The Ultimate Showdown in Paris

Friday, February 18 – Congratulations to our 2010 Player of the Year, Brad Nelson! The final stand between Brad and Guillaume Matignon culminated in a historic finish in Paris – read about Brad’s journey to winning Player of the Year.

Last weekend was, of course, a very exciting and memorable one.

But before I go into what made last weekend so special for me – I want to talk for a bit about the current Standard format and what Pro Tour
Paris did to shake it up. All work and no fun.

The most surprising thing about this Pro Tour, for me at least, is that not a single Valakut deck made it to the Top 8. I knew that it was going to be
the most played deck and that everyone would be gunning for it, but I still thought that at least one or two copies would make it to the Top 8.

The reason for Valakut’s downfall was that the entire format revolved around it. Decks needed to have a clear answer to the G/R problem that was,
obviously, going to be present. This meant that every deck was going to come equipped with a different way to attack Valakut. While Valakut players can
comfortably figure out responses to known hate cards/strategies – players were simply attacking Valakut from too many different angles for it to
perform that well at the Pro Tour.

The newest way to attack Valakut came from the super secret tech that the test team I worked with discovered…

Okay, so we may not have thought of it alone, but I really did think we had something secret coming into the event. I am of course talking about

Quite a few groups played with Sword of Feast and Famine plus Stoneforge Mystic, so we didn’t really break it – but the story of how we
discovered Sword of Feast and Famine is one that I really enjoy. We were about to leave San Diego after a great week that included Conley Woods
stories, bad puns from Owen and LSV, quiet work from Wrapter, amazing one-liners from Web, infinite wisdom from Gabe Walls, and the largest gathering
of degenerates I have ever been part of.

Brian Kibler was going on about how he thought a Stoneforge Mystic package would be very good out of the sideboard against other control decks. I was
really interested in this and wanted to do something about this right away.

Once we landed, I grabbed Wrapter and found a nice secluded spot to see if Sword/Mystic was playable in the maindeck. We decided to test it against the
matchup that would seem to be the most difficult – Valakut. Game one I played Stoneforge Mystic on turn 2, fetched up a Sword of Feast and
Famine, and swung on turn 4. At this moment, we looked at each other, and we both knew we had a deck for the PT.

Sword of Feast and Famine is not good against Valakut on its own. The only way to get enough value with the equipment is to do one of two things. Have
countermagic to counter their threats. Sword puts enough pressure on them that they will have no choice but to run out their best cards as fast as

The second way is to be able to put enough pressure on them with the extra mana that they will die before they untap with a Titan. The second way is
typically much more difficult to pull off.

Valakut players were not prepared for this onslaught. They still had cards like Thrun, the Last Troll and Gaea’s Revenge that really didn’t do anything
against the protection from green Sword that was destroying them. Valakut players just didn’t know how proactive the new U/W decks would be.

The next problem plaguing Valakut was the control decks that took a very different path to victory…

The most interesting thing about these decks is that they have a combined total of three counterspells between their maindecks. This might look very
odd at first since the matchup against Valakut on paper looks terrible. Their edge against Valakut comes solely from the fact that Valakut players will
expect that they have counterspells and play accordingly. This is a very important tool to understand when going into tournaments.

These deckbuilders understood that they would need to dedicate a significant amount of cards to the maindeck to be able to have a good matchup against
Valakut. They decided to not worry about it instead of sacrificing the 4-10 slots that they would need to give up to make the matchup favorable. They
would instead get some wins off the back of their opponent’s playing around their nonexistent counterspells. All three decks have a significant
number of proactive cards that make it very hard to come back from thinking the matchup is slow-paced.

It is relatively easy to diagnose what deck your opponent is playing at a local FNM the week after a big event – but it’s surprisingly difficult
to figure out what your opponent’s deck contains at the Pro Tour.

I think these decks were very good choices at the Pro Tour but will need some serious overhaul if they want to compete now that their secrets are out.

The last problem Valakut had in this tournament was the decks that decided to just beat down. These decks rediscovered a card that really gave them a
chance at beating Valakut. That card is Mark of Mutiny.

I know this card has been around for a very long time, but it has never been better than it is now. Green Sun’s Zenith started a trend that left
Valakut unable to cast instant-speed Titans and kill on the following turn. Summoning Trap is less consistent – but gives the deck the ability to
play around Threaten-type effects. Mark of Mutiny was winning more games than ever at this Pro Tour because of this.

Aggressive decks are still not amazing against Valakut – but not needing to play around instant-speed Titans really helped the overall win
percentage of the aggressive decks.

This does not mean Valakut is a bad deck to play in the future. It still does the most powerful things in the format. The problem is that the decklist
cannot get stale. The margins that you get from outplaying an opponent with a stock list of Valakut is very slim – making it hard to win the
games the deck is not supposed to win on paper. This means that the lists have to stay fresh so opponents will never know exactly what the deck will

Valakut has gotten as many new tools as the rest of the decks got to battle against it. This means that keeping your list ahead of the field will be
very important in upcoming weeks.

Valakut did not impress me at the Pro Tour, but there were a couple of decks that did. Paul Rietzl knows how to beat down and is starting a good trend.
If Paul attacks with it, it is probably the best deck in the tournament.

I lost faith in this deck after Ranger of Eos rotated out. I don’t like how dependent the deck is on drawing a certain number of lands and spells every
game – since all of the aggressive spells are landfall. That said, the new toys the deck got are great metagame calls right now. Hero of Oxid
Ridge is exactly the perfect answer to Caw-Blade and, other than specific answers like Condemn, there aren’t that many good responses to it. The best
think that I can think of right now is Lightmine Field, and even though that isn’t great, it might need to get played.

Boros was tearing up the event. Multiple teams were playing it, and not many decks had the right answers for it. So many teams were concerned about the
other aggressive decks and sideboarded cards like Ratchet Bomb that are not good against Boros.

I haven’t attacked with a Steppe Lynx in a very long time – but the raw power this deck showed last weekend makes me want to dust them off and
get them in the red zone. It seems like a very good choice if people run the exact 75 that Team Caw-Blade played.

I don’t really get how Paul Rietzl did what he did. He always talks himself down and pretends to not be good at this game, but that guy is insane. I
mean the man took 24th in a Grand Prix that he had to concede two matches in because he was too busy taking second in the Pro Tour. Is this for real? I
know I’m still one of the new kids on the block, but how much more does it take to prove he is Hall of Fame worthy? I only need three more Pro Points
to start voting, and I already have one name ready to be checked off.

The next deck that impressed me was the deck we played: “The Caw Blade.” This was the first Pro Tour that the deck I played also won the
tournament. It feels really good cheering on a teammate in the finals playing the deck you worked so hard on. It also couldn’t have been a better guy
than Ben Stark.

Caw-Blade is the straightforward version of Caw-Go. So many people told me how much they didn’t like Caw-Go and how they couldn’t win with it. The
reason was always that they were not aggressive enough and tried controlling the game for way too many turns. Caw-Blade corrected that and made the
deck as aggressive as it should have been played in the beginning.

I know that a lot of people, including Brian Kibler, are going to talk
about this deck over the coming days/weeks, so I will just talk about what I think has to change.

I don’t think the deck needs as many counterspells in the maindeck as it currently has. I think this deck will pick up popularity, and the mirror will
become a big part of the metagame. Spell Pierce is very good in the mirror, but cards like Stoic Rebuttal are just too slow and clunky. Counters
aren’t that great against the aggro decks either…

Players will be targeting the Swords now, so it’s important to have backups. I think two Swords of Feast and Famine and one Sword of Body and Mind are
the numbers you want after sideboarding. Killing Swords is also important. Kor Sanctifier seems like a great way to equip and kill Swords. Tumble
Magnet might also fill this role.

Do not go overboard on ways to tech out the mirror match. Caw-Blade is still a good control deck that can just play planeswalkers until the game is

So that’s enough Standard talk. The next thing I want to go over is where my tournament went wrong. I was 6-2 going into the second draft when I opened
a very tough pack. My pick was mostly between Phyrexian Rebirth and Flesh-Eater Imp. Two weeks ago, I would say anyone was crazy to not take the Wrath
effect. The oldest rule in the book is to take Wrath effects over everything.

I think this pick is much closer than it looks. Flesh-Eater Imp is one of the strongest infect creatures, so my pick will influence the person on my
left no mater what I take. This pick will certainly dictate what the next guy will take. So what is important is what you want to be drafting.

I don’t want to go all-in on infect at a Pro Tour unless there is a very good reason. My only reason here is white is the last color I want to be in
right now. I don’t know how to draft a good white deck, and I don’t even know if there is one. It had the worst record in our test drafts, and no one
found a great way to win with it. This means I will have a very powerful card in a bad color. I might win some games when I draw it – but I will
be able to play around it if I play against the guy who I passed it to.

I also don’t know how much I like Phyrexian Rebirth. It costs a ton of mana, and it rarely nets more than a 3/3 creature. This format is based so much
on attrition that it is often difficult to blow an opponent out with a card like this.

You’ve probably already inferred from the way I’ve been talking that I took Phyrexian Rebirth and could have had a sick infect deck.

Well, that is exactly what happened, and I knew it was happening from pick one. Six months ago, I would have figured it out – but for some
reason, I do not have the same discipline I once had and decided to take the rare over the stronger card. Who can pass a Wrath?

This cost me a good record going into Standard, and I couldn’t even make Top 8 with five rounds left to go. It was very sad, since I worked so hard for
the event. It also stung that almost everyone else on the team was in Top 8 contention.

So I wound up taking 95th place and had a very big match to prepare for…


The last couple of months have been so amazing. The Facebook pages and stickers made this friendly rivalry very fun. I was joking around with Guillaume
Matignon at the Pro Tour, and it seemed like every hour we were being interviewed. It was all fun and games until the sixteenth round of the PT was

I started thinking about it and realized that the match was only twelve hours away. After that, it would all be over.

History will be made and not in the making as it has been for a while. It really sunk in that the trophy that I had all but locked up before Worlds
could go into another man’s hands.

The thing was that no matter how long I thought about it, I couldn’t get past the thought that I couldn’t win a title this weekend. The only
thing I could do is lose one. It was already mine, but Matignon was there to steal that from me. Of course, this is not rational because the title was
just as much his as it was mine – but I just couldn’t get past that train of thought.

One particularly cool thing about the playoff was that we got to build our Sealed decks for the Grand Prix the night before since we would be in our
playoff match during deck construction. It was cool until I opened six packs of poop and couldn’t pass it to some sorry soul. I was stuck with it, and
it was close to unplayable. Once I got through that, I still had twelve packs to open for the Showdown.

I got my pool for the Showdown, and it was sick! I was able to put together an excellent infect control deck (which was exactly what I had wanted to
do). Constant streams of Corpse Curs and removal spells are probably the best things in Super Sealed. I was so happy. I went to sleep early – I
wanted to get a good night’s sleep, so I would be ready to take the Player of the Year title back to the USA in the morning.

The next morning, I woke up so congested I could barely breathe. “This is not how I am going down,” I screamed in the bathroom as every
hole in my head had a constant stream of …stuff coming out of it. I was so scared I would be too sick to play next-level Magic.

I got to the site and found myself perking up, but I still wasn’t 100%. I would be fine to battle though…

I won’t go into detail about the matches since they were covered on Daily MTG. The only thing I
want to say about the games is that Guillaume had me pretty scared after game one. I didn’t get much practice against his deck and seeing how easily he
could beat me scared the hell out of me.

So I won the match but still don’t really know what that means. I know I am Player of the Year – but I still feel like we’re tied in some way. I
guess I get my name on the list, but Guillaume Matignon will always be Co-POY in my mind.

I do want to thank everyone for all of your support during this match and throughout the last year. It’s been a wild ride – but the only
reason it was so much fun (and yet so scary) was because of you guys.

The last thing I want to talk about this week is the newest Pro Tour Champ. I met Ben Stark back at Pro Tour Austin when he was just starting up again.
I did a draft against him, Luis, and Gabe Walls. It was the first time I met Gabe and Ben and found out how cutthroat these two guys are in team
drafts. Even though I 3-0ed them, my team still lost. I was sad to lose the draft, but it was more than worth it since it was the start of some of the
best friendships I have.

Ben took no time to get back into fighting shape, and his streak of finishes in the last couple months make my last year look like a joke. Seriously. I
am so happy for Ben and cannot wait to pass him the Player of the Year trophy at the end of the year.

Well, my plane is about to land, so I guess that is all the time I have for this week.

Next stop, Denver!

Brad Nelson