The Quest For Level Five #5 – Worlds!

Going into Worlds, it’s safe to say that Raph was looking forward to the tournament. Of course, the Hall of Fame beckoned… Mr Levy would be joining the game’s uber-elite. As the only active player entering the Hall, Raph had a little more than nostalgia on his mind. A Top 48 performance here would cement a Level 5 Pro Player standing for the coming season. Could this particular ringbearer scale the mountain with the eyes of all bearing down upon him? Read on to find out!

November 28th, 2006

I made my way to Paris. I spent last week in Toulouse where I prepared lightly for Worlds. I knew the field, I was ready to draft. Geoffrey had been working on a Standard deck with Vincent Lemoine, Grand Prix: Athens finalist. He shared it with me, and we worked on it for a while.

My big day is tomorrow. All my family is here. My mom, my dad and step dad… my brother came from Israel with his wife. I unfortunately had no time for them today, nor will I have time for them in the next days. I sure am happy to have them here, but I want to make the five PT points I’m missing. This is my last chance to make them, and surely not the last time I’ll see them!

November 29th, 2006

World Championships, Day 1

I met my parents in the hotel’s restaurant. They were all having breakfast, and were all happy to see me in my brand new suit (that I had bought last week especially for this great day).

Everyone said the ceremony was wonderful. It probably was. It was definitely too short. When my name was called, my heart started to pound. The spotlights were blinding me, and my attention was focused on my steps. I was hearing distant claps and cheers. I could barely see anyone in the audience, but I knew who was there for me. I had been waiting for this moment for some time. I received my ring, and walked across the stage.

And it was over.

I know I’ll remember that moment, but I wish it could have lasted a touch longer.

I was told afterwards that everyone went crazy, that I had had the biggest and loudest ovation. I was in my home country, after all. Some of my friends, friends with whom I learnt to play Magic, let fly with a couple of tears. So many memories, so many duels, so much time spent on this game. I finally ended up on the stage to receive the supreme reward…

My parents, who had never been to a Magic tournament before, were delighted and happy to have made the trip.

The ceremony over, I just had a few minutes to get my Standard deck ready. I put together the cards I was missing the day before, and sleeved it up.

When Geoffrey showed me the deck before the tournament, he said, “I have the deck you’re going to play at Worlds”. Dark Confidants, Wall of Roots, some of my all-time favorite cards, forging an overall deck that looked like Aluren… of course I was interested!

In theory, the deck doesn’t really have bad matchups, with the worst being Dragonstorm and U/R Tron. It has, on the other hand, a lot of good matchups. Life (with Martyr of Sands) and control decks have a hard time dealing with it, as they can’t really stop the combo. As a reminder, the combo revolves around Saffi Eriksdotter, Crypt Champion, and any of the life / token generators of the deck. You create a loop with Saffi and Crypt Champion, let the third part trigger, and win. Boros, and other aggressive decks without counter-magic, are also good matchups.

It also works as a “Rock-like” deck, with Dark Confidants, Loxodon Hierarchs, the Chord of Calling toolbox, and Saffi to protect against Wrath of God.

Round 1: Pierre Canali – Dralnu du Louvre (UB Control) – 2-0
Round 2: Gadiel Szleifer – Reanimator – 1-2
Round 3: Aleksandar Radin – Blinking Snake – 2-0
Round 4: Bradley Barclay – U/W/R Angel – 2-1
Round 5: Takuya Osawa – U/W Mori Tron – 2-0
Round 6: Aaron Brackman – U/G Aggro – 0-2

My (our) deck was unknown before the tournament, and the fact that it was unknown won me a couple of games. Players usually playtest against the same old decks, and sometimes cards like Saffi – ones that they don’t see too often – can surprise them. I had to explain the combo to three of my opponents, who thought I had cast Crypt Champion to recover a dead Dark Confidant and gain two life.

Half the sideboard is oriented toward battling control; the other half is for facing aggro. The cards against control are devastating. Castigate / Persecute work as Duress / Cabal Therapy in the Standard environment. I didn’t lose the matchups against control thanks to these additions (Pierre, Bradley Barclay, and Takuya Osawa). I lost to Gadiel and Aaron Brackman, matches that I feel I could have won if we had started playtesting the deck a couple of weeks earlier.

I went 4-2 with the deck. Geoffrey and Bernardo didn’t do too well with it, and their scores are not worth mentioning.

The deck definitely has a lot of potential. As I’ve said, more tuning was necessary. The first thing is that there’s at least one land too many. I realised that early enough in the tournament, so at least I knew I could sideboard a Forest out every game. There are a couple of cards that we hadn’t tried that should make it into the deck – cards like Macabre Waltz.

I’m happy with the deck I played, and would probably choose it again if I had to play Worlds tomorrow.

I invited Mathieu Poujade – an old friend and former Magic player, now working at Wizards of the Coast’s European office – to the Hall of Fame dinner. We had a fine time there, but we left before the end as I wanted to get some sleep before Day 2… unlike the other Hall of Famers, who didn’t care so much about the tournament itself.

End of Day 1
Score: 4-2

November 30th, 2006

World Championships, Day 2

After my fine finish in GP: Yamagata, I finally got some confidence back in Time Spiral draft. I have couple of archetypes I like more than others. They haven’t changed since Yamagata: Blue/Green and Blue/Black. And I still won’t be drafting White, whatever happens.

Draft 1, Pod 10:

1. Levy, Raphael – 12
2. Wu, Jia – 12
3. Makuch, Michal – 12
4. Huba, Michal – 12
5. Nakamura, Shuuhei – 12
6. Vallivaara, Visa – 12
7. Mendonca, Rafael – 12
8. Mazzurco, Carlo – 12

My pod had one known player – Shuuhei Nakamura, sitting at the other end of the table.

My first pack offered two good cards: Nightshade Assassin and Griffin Guide. When I talked about which one to pick to players around me after the draft, they all seemed to agree that Griffin Guide was the correct choice. I picked Nightshade Assassin, and will pick the Assassin if I had to make the choice again. I love Black, and I hate White. It’s as simple as that. My choice was rewarded as I got most of the “disliked” Black removal spells in all three packs. I picked a couple of Blue cards along the way, as I wasn’t sure if I could end up Mono-Black. With two Nightshade Assassin, a Gorgon Recluse, and a Dark Withering already drafted after pack 2, I had the choice between Plague Sliver and Trespasser Il-Vec in pack 3. It seemed tough when I had the pack in front of me, but not so much afterwards… when I saw the sliver totally dominating games backed up with my numerous removal spells.

Leaving the draft pod, I was confident in my ability to 3-0 that draft:

Relevant Sideboard Cards:
Viscid Lemures
2 Call to the Netherworld
Viscerid Deepwalker

The big question about the deck was this: how much Blue should I include? Looter Il-Kor is a card I want to be able to cast, and Fathom Seer a creature I want to unmorph. But with three Tendrils of Corruption, I don’t want to draw too many Islands. Examining my five Blue cards reveals I can cast three of them as off-color morphs. The Dream Stalker can work fine in the late game, as well as it can bounce the Assassins. Five Islands and a Terramorphic Expanse seemed to be the right number.

Another thing about the deck – I’m pretty sure I should have played the two Call to the Netherworlds maindeck. They are just so good along with the double Smallpox and the Nightshade Assassins. I boarded them in every time, in exchange for three-mana creatures (Blue morphs or Basal Sliver).

Round 7: Michal Makuch – 2-0
Round 8 :Carlo Mazzurco – 2-1
Round 9: Shuuhei Nakamura – 2-1

The deck worked perfectly, just as planned. The closest game I had was in the third round, against Shuuhei. And close it was! It was one of those games in which when you draw a card you’re thinking, “man, this is overkill!” … and after a couple of turns, you realise that you’re not even winning the game.

Shuuhei had a Red/Black deck, with Slivers; Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder; Sarpadian Empires, Vol. VII; and Candles of Leng. When I thought the game was mine, Shuuhei drew into all the cards he needed to come back into the game, thanks to the Candles. I got him down to two life, but he stabilized the board with Deathspore Thallid (and the Book, which was generating saproling tokens). I managed to deal with the Thallid after some turns, but it had done its job already, and I had almost no way to deal any more damage in my deck. I was holding Smallpox, and was really frustrated about how that game was slipping away from my hands. The game was becoming quite complicated, and we probably both missed a couple of good plays. He knew I was holding an Assassinate (I revealed it through Nightshade Assassin), and therefore he waited a couple of turns before attacking with his creatures: a Fury Sliver and a Trespasser Il-Vec. I drew my card, and finally found a way to deal the one damage I needed. I showed Assassinate, and Shuuhei took his Sliver to bury it. To his surprise, I killed the other creature, then played Plague Sliver. On his turn, he went down to 1 life, and I was just hoping he had no way to gain life or a way to force me to discard my Smallpox. He sacrificed his Sliver to a Dread Return, to get Endrek Sahr back into play (who had died two or three times already), and passed the turn. I drew, and gave him my card face down. He flipped it over, and revealed the Smallpox.

Score in Draft 1: 3-0

Draft 2, Pod 4:

1. Levy, Raphael – 21
2. Levin, Eugene – 21
3. Polgary, Mikael – 19
4. Kunzler, Matthais – 19
5. Nuijten, Julien – 21
6. Wolowiec, Przemyslaw – 21
7. Martin, Quentin – 21
8. Mori, Katsuhiro – 21

Most of the players at this pod were well known, so this one promised to be a little tougher.

This draft went as badly as it could possibly go. My deck didn’t actually end up too bad, but my packs were extremely poor. I opened in my first pack: Crookclaw Transmuter, Weatherseed Totem, and Temporal Isolation. The Isolation is the best card, but I still want to stay away from White. The Totem is a fine card, but I went for the Transmuter. Then I was passed a Thelonite Hermit… a pretty clear signal. Then I was passed a Durkwood Balothanother good signal. And another one. My deck started pretty fine… but that was the last decent playable I received from pack 1. I picked a couple of Red cards – Keldon Halberdier and Empty the Warrens – in case I had to avoid Blue and choose Red instead. Out of those three colors, the best card I got from the pack I opened next…. was Temporal Eddy. This is not a bad card, especially in U/G, but it’s not exactly the card you want to first pick. In pack 3, I opened a Weatherseed Totem… again, a fine card, but far from being the bomb you want to open. Then I was passed a third Baloth.

I showed the deck to a few friends, but no one could tell me if it was good or bad. Three Baloths could be good enough to win some games, and Thelonite Hermit could do some good work. But overall, it’s a deck with no bombs, no removal spells, and very few answers to flyers and annoying critters.

Round 10: Katsuhiro Mori – 0-2
Round 11: Przemyslaw Wolowiec – 1-2
Round 12: Mikael Polgari – 2-0

My match against Mori was a slaughter. I knew my deck wasn’t too good. And Mori’s deck was very good. Or at least it was against mine. three Errant Ephemerons, Fledging Mawcor, and many Blue and Black tricks. After the match, I felt so empty. I couldn’t do anything about its outcome. My brother, who had been watching the game (which was a Feature Match – it was also the only Magic game he’s ever watched), could tell by my facial expression that I had been crushed.

My next match didn’t go too well either. I won one of the three games, but didn’t really have a hope to win the round.

Mikael – my old flatmate, the one who offered me shelter when I moved to Sweden – was my final opponent. With him a little bit on tilt from his last match, and me extremely lucky, I managed to pull a win with my second draft deck.

Score in Draft 2: 1-2

It was then the time for me to decide on which Extended deck to play. I had introduced Ritual Desire to “the Idiots” during the GPs. They had been working on it, and ended up with a fine version that I was about to play. Geoffrey, who had dropped a few rounds before, called me to watch someone playing in a PTQ. He’s a relatively-unknown French player named Remi Julien. His score was 5-1, and he was playing his own version of Ritual Desire that he had been tuning for weeks. He explained that the only games he lost where the ones in which he messed up, or the ones in which he got incredibly unlucky. I liked his version of the deck, and asked if I could borrow the deck for the next day. He agreed, and I went back to the hotel to goldfish and tune the build.

End of Day 2
Score: 8-4

December 1st, 2006

I woke up early this morning, I was so excited. I goldfished for about an hour last night, and was totally amazed at how consistent the deck was. I never missed a turn 4 kill. I would need 3-2-1 in order to make Top 48 and level up.

The deck doesn’t really have a bad matchup. It can basically play around all the hate cards, thanks to all the ways it has to kill. It constantly kills on turn 4 if there’s no disruption.

If I had to change a few cards, I would take out the Pyroclasm and Hull Breach (both totally useless – you never Wish for them) for an extra Orim’s Chant, and an extra Empty the Warrens.

Sideboard plan:
Against aggro (Boros): -1 Infernal Tutor, +1 Tendrils of Agony
Against any other deck: -2 Infernal Tutor, -2 Plunge into Darkness; +x Duress, +x Orim’s Chant (depending on which deck you face) – or +1 Tendrils of Agony, +1 Empty the Warrens against Solution.

Round 13: Akira Asahara (Tings) – 2-1
Round 14: Wesimo Al-Bacha (Solution) – 1-2
Round 15: Rich Hoaen (Mind’s Desire) – 2-1
Round 16: Osamu Fujita (Aggro Solution) – 2-1
Round 17: Itaru Ishida – 2-0
Round 18: Zhou Long (UG Ninja, counters, Trickbind) – 2-0

Some of my matches were close. The others weren’t. Even when my opponents heavily sideboarded, I managed to win. I lost one game due to a minor mistake, against Al-Bacha, that ended up costing me the match. I was digging through my deck for one more mana source with my Eggs and Stars, so I could power up an Empty the Warrens followed by a Sins of the Past, which could have been lethal on the next turn. Thinking I could also draw into Burning Wish, I sacrificed my last Chromatic Star for Red mana, and drew into Mind’s Desire… that I could have cast if I had taken Blue mana. I went for the token plan, and Al Bacha drew on of his two Pyroclasms on his last turn. I played the game again in my head after the match, and realised the Red mana I took was irrelevant and that I should have taken the Blue mana. I was out of contention for the Top 8 at that point. But would I have won out if I hadn’t lost that match? I can’t say. What happened next is that I did manage to win out, and I finished 16th.

In my long career, this is by far the best Constructed deck I have ever played. So consistent, so nice to play, so powerful.

Final Score: 13-5
Finish: 14th

I needed Top 48. I finished Top 16. I feel quite happy about the tournament. I also feel satisfied with the decks I chose to play. I obviously wonder what would have happened if I had taken that Blue mana off my Chromatic Star. But just like at every Pro Tour or Worlds, I’m aware that while I may throw away one game, this is much better than throwing away many games. And that’s probably why I consistently do well, but that’s why I never Top 8.


I levelled up. I even have three points too many! When I started writing this series, I was sure it would go this way… that it would all depend on my finish at Worlds. When you started reading the series, did you honestly think I could make it? Did you? In fact, did I?

Anyway, I’m quite relieved to finish the season like this. I finish tenth in the Player of the Year race, I received my pimp ring, and I’m ready to travel around to do even better next year.

On Sunday evening, Cyril Grillon – former French DCI Manager, judge of the first PTQ I ever won, and long-time friend – opened the bar he runs in Paris – the “Iron Bell” rue de la clef – for a private party. Everyone had something to celebrate: Shoota Yasouka, Player of the year; Kamiel, Julien and Robert, team World Champions; Mori yet another Top 8; other Japanese and Europeans – Gabriel, Jelger, Mark, Johan, Quentin, Geoffrey, Rich, Anton and many more – who just saw another opportunity to have a good time with their friends.

… And I was just happy to see everyone having fun at the party that was, in the first place, supposed to be my party. But it didn’t matter after all. I just had fun, as much fun as everyone else. I partied with my Hall of Fame ring on my finger for the last time… it’s too heavy and pimpish to give me any other opportunity to wear it. And of course, I’d made my Level 5…

I hope you enjoyed the series, and I’ll be back next year for more “Magic Adventures.”