take the way back, it was hard to imagine that our way back will be twice as long this time. At least that’s an extra pressure to get some motivation back! I haven’t travelled all this way – to the U.S. and Japan – for nothing! I have to capture some points here, and will do my best!

November 18th, 2003

GP: Yamagata, Day 1

We spent the last couple of days recovering from the jet lag, visiting the town, and walking in the mountains. But today is the real deal, my last chance to get some points before Worlds…

At Japanese GPs, the Japanese and us “foreigners” are separated for deck construction, simply because we’ll have the list of the cards in English and swap them among ourselves.

This time my whole pool (except for Blue) is worth looking at (but I’m not listing unplayables):

Thallid Shell-Dweller
Pendelhaven Elder
Scarwood Treefolk
Savage Thallid
Krosan Grip
Spinneret Sliver

Ashcoat Bear
Sporesower Thallid
Penumbra Spider
Havenwood Wurm
Yavimaya Dryad
D’Avenant Healer

Momentary Blink
Outrider En-Kor
Icatian Crier
Quilled Sliver
Temporal Isolation
2 Castle Raptor
Flickering Spirit
Pentarch Paladin
Cloudchaser Kestrel

Empty the Warrens
Bogardan Rager
Aetherflame Wall
Subterranean Shambler
Bonesplitter Sliver
Flowstone Channeler
2 Sulfurous Blast
Orcish Cannonade
Tribal Flames

Call to the Netherworld
Basal Sliver
Haunting Hymn
Demonic Collusion
Tendrils of Corruption
Corpulent Corpse
Dauthi Slayer
Withered Wretch
Trespasser Il-Vec

Urborg Syphon-Mage
Cyclopean Giant
Gorgon Recluse
Sengir Nosferatu
Mystic Enforcer
Chromatic Star
Prismatic Lens
2 Thunder Totem
Calciform Pools

That is far from being a good pool. Good cards in the wrong colors. The deck was also quite hard to build. Should I play the two Sulfurous Blast? The Nosferatu? The Paladin?

Overall, the White seems to be the best of the four colors. Red has two Sulfurous Blasts, Black has the best creature (Sengir Nosferatu), and Green has some decent guys. I tried building some combinations. I believe the curve of the W/B wasn’t good enough and the deck seemed significantly weaker than the W/G version. The R/B deck had all the best cards of the pool.


Which one is the best? When I laid down both decks, I was convinced that the W/G deck was better. Really good curve, flyers, a couple of tricks… That’s also the one I listed. When showing my pool around during the byes, everyone liked the R/B deck better. The problem I had with the R/B deck was that the deck wasn’t exactly “powerful.” Sure, Sulfurous Blast is amazing, but the rest of the deck was really mediocre. I didn’t think the deck could handle a very long game without the vampire. And it couldn’t kill fast enough. They finally convinced me to board the R/B version if I had won game 1 (the Sulfurous Blasts would be more efficient on the draw), and if my opponent wasn’t playing Green.

My first round opponent has a U/R/W deck, with only morphs and 1/1s. I won game 1 easily, quite surprised by what my W/G deck can do, and felt quite sure that the R/B deck was going to deal with most of his creatures. Unfortunately, the R/B deck had a big problem, one that you don’t always notice when the deck is laid on the table: just like many decks based on removal, your starting hand is sometimes hard to keep because you only have expensive creatures to cast and no removal, meaning that you can’t really win. Most of the cards in the deck are decent or bad (I’m not a big fan of Cyclopean Giant, or Bonesplitter Sliver) except for the Blasts and the Vampire. In Sealed Deck, you are not going to win a game via only those cards. For example, I opened on a hand with a Gorgon Recluse, a Haunting Hymn, and five lands. Unless I draw a Sulfurous Blast and a Vampire, and many more active cards, I’m not going to win that game. The number of card combinations that put you in that situation is large; in fact, any hand without a Blast is a bad hand. I sent back one more hand in game 2, that I lost, and one more in game 3. That game is worth mentioning. I pretty much had control of the board, attacking with a Dauthi Slayer and draining with a Syphon-Mage. My opponent cast a Jedit’s Dragoons and had no cards in hand. I was holding a Haunting Hymn, but preferred to keep it for a better time when I could make him discard two cards or drain him for 2. On the next turn, he cast a Dream Stalker, bringing back his Dragoons, and waited for the next turn to cast them again (not enough mana available). Finally, an opportunity to get two for one with my hymn on the next turn. I waited for his draw step, tapped 6 lands, and cast my Hymn…

I told the story around after the match…

“What had he drawn?” I challenged them.
”Haha! Dodecapod?”
”I wish… Draining Whelk…”

That was a sign. I would not board into the R/B deck again. I lost one more round before the last round, to a deck I couldn’t really deal with big green guys, bounce, and pump spells.

The final round…

In game 1, I played against a really weak B/R deck, which I squared without much difficulty. I told myself that it was going to be easy, that there was no way I would lose to that deck (note to self – never say that again), that I would finally make Day 2. In game 2 he started off with a turn 1 suspend Durkwood Baloth, turn 2 Errant Ephemeron, turn 3 suspended Riftwing Cloudskate… Strangely enough, I lost that game, and somehow lost a bit of my confidence in that matchup. I don’t know who told him to change his deck, but he did a pretty good job improving it.

Game 3 saw me almost having a heart attack. The game was a little bit in my favor before he dropped Stormbind. The situation was quite complicated, but he helped me much in not losing that game.

We’re at the end of my turn, with about a couple of turns before he can kill me and one minute thirty seconds left on the clock. He took his time to choose where he was going to shoot with his Stormbind. He finally made up his mind (after getting a warning for slow play) and shot me twice (when he could have killed two of my guys). In the meantime, time was called. He played his turn, and passed. The table judges let me know that it was the second extra turn. Second… That would mean I only had one more after that one? The judge nodded. I argued: “How come I don’t have another turn? Time was called long after I passed the turn!” The judge said that it was no point in arguing, and that it was his decision. He called another judge who gave the same decision. I asked to talk to the head judge. He did give me my extra turn. In the end it didn’t matter too much, as I managed to win on my next turn (thanks to my opponent as well), but I wonder what a less experienced played would have done concerning the extra turns. I argued my case well to the head judge, and knew he would grant them to me. I’m not the kind of player ranting about floor judges, and how bad they “can” be, but in general, I always call the head judge when they don’t give an answer satisfying enough.

I was 58th at the end of Day 1. A long way from Top 8, but at least I had a shot at it. I’ll be drafting in pod 8, with no big names.

November 19th, 2006 [My birthday! — Craig.]

GP Yamagata, Day 2:

I would need to 5-0 in order to make Top 8 (and then draw in the last round). My tiebreakers didn’t really allow a loss.

I have been drafting U/G a lot lately, and I have to say I like that archetype. In the format there is no real need for removal… well, maybe just a couple. Splashing a few Red Blasts is usually enough.

1st Draft, Pod 8:

Yanagihara, Hiroki [JPN]
Taru, Genki [JPN]
Oota, Yuuji [JPN]
Hashimoto, Masafumi [JPN]
Yasukawa, Kazuhide [JPN]
Toochika, Takayuki [JPN]

Mitamura, Kazuya [JPN]
Levy, Raphael [FRA]

With that in mind, I first picked a Thelonite Hermit, and a Spiketail Drakeling second over a Tendrils of Corruption and a Halberdier (or cards of the same power level). Blue was underdrafted at the table (I got a fifth-pick Fathom Seer), so I went on drafting my Blue/Green deck. The packs helped me as I opened Draining Whelk in pack 2, and was passed one in pack 3l. A Looter sixth pick in pack 3 was a nice surprise. I have to say that when I left the draft pod, I wasn’t expecting going less than 3-0.

Relevant Sideboard cards:
Careful Consideration
Spiketail Drakeling
Nantuko Shaman

Hail Storm
Phantom Wurm

WHAT?? Careful Consideration? Spiketail Drakeling in the Sideboard??? When I started building my deck, I laid down thirty cards. With three Fathom Seers, and enough spells, I felt that Careful Consideration wasn’t “good enough.” I liked all my three-drops better than the Drake. I like the Tolarian Sentinel more and more, but maybe it was a bit too greedy… but I didn’t really want to play my two Whelks, my Hermit, my three Fathom Seers without the Sentinel.

The three Red cards were a little “plus” in a deck that would probably only lose to pesky unblockable creatures or legendary spellshapers.

This time, everything went as planned, and I proceeded to 3-0 my pod. Two more rounds to win for Top 8.

My next pod is somehow more difficult:

2nd Draft, Pod 2:

Hoaen, Richard G [CAN]
Murakami (Miyagi), Yuu [JPN]
Nakano, Fumiki [JPN]
Aoki, Ryousuke [JPN]
Fujita, Tsuyoshi [JPN]
Yasutomi, Hiroto * [JPN]
Levy, Raphael [FRA]
Hanaoka, Toshifumi [JPN]

My pack offered Foriysian Totem, only one Blue card (Coral Trickster), and nothing else. I decided to go for the morph, and cut the next Blue cards if possible. I picked a Durkwood Baloth second, a Phyrexian Totem pack 3, and a Prodigal Sorcerer in pack 4. At that point I wasn’t really sure which way to go. The next 2 packs gave me Phthisis and a Dauthi Slayer. I was definitely going for Black, as no one seemed to be interested.

I got Black removal from pack 2 and 3, in the form of 2 Tendrils of Corruption, Sudden Death, and Nightshade Assassin. I would have probably switched back to an underdrafted Green if I hadn’t got the removal.

The deck had some potential, but no broken rares. A good curve (maybe too many four-drops), and good removal. I wasn’t aiming for this B/U deck at first, but it came naturally.

I unfortunately lost my hopes for Top 8 when I lost the first round to Yuu Murakami and his B/R deck, with Ib Halfheart, Sengir Nosferatu, and Firemaw Kavu. The games weren’t exactly close, and I just hoped I would win my two next rounds to make Top 16.

I did win my two next rounds, but my crappy tiebreakers put me in eleventh place, tied with the sixth place finisher. I can only blame myself for have listened to everyone on Day 1, who told me to sideboard into my B/R deck. I started the tournament with one loss, and my tiebreakers never really recovered from it.

11th place isn’t all that bad… I feel like my game is finally back.

I now have 35 PT points, and will need five more at Worlds to level up… meaning I’ll need a Top 48 performance.

November 21st, 2006

It’s 2pm and I just got home. We left the hotel in Yamagata around 10am local time (37 hours ago). We barely didn’t make the train to Tokyo, but we were helped by a very competent clerk at Yamagata train station. The station chief ran all the way to the train to have them wait for us. At Narita airport, we were informed that our flight was delayed 5 hours. They were nice enough to offer us a hotel room in Newark, as we’d miss our connection. We called the Continental Airlines “head judge” to negotiate (complain) and tell them how annoying that was. That would only have made our trip twenty hours longer… After showing how annoyed we were, they finally decided to book us on a flight to Houston, from where we could fly back to Europe.

I have a few days more to recover and prepare for Worlds…

Top 48, a one time deal!

Wish me luck!