The Road To Worlds and Beyond, Part 1 – Vermillion University

Paul begins a two-part series today dealing with his preparation for Worlds and his eventual performance. The U.S. National Team, carrying the hopes of a nation, spent a lot of their pre-tournament time studying under professor Timothy Aten at the team-dubbed Vermillion University. Standard, Draft, Extended, and Team Rochester were all discussed and tested… and the results were mixed. This is an entertaining opening to what promises to be an illuminating series.

How am I going to test for Worlds?!

That was the thought that was going through my mind after the euphoria of winning Nationals wore off. I knew that it would be relatively easy to get together with teammate Luis Scott-Vargas, but Ben Lundquist would be a bit harder to get hold of. Not only that, I was not used to coming up with decks in a relatively undefined format (this being Standard and Extended with Time Spiral).

It only made sense to try to get together with more people, to try and get a better understanding of the format and see the various perspectives of others on decks. Then I remembered Luis telling me about an invitation from Tim Aten for the National Team to get together at his place in the humble city of Vermillion, Ohio. I thought that this would be an excellent opportunity for us to get together and not only come up with Constructed decks for Worlds, but to test some Team Rochester.

Considering Tim is viewed to be one of the best Limited players in the U.S. and the fact that he won a Team Rochester Grand Prix, we thought that it would be best to meet up and practice at his place, a.k.a. “Vermillion University.” The plan was for all of us to meet up at Grand Prix: New Jersey and drive back to Tim’s place for the two weeks before Worlds. Instead, Luis and I had the brilliant idea of meeting up with Tim first and then driving with him to New Jersey (which was a nine-hour drive, by the way). Ben was also planning on flying out to Ohio and driving to New Jersey with us when common sense got the better of him and he drove there with some friends from New York (a four-hour drive defeats a nine-hour drive).

As most of you know, Tim made Top 4 of that Grand Prix, scooping to Rich Hoaen to help him attain Pro Level 5 status. However, I got knocked out in the last round for Day 2 against Patrick Sullivan. Game 3 saw him playing an Endrek Sahr and follow it up with some creature spells, and he just ran me over with thrulls. This loss was pretty frustrating because it was my third loss to Patrick, and all of them were important matches (0-3 Lifetime versus Pat Sullivan… sigh). The first loss was at the Top 8 of an Last Chance Qualifier at Pro Tour: Los Angeles, where he was playing Mono-Red Sligh and I was U/B Jushi Control. The next was in the Top 4 of a PTQ for Pro Tour: Honolulu, and he beat me with Boros while I was piloting Aggro Rock. Finally, with our records at 6-2 and playing for Day 2 of the GP, he defeated me again. You’d figure that after all the thrashings I’ve taken from Pat, that I would hate the guy. Unfortunately, Pat Sullivan is one of the nicest Magic players that I know, and it’s pretty hard to hate him.

The next day, I decided to try my luck at the PTQ… only to open a pretty bad pool. It had a Red and Green base, and splashed a couple of Castle Raptors and a Thrill of the Hunt with minimal fixing. Then I looked for the name of the person who registered my deck just to tell them how horrible it was. I flipped the top of the box to see that it was none other than Kate Stavola…

If you didn’t know, that is the name of Pat Sullivan’s wife.

At this point, I thought it was some kind of conspiracy and that the Sullivans were out to get me. “I call shenanigans!

Luckily for me, there was a Tromp the Domains in the deck and it won me at least half of my games. I ended up winning the 190-man PTQ, beating out Sam Black, Steven Strasberg, and some kid who said, “Hello and Good Luck” in both games that we played (perhaps a bit too much MTGO… Jon Sukenik was his name). Some would say that my Top 8 deck was greedy because it was Blue/Red splashing white for Lightning Angel and Duskrider Peregrine, and black for Strangling Soot

Okay, I admit that it was a little greedy, but I didn’t have any other playables and I had two Forisiyan Totems and two Prismatic Lenses, which helped my manabase. I would put up the decklist if I could find them, but they don’t seem to be up at the moment.

After the GP, I met up with Tim, Ben, and Luis for our long drive back to Vermillion, Ohio. When our testing first began, we didn’t really know where to start. Fortunately, Time Spiral was out on MTGO so all cards were accessible. We basically just messed around and made a bunch of random decks including: Zoo, U/G beats, U/R Tron, Reanimator, and U/R Snow. Ultimately, we decided that we didn’t want to play an aggressive deck because for the most part, the mirror matches seemed random. The U/G deck was promising, but it just wasn’t powerful enough and it was very vulnerable to Pyroclasm and Spell Snare.

Then we did a considerable amount of testing with U/R Snow, and it seemed like a pretty solid deck… but towards the end of testing, the deck just ended up losing to Boros and other beatdown decks. Luis tried to mix it up a bit by replacing the Rimefeather Owls with Stuffy Dolls to see how good the Skred plus Stuffy Doll interaction was. There were several games where he won by double-Skredding his Stuffy Doll. In the end, the Dolls just ended up being pretty loose.

While the team was busy testing the more “generic” decks, Tim was busy trying to concoct some strange Tron deck with Dragonstorms in it. At first, I just shrugged off the deck and thought it was a bit of a joke. But after some tweaking here and there, it performed pretty well in the Standard 8-man queues – at least for Luis and Ben. I was busy testing “normal” U/R Tron with Lotus Blooms in the main. They worked really well because it helped get out early Wildfires and Bogardan Hellkites. Here are the lists for the two decks that we decided to run:

The normal U/R Tron deck seems like it may have more game against aggressive decks because of Wildfire and Repeals, but the DragonTron deck seems a lot cooler, and it can get some pretty nutty draws. At this point, I was pretty happy with U/R Tron and I’d be playing it (unless my teammates convinced me otherwise).

For the Extended portion, we made all of the decks that were currently popular and tweaked them by adding Time Spiral cards. After looking through Time Spiral, the cards that we thought would be utilized were: Empty the Warrens, Tormod’s Crypt, and possibly Locket of Yesterdays. Tormod’s Crypt is an obvious one because it is the single best answer to deal with decks that abuse graveyard interactions. We thought Empty the Warrens might be good because the only goblin deck that would be viable would be a turbo Empty the Warrens deck, with Rite of Flames and Seething Songs to turbo out a Warrens for six or eight. Without the accelerants, the deck just seems too slow and clunky to be any good. We weren’t too sure on Locket of Yesterday, but we did play a couple Locket decks in the Extended 8 mans so the possibility of decks abusing this card was considered.

The decks in our gauntlet included: Boros, U/W and U/R Tron, Ichorid, Affinity, Gifts Rock, Goblins, U/G Madness, and Heartbeat. Again, we did not want to play Boros because the mirror was too random. Tron seemed very strong against the controlling decks but both versions had some trouble against aggressive decks. Judging from last year’s Worlds; aggressive decks (namely Boros and Affinity) were very popular and since the format hasn’t changed too much, we expected the same.

Affinity was the deck that did surprisingly well in the gauntlet, and would only lose to Gifts Rock and Boros with maindeck Kataki. After everything was said and done, Ben still did not know what to play for Worlds, Luis was pretty much set on Gifts Rock (from the beginning), and I made both Affinity and Gifts Rock. I figured that since I played both decks for some time, my deck choice would just depend on what I felt the metagame would be. If Psychatog is going to be big, then Affinity it is! If everybody’s going to play aggressive decks, Gifts Rock here I come! Here are the two decks that I had packed up and ready to use for Worlds:

Going it, I was pretty confident in my ability to play both decks so I planned to wait and see what everybody else was playing. I leaned towards Gifts Rock because I had fear of Kataki.

As for the Limited portion, well… we Americans live up to the “draft when bored of Constructed” stereotype, and we got bored pretty often! By drafting with both Luis and Tim, (two of the best drafters I know) I think our Limited preparation is definitely up to par. The format I wished we tested a little more was Team Rochester. Tim managed to get his friends Rodman, Joe Bags, and Cedric Phillips to come over and help with the Team Rochester. Considering this was the first Rochester draft for both Ben and myself, we were a little confused in terms of the strategic significance of hating certain cards and passing others. We quickly lost our first three drafts and started to lose confidence. That’s when we decided to come up with a game plan.

Ben preferred Black, so we decided it was better off that we just made him our Black player, preferably near mono-Black to abuse cards such as Tendrils of Corruption and Nightshade Assassin. We put Red in the middle, preferably matched with Blue, and Green/X for Luis. With this setup, we proceeded to win the next five drafts in a row, and we ended our stay with a huge boost of confidence.

At that point, I was pretty confident about both the Limited and Team Limited portions of Worlds. I was a little more concerned about both Standard and Extended, because it didn’t seem like we were able to come together and try to come up with more original decks. We also didn’t speak much with the other Americans for deck tech, and when we tried, we were promptly shot down and kept in the dark. Maybe that’s the problem with magic in the U.S. I think that a lot of the reason why the Japanese and European countries are doing well can be attributed to the fact that they all share their deck tech with each other so that they can all succeed. Here in the U.S., there seems to be a lot more clashing of egos and hiding of deck tech amongst ourselves. I feel that we could be doing so much better if we could put egos aside and test in larger groups and help each other get better. Anyway, enough of my ranting…

Overall, I think the stay at Vermillion University improved our chances in the Limited portions of the tournament, but I think we definitely could have tried a bit harder in coming up with good Constructed decks. The overall experience was really fun, and I may go back in the summer for Two-Headed Giant testing, and for Uncle Timmy to take us to the best theme park in all of Ohio!

So that’s the lowdown on our preparation for the big event… tune in next week for my report on the full proceedings.

Until next time,

Paul Cheon

P.S: If anybody is interested in teaming up and work on Constructed decks for future Pro Tours, I’d definitely be down for testing. E-mail me at [email protected] or message me on MTGO at Noehcnoen.