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Twenty-Nine Rounds Isn’t Enough

Tuesday, December 21st – Running in both Worlds and the Magic Online Championship Series was no cakewalk. Reid Duke competed in four different formats in three days. Read the highlights of his matches in this epic report.

This past weekend was unlike anything I’ve been through in my life. The World Championships was my second Pro Tour, but in Amsterdam, I played eight rounds and didn’t make Day 2. In Japan, I played eighteen rounds of the main event and another eleven in the Magic Online Championships. The twenty-nine rounds spanned three days, four formats, and every emotion I have in my repertoire. When I was getting near the end, I was exhausted but not completely burnt out. Round 26 went by, then round 27, and I knew that I didn’t want to stop after round 29. I had come to Japan for round 30, the finals of the Online Championship, and I was almost there.

But I might as well start from the beginning.

I won the
second season championship

of the 2010 MOCS season—Zendikar/Worldwake Sealed Deck—back in March. It was the first big tournament I had ever won, and to say that I was excited would be an understatement. For the next ten months, I couldn’t look past the MTG World Championship at all. I was completely focused on it, and nothing that might happen after it mattered to me. Maybe this explains why I got home to New York yesterday, unemployed and forced to live off of the $6 in my wallet until I get some MOCS money in six to eight weeks. At the time, however, I just couldn’t wait until they announced the formats of the two tournaments.

I was never worried about being fully prepared for Japan. I have my brother and plenty of friends nearby that I can always count on to help me out, plus there’s always Old Faithful (MTGO). However, things changed in September when my cousin Logan Nettles, or Jaberwocki as he’s known
within the family, won the
second-to-last season championship

in Standard. Now there was someone to practice with that I had complete faith in and who had equal enthusiasm about the tournament.

Logan and I did endless hours of testing over Magic Online and Magic Workstation; then two weeks before the tournament, I flew from New York to stay with him in Sacramento before we left for Japan. We did a thorough job testing both Standard and Extended, trying twelve distinct decks in Extended and twice that many in Standard. We didn’t find a deck in either format that we thought blew everything else out of the water. Based on the results from Worlds, I don’t think one exists. We decided to choose top decks that we liked and thought we could play well. In Extended, we picked White Weenie. In Standard, I picked R/U/G, and he picked Valakut. Both decks are great, and we thought it was fine to deviate based on personal preference.

Going into the tournament, I felt good about both of my decks, but I knew that I wouldn’t be catching anyone by surprise. The key to winning would be playing carefully for the whole tournament and not slipping up. Since it was such a long tournament, I won’t go through things play-by-play. I’ll give my final records and focus on some interesting matches.

Main Event Day One—Standard

I played an ordinary R/U/G list with two Frost Titans and two Avengers of Zendikar as finishers. Avenger of Zendikar is by far my favorite win condition. I’d play more than two if the mana curve allowed it. Frost Titan was my next choice because it’s the best Titan against ramp decks and can answer a creature that Lightning Bolt can’t. As I said above, I expected everyone to come with a deck that could compete with R/U/G and that I wouldn’t have any easy matchups. However, the only deck that I felt like a square underdog against was Valakut. The matchup is close; either deck can have killer draws and win quickly. However, I found Valakut edging out more of the nail-biter games and being overall a slight favorite in the matchup.

Sure enough, I started the day by losing to Valakut in a close three-game set. Next, I beat B/U Control and then faced Valakut again in round three. Here, I had one of the most exciting games of my life. It was game 3, and my opponent was going to be able to use Khalni Heart Expedition and untap with six lands. I Brainstormed with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and had access to two Mana Leaks and a Flashfreeze, but I could only keep two cards in my hand. I kept the two Leaks and put Flashfreeze on top. My opponent untapped and played Primeval Titan, which I Mana Leaked. Then he played Summoning Trap, and I Leaked again. Then he played Summoning Trap… and put Avenger of Zendikar into play. Then he played Summoning Trap… and put Overgrown Battlement into play. Then he didn’t play a land for his turn, and his Plants mercifully remained 0/1. I drew the Flashfreeze and bounced the Avenger with Jace. On his turn, he played a land and recast the Avenger, and I countered it. Thankfully he hadn’t saved a fourth Summoning Trap for the occasion and ended his turn. From there, I had some big turns with Jace, and he failed to draw big creatures for a few crucial turns, and I won the match 2-1.

I beat Boros in round four, finding myself in the familiar situation where Avenger of Zendikar quickly and easily wins a game that would have otherwise been hopeless. I beat B/U/G in round five. Despite the fact that he mulliganed both games and didn’t get much going, there was a lot that I liked about his deck and made a note to remember it after the tournament. I lost another close one to Valakut in round six and finished 4-2.

I was happy with the performance and happy with my deck… but not too happy with my deck. It’s a big problem to be an underdog against the most popular deck. Since the Standard portion of the MOCS wasn’t until the final day, I had plenty of time to lose sleep over the idea of playing something different.

MOCS Day One—Extended

There were sixteen state-of-the-art computers set up in one corner of the event hall. I went over after round six of the main event to see when things would get started. I expected to find an unmistakable posted sign with start times and all the other info I would need. When there wasn’t one, I introduced myself to Mike, the guy at the desk behind all of the computers, and asked when we were going to start. He looked at me, looked at his watch, and said, “how about twenty minutes?” Apparently it was up to me. The whole tournament was run very smoothly but also comically casually considering there was $100,000 at stake. We’d all be on edge waiting to start the tournament, and I would hear, “Okay, Brad finally showed up, but nuts! Now Akira’s in the bathroom, and Oliver went out for a smoke.”

For the first day, we were allowed to choose our own seats, so Logan and I took two computers in the far corner. Before the tournament started, Mike welcomed everybody and gave us MTG-themed headphones as a gift. We had to pick if we wanted to be Mirran or Phyrexian. Mirran was a no-brainer for me, but apparently Phyrexian was a no-brainer for Logan. It was symbolic that even after eleven weeks of practicing together, we were now opponents, and there could be no mercy for any of the other eleven MOCS players. After I got my headphones, the tournament started with little warning:

reiderrabbit vs. Jaberwocki

It was a huge bummer to face Logan in round one, and it was weird to play online against someone sitting next to you in real life. He told me “good luck man,” and I typed “gl” in the chat box. The White Weenie mirror is hugely in the favor of whoever plays first because the game ends as soon as someone has enough creatures to Brave the Elements for white and win. I won the roll and won game one according to that formula, then Logan returned the favor in game two. In game three, Logan pulled off the rare on-the-draw win after I mulliganed and kept a slow hand.

After that, I lost to W/U Baneslayer Control, and then I beat Pyromancer Ascension by means of the one creative card choice we made in the deck. From Paul Rietzl
Pro Tour Amsterdam winning decklist,

we swapped Ethersworn Canonists for War Priests of Thune to counter Pyromancer Ascension, Bitterblossom, Honor of the Pure, and Prismatic Omen, which we thought would be format-defining cards. I got to have my fun by killing a turn 2 Pyromancer Ascension in round three of the MOCS, but I overestimated how popular these cards would be and never got to kill anything in the main event. I’ll be sure to explain why Silvercoat Lion is a weak Constructed card when I get to that section.

In round four, Heaven smiled on me, and I got paired against Mono-Red and won it easily. 2-2 was not the greatest start for me, but I was happy for Logan who went 3-1, and going 4-2 against people outside the family gave me some (false) faith in the white weenies.

Main Event Day Two—Scar of Mirrodin Draft

I think I’ve built and played with over a hundred Scars of Mirrodin Sealed Decks. I’m an expert at that format and was greatly looking forward to Day 2 of the tournament. I’m not an expert at Draft, however, and shouldn’t have expected the knowledge to carry over like I did. In the morning draft, I was putting together a promising W/R deck with lots of good removal, including three Turn to Slags. Unfortunately I didn’t pick up any rares or reliable win conditions, so I figured that I could win my games with Goblin Gaveleer and Sunspear Shikari. I’d never drafted a Goblin Gaveleer deck before; if I had, I might have known that even a great Goblin Gaveleer deck is worth a 1-2 record.

The afternoon draft was a nightmare. After pack one, I didn’t have more than one playable card in any color, and the cards I had were by no means good. I ended up drafting a G/U deck and frantically prioritizing win conditions, so that I could at least take games if my opponents got bad draws. Yet again, one hundred tournaments of SOM Limited, and the first time I’d ever played G/U was at Worlds.

Even though I was unhappy with the draft, the games went my way. I went 2-1 and would’ve won the round I lost except that I made an obscure mistake which cost me a heartbreaking game. I had Liege of the Tangle and Volition Reins on my opponent’s Hoard-Smelter Dragon and a Tumble Magnet. After confirming that he had zero cards in his hand, one green mana open, and nine life, I felt safe to tap his blocker and attack for lethal. He sacrificed his Clone Shell to his Dross Hopper, put Sylvok Replica into play, destroyed Volition Reins, and took eight down to one. Then he attacked me with the Dragon and killed me. All I had to do to win the game was not use my Tumble Magnet and kill him with my awakened lands the following turn. My final record on the day was 3-3, so I was 7-5 overall.

MOCS Day Two—Master’s Edition IV Draft

I’ll be brief because there are only twelve people in the world who care about this format. I went 1-2 with a mono-red deck with lots of removal
and a black splash for Sedge Troll. In round one FFfreak (Brad Nelson) gave me
the finest beating of my career

with Serra Angel, Swords to Plowshares, and Armageddon both games. Note how he uses Swords to Plowshares on my creature that can’t block, either because he wanted to rub in the win or because he just didn’t care to read the card. I won round two against an Urza’s land mono-blue deck. In round three, I felt evenly matched against a R/W deck and thought it could go either way… then I got Fireballed for seven.

Main Event Day Three—Extended

I played the same White Weenie deck that I did in the MOCS. I beat Jund in round one, but that was my only win of the day. I lost twice to Vivid land control, twice to Knight of the Reliquary decks, and once to B/W Tokens.

White Weenie is a great deck, and I’ll keep it in mind for the PTQ season depending on how the metagame shapes up, but it was a bad choice for Worlds. In particular, the W/G Summoning Trap deck was much more popular than I expected, and I didn’t expect Wall of Omens to be a staple card in control decks.

After a 1-5 finish in Extended, I ended the main event 8-10 in 203rd place. After a promising start and a good chance to make the money, I couldn’t even pull off a .500 record. I was feeling horrible after round six ended, but I knew I had to shape up and stop feeling sorry for myself before playing Day 3 of the MOCS.

MOCS Day Three—Standard

Since the Standard portion of the main event, I had been agonizing over what I should play in the MOCS. I knew that I couldn’t afford to lose to Valakut even once, and that made me nervous about playing R/U/G again. However, I also didn’t want to switch to a deck that I hadn’t practiced with, so I stuck with the U/G framework of the deck and switched red for black so that I could improve my Valakut matchup.

I was in ninth place and right on track to finish in the bottom four (the minimum prize). However, almost anything could happen with four rounds to go. If I went 4-0 and FFfreak couldn’t pull off three wins, I would make the finals.

It didn’t take long for the black cards to prove their value. In three rounds, I played Valakut three times and won all three by Doom Blading Overgrown Battlements, Duressing ramp spells, Memoriciding Primeval Titans, and finishing fast with Grave Titans. FFfreak also lost rounds two and three, so if I could beat Jabs (Carlos Romao) with B/U Control and be the only 4-0, I would make the finals.

He beat me convincingly, though not quickly, in game one with an early Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Game two looked bad also, but some lucky topdecks combined with the fact that B/U doesn’t have a clean answer to Grave Titan let me come back to win it. During sideboarding, Ray, the coverage guy, walked up to me and asked if I knew that the winner of the match would make the finals. I had been fully aware, but the question certainly
didn’t do anything to help me relax. Here it was:
one single game

worth about $15,000.

By turn 2, my hand had plenty of lands, two Mana Leaks, a Lotus Cobra, and some four-drops. I decided not to play the Cobra because I thought at best he would just counter or kill it, and at worst he would kill it, and then play a Jace Beleren on his turn. On his fourth turn, he untapped with three lands and cast Inquisition of Kozilek. I could’ve Mana Leaked to prevent him from seeing my hand, but it was likely that he would take one of the Mana Leaks anyway, and if I didn’t counter it, I wouldn’t leave myself open to land + Jace Beleren. Instead, he took the Lotus Cobra, played a land, and passed. Since I had two counters and lots of lands, I was content to sit around and do nothing, hoping he would stop making land drops and be forced to make the first move.

The first significant move of the game came when Jabs cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor on turn 11. I Mana Leaked twice and then played Grave Titan on my turn. Jabs played his own, and fireworks followed. After a few wild turns, the dust settled, and I had two Grave Titans in my hand (one had been bounced by Jace) against his nothing. Nothing but lands that is. Highlighting a major weakness of my B/U/G deck, Jabs activated both of his Creeping Tar Pits and attacked me for six twice to win with under two minutes on his clock and took a game that would’ve otherwise been mine. What a disappointing way to go down.

Lessons

I wish I had practiced more against B/U Control. I think I had the right overall game plan in game three based on the cards I drew, but it wasn’t a game I was well set up to win. Much of my deck was devoted to fast mana, and once things get past the early turns in a neutral position, I was playing a diluted control deck against a dedicated control deck. I was facing a deck with instant-speed answers to Creeping Tar Pit with a deck that had nothing but two Acidic Slimes. I’ll play the deck again, but I want to figure out how to beat blue control first.

I ended up in a tie for fourth place but got fifth on tiebreakers. It was a little disappointing considering how close I was to a payday, but I’m proud to be fifth best out of that group on any given weekend. The Magic Online Championship was a fantastic experience, and I recommend that anyone who plays Magic Online make an effort to qualify. I’m already counting my qualifier points for 2011.