I finally got back from GP: DC/PT: San Juan and not a moment too soon. The trip was fun and had its ups and downs like any good adventure. Before getting started with everything that went down in the tropical island paradise that is Puerto Rico, the details leading up to the trip should be revealed in order to provide a better understanding of what I had been expecting from it.
A few months ago, sometime after PT: San Diego, a desire sparked in someone’s mind. It’s not important whose, but needless to say the idea was quite interesting when brought out into the open: “We should organize a beach house for the next PT.” Like most ideas running rampant around in a person’s head, this one seemed awesome; a beach house yards away from the pure sands and crystal waters of San Juan, jewel city of Puerto Rico.
The idea behind a beach house was to assemble a think tank in order to break the metagame using our cunning wit, expertise, and knowledge of the game “¦ or something like that. Messages were sent over the intarwebs and soon we had TRONed up with two of the other level eight mages: PV and Martin Juza. We expanded the list and ended up with the respectable group of nearly a dozen adventurers including: LSV, Josh Utter-Leyton (Wrapter), PV, Ben Stark (BenS), Gabe Walls (GWalls), Brad Nelson (FFfreak), Tom Ross (The Boss), Martin Juza, Lukas Blohon, Matej Zatlkaj (Big Z), and Myself (Web, the right hand man, the go-to guy, the Swiss army knife, the Plataforma Champion, the most useful member of the Cheontourage, the Ocho).
After the group was assembled, we began to look into the various details of our trip. Finding a domicile adequate for our needs was the biggest challenge. We needed to find room for eleven people with a centralized location suitable for hardcore gaming and what not. I didn’t put much effort into locating places to stay, although I should have because I focus on the details that often get overlooked. Being borderline obsessive-compulsive has its upsides at times. We found a few places, looked them over, and after little discussion, settled on place that was near the beach. I mean, it’s called a “beach house” for a reason. If we weren’t walking on sand as soon as we stepped out of our back door, then we weren’t interested.
Once we had squared up with the plans for the beach house, we began to look at the formats for the PT: Zendikar Block Constructed and Rise of the Eldrazi (RoE) draft. I figured that drafting wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out given the amount of time that the set was going to be out before the PT as well as the local group of above average people that we would be able to test with; enter LSV, Wrapter, Philip Yam, Tom Raney, The Ben Seck (TBS), Grand Prix Oakland Champion Matt Nass, and myself. We got together weekly and drafted the days away, quickly finding out that the format was infinitely more complex than we (or at least I) had initially evaluated it to be. Instead of strolling down a well-marked path on safari, we had been thrust unprepared into the middle of the jungle. The live drafting continued for a while until RoE came out on Magic Online, at which point we began to focus more heavily on constructed. It had been a while since draft queues had been available to practice for a PT format; the last opportunity I remember had been with Champions block (CBS) for PT London. Once the online queues had started, I was running at least four drafts a day when I could manage.
Once the focus of live testing turned away from drafting and towards Block Constructed, we were faced with an even more difficult barrier to overcome. Luckily there had been a reasonable amount of data to mine from Magic Online. We knew that the most powerful card in the format was Jace, the Mind Sculptor and started to look at decks that included the powerful Planeswalker. The most recent Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS) had been Zendikar/Worldwake constructed where Michael Jacob (MJ) had actually broken it wide open with his R/U/G (RUG) deck that abused Oracle of Mul Daya and Jace.
We began to experiment with various Jace/Oracle shells, Summoning Trap decks, Koros, mono-Red, and Blue/White control. We didn’t feel that Vampires was good enough and ignored it. The Trap decks proved to be difficult to construct properly. We looked into various brews with Hellcarver Demon, eight wall versions with Overgrown Battlement and Wall of Omens, and mono-Green, but couldn’t quite come to a pile of sixty cards that satisfied us. The Jace/Oracle shells were also quite numerous including Black with Vendetta, Smother, and Ob Nixilis; Red with Flame Slash, Burst Lightning, Comet Storm, and Goblin Ruinblaster; and White with Wall of Omens, Gideon Jura, and Journey to Nowhere. Despite our continuous efforts, the metagame was still proving difficult to pinpoint.
There was still a lot of work that needed to be done regarding the PT, but that didn’t stop the event schedule from dumping Grand Prix: Washington DC onto our plate as well. I wasn’t able to dedicate any time preparing for the GP because it was a different format than the PT and less important in terms of money/pro points. Many of the group also felt this way. I brought cards for almost every Block deck with me as well as seventy-five sleeved cards for the GP. I decided to default to Wrapter’s Jund list because it seemed sweet and not difficult to play. I hadn’t played a game of Standard since PT San Diego and needed something that I was comfortable with.
I’m not going to go into detail about the Grand Prix with the exception that I went 8-1 on day one (including three byes) but got railed on day two, going 4-4, and finishing exactly 64th. It’s difficult to do well in large tournaments because you constantly need things to go your way. I’d keep two lands and Borderland Ranger on the play and never hit my third land drop; situations like that happened a lot and my success suffered as a result. One consolation about the GP was that it wasn’t anywhere near Washington DC so I didn’t feel bad about not getting to go sightseeing (DC was about an hour’s drive away).
The flight to San Juan wasn’t too long from DC (only four hours). I had anticipated getting to soak up rays of Caribbean sunshine while sipping on a mojito and drafting at the same time. These thoughts had been swirling in my mind for weeks, and now the time had come to fulfill them. However, when I got to the island I found out that the forecast called for thunderstorms all week. The future seemed bleak, uncertain, and about as comforting as the 85% humidity. The air was so thick that it felt like I was walking in water.
We had arranged to meet at the Budget rental car area so we could get our sweet rides and get to the house. Gabe had been in charge of getting the cars so I was expecting nothing short of a Maserati. As I walked around lost in the public transportation area, I suddenly saw the rest of our group and the shuttle for Budget converge on me like a missile homing in onto its target. Yes, all nine of us walked to the same spot at once (BenS and Big Z were coming in later). I forgot who had said it, but it was something along the lines of, “Wow, that was too easy. This trip can’t possibly go well from here.” And so the jinx began. We got the cars from Budget, but the process took almost an hour because renting a car in Puerto Rico apparently required six forms of identification along with a formal letter from a local dignitary.
The beach house was close to the airport which was good. The people with whom we were renting the place from had even been courteous enough to give us driving directions; at least that’s what they called them. The “directions” included phrases such as “go along the road past the Seven Seas Chinese restaurant angling right, but not past the church on the left”. There were street names sometimes, but it was difficult to see the signs from the road. There was also the problem of dealing with the local drivers which led me to believe that there were no laws except for pure unbridled Darwinism. The streets were narrow and flooded at times, but after a few wrong turns we made it safely to our beach house.
While driving to the beach house, it was hard not to notice the impoverished state of the area; perhaps it was just the part of town that we were in. There were iron bars on many of the windows, barbed wire on many of the fences, graffiti on many of the walls, and so on. The streets were very dirty, much like the dogs that were frequently seen roaming around whose ribs you could clearly count from a hundred yards out; another parallel that the streets shared was that they were also very thin and had very little space to maneuver around. Much of the time cars were forced to pull over to the side to allow cars coming from the opposite direction to pass by. It was easy to tell that the city was old and not built to handle the modern times. I remember wishing that our destination wouldn’t share the negative traits of our route through the city to it.
The house looked nice enough as we drove up; it was two stories made up of several living areas and had a motorized fence that was about seven feet tall. We had seen the beach a mere few blocks away, a mango tree inside, and were anticipating an enjoyable stay. However, reality soon hit as hard as the green mangos that dropped from the trees above onto our cars as we drove up. The photos of the house had looked spacious while the actual houses were small and makeshift; it was as if they had been built for one-two people to live in each but had been modified to accommodate three-four by merely adding extra beds. I used the term “beds” here loosely because some were just tables with thin cushions on them. I’m sure many other people felt uncomfortable with our room situation like I did. Organizing to stay at a different place would have been impossible for reasons I won’t go into, so we all individually decided to soldier up and get unpacked.
Another interesting factoid about the house was that there wasn’t any wireless internet, yet. Apparently Best Buy technicians had been scheduled to come out to install it on the following “day”, a task which would have been nigh impossible at any point before we got there. There was one wired internet outlet in the four rooms, conveniently in the one that we hadn’t rented , yet. Oh wait, that wasn’t convenient at all. We rented the fourth room for a few days and settled in. Brad and Luis were banished to one room because they snore, at least it’s rumored that they do. I had never heard a peep out of them before because the noise of chainsaws running ceaselessly in the night had always drowned out whatever sounds they had made. I ended up in the extra room with Wrapter and Gabe which ended up being terrible, not because of the company, but because the room turned into the central gathering area for the time.
A few people know how tidy I am, but the majority of people have no clue. I like living in a clean environment where trash is put in the trash can and dishes are cleaned immediately once they’re done being used with; perhaps this all ties in with being obsessive/compulsive. Perhaps. In any case, most people aren’t as, shall we say, dedicated to cleanliness as I am. Waking up to a living room/dining room/kitchen full of garbage every morning wasn’t the tropical “Good Morning” that I had been looking forward to.
The beach house came furnished with some amenities, but was still missing a few essentials, namely hot water. The group decided to split up and buy what wasn’t there such as food, a table to game on, and other assorted trinkets. So off we went. Luis, PV, Wrapter, and I went searching for a Wal-Mart after eating lunch. Unfortunately the directions that the waitress gave us weren’t accurate and we got lost. Perhaps it was simply that we didn’t drive far enough in the right direction, but that didn’t seem like the case. The only thing that I knew was that there was a lot of traffic and it was raining which didn’t help the situation. We finally decided to stop at a Walgreen’s and then a supermarket across the street, after which we headed back.
When we got back to the house, we found that there was a table on the patio at the far end of the property which we had overlooked. After a bit of juggling, we had moved the table and some chairs to the suite on the second story. We had our gaming area set up and could start testing. With all the driving around that we had done in addition to the time spent at lunch, we found that the day had washed away with little productivity. It was the evening, and we’d yet to get started playing constructed.
Eventually the testing got off the ground and allowed us to pool our thoughts on what to play. Much of the theories/decks were similar to what we tested prior to leaving for GP DC so I won’t go into that again. After a long session of battling I was tired and headed off to bed while the rest of the group stayed up to draft.
Tuesday was a lazy day. We had all set on going to the beach but had problems getting the trip off the ground because of a few factors. The main problem was that we were gamers, and thus lazy by nature. I was wide awake at 6:30 AM and ready to get started on the day, but no one else was. I guess not everyone has an internal clock that would make a Swiss watch jealous. Such is life. No one was awake for a long while, which gave me time to haumph some breakfast. Eventually BenS came into the apartment and asked me if I wanted to go to the beach, but I said I was going to wait for everyone else. He headed off on his own while I waited. In hindsight I should have abandoned the rest of the group because I didn’t do anything for a few hours except watch re-runs of Top Chef.
Around noon, when everyone else had woken up “early”, we headed out for lunch and went to the beach afterwards. The clouds had set in by then, and by the time we got to the sandy shores of San Juan, it was overcast and windy. We didn’t let the unpleasant weather didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves. We had stopped at the Walgreen’s to pick up some beach balls to fool around with. Everyone else played some games in the water for about an hour before it started raining, at which point we decided that it would be best to leave. We spent the rest of the day cooped up in the house playing constructed.
On Wednesday, Megan Holland had planned (obv!) a trip to the rainforest. I had been interested in going when I had heard about it during the weekend before in DC, but had changed my mind because our testing hadn’t been as productive as I had hoped. While we were getting in a good number of games, not much headway was being made. I’d seen pictures of rainforests before, and that was enough for me at the time. Some of the group went on the expedition and came back a few hours later after having what seemed like a good time. Much of the time that we spent testing was us suggesting deck X or cards for it and having Brad reply back that he’d already tested them and that they were bad. I’m not knocking on him, but it was difficult for some people to accept that as an answer.
Thursday was our last day to test because the site would open and team drafts would start rolling. I had been excited about the player’s dinner because I hadn’t had any authentic Puerto Rican food yet. We’d eaten at various other places like KFC, MacDonald’s, and this sweet Italian place. We burdled around in the morning for a while and eventually headed to the Sheraton to draft until the site opened.
The site was supposedly five minutes away from our place, but that was if you possessed a working knowledge of street navigation through the urban jungle. All the signs were in Spanish and had names twenty syllables long which made it difficult to relay directions effectively. Needless to say we got lost “¦ multiple times. The local drivers (aka maniacs) also didn’t make it easy on us. When we finally got to the Sheraton about thirty minutes later, we found a draft and went into gaming mode. By the time that we had finished up our draft, it was time to go to the player’s dinner.
The player’s dinner was actually awesome (once the food got served). Apparently the place had been rushed by a crowd as soon as it opened and they had devoured all of the food; there was none left by the time we had gotten there which meant that we’d have to wait an hour before it was ready again. There was braised pork, roasted beef in mint, baked plantains, and other assorted local fare like beans, salads, and spiced rice along with coffee and deserts. I ate a bit more than my share to say the least!
After dinner I was surprised that we were actually going to go back to the house and test more. I would have bet that we would have played in more team drafts, but that wasn’t the case this time. We were leaning towards the RUG deck and still had a lot of tuning to do. After talking with Gabriel Nassif (Hat) and GWalls for a while, we had decided that it would be better to slant our deck towards beating a more control-orientated metagame. While Koros and mono-Red had been hot decks recently, it didn’t look like they’d be very popular.
When we got back to the house, we began fooling around with the RUG deck in earnest. The slots had changed a lot over the course of the week, with setups where there had been eight Flame Slash/Burst Lightning, Spreading Seas, Growth Spasm, Overgrown Battlement, Sea Gate Oracle, Deprive, and so on. We had asked Brad and MJ earlier about playing Goblin Ruinblaster and Lotus Cobra maindeck, and while they had said that they didn’t like the idea, we decided to revisit it. After a bit of testing against Blue/White, Green/White Eldrazi ramp, and Koros/mono-Red, we were sold on the idea of playing with Cobras/Ruinblasters main. Moving Lotus Cobra and Goblin Ruinblaster into the maindeck also freed up a lot of space in the sideboard that we were able to dedicate to improving whatever aggro matchups we expected.
RUG (aka The Best Jace Deck):
The deck was meant to abuse Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Oracle of Mul Daya to overwhelm the opponent with superior mana development and card advantage. The four Explore and Lotus Cobra would help ensure that you were the one getting value out of Jace in the mirror before winning with one of the finisher cards like Avenger of Zendikar, Raging Ravine, and Comet Storm. Against the control decks, the RUG deck would often out-mana them and be able to cast threats and defend them at an earlier stage in the game.
The sideboard addressed the problematic aggro matchups by overloading on spot removal to buy time to resolve an Avenger of Zendikar. In testing against aggro decks such as Koros and mono-Red, we found that an Avenger translated to winning almost all of the time; the earlier that it was played the better. The Vapor Snares were there to deal with stuff like Ob Nixilis which we heard about other people playing in a deck with a similar Jace shell. The Mold Shambler was there as a catch-all against “stuff” like Gideon Jura/Eldrazi Monument and was fighting with other cards like Into the Roil. In the end we decided on the Shambler because it was more versatile (although much more inefficient in terms of mana).
Round 1: Craig Hodgson [CAN], GW Ramp
Game one I mulliganed to five on the play but had the stoneblade and led off with turn two Cobra into turn three Jace. Evil wasn’t doing anything except playing multiple Stirring Wildwoods and Graypelt Refuges. After I played back-to-back Goblin Ruinblasters, he packed them up and we were off to the next game.
This game was much slower and involved an early Jace on my side against his board of Overgrown Battlement, Everflowing Chalice, and Stirring Wildwood. I thought his hand contained an Eldrazi and my resulting play was to disrupt his mana instead of tapping out to play a non-lethal Avenger. I had no other play eventually and had to give him a turn to play the Eldrazi if he had it, though my Avenger was more likely to be lethal. As it turned out, he had nothing and I could have killed him several turns earlier.
Round 2: Jun’ichirou Bandou [JPN], MUC/r
I’d never seen this deck before, but I assumed that it had some number of Spell Pierce, Deprive, Cancel, Mysteries of the Deep, Jace, Into the Roil, Staggershock, Flame Slash, Burst Lightning, Coralhelm Commander, Calcite Snapper, and Lighthouse Chronologist.
Game one was a long affair with me sculpting my hand (not via Jace) while he sat there playing Draw/Go. I’d play a Cobra or Oracle and he’d kill it. Eventually I baited him to tap down for Jace and counter mine which let me resolve an Avenger before I played a fetchland.
Game two I don’t remember anything except that I lost.
Game three I had a bunch of G/R lands, an Evolving Wilds, and a Misty Rainforest for lands in addition to Jace, Deprive, and something else. I opted to play two R/G lands first and then the Evolving Wilds because I wouldn’t have been able to play Jace on turn four if I Deprived on turn three. Evil played a Jace and then I played mine to kill his, but he had a second one and I couldn’t deal with it in time to save myself from being buried under a pile of card advantage.
Round 3: Lluis Restoy [ESP], U/W Control
Game one (Evil mulliganed once) I played Jace on turn three via Explore. I could have played a Cobra, but I didn’t want my plans of turn three Jace foiled by a Journey to Nowhere. Evil missed on land drops and I successfully resolved Jace. On his next turn he bounced it with Into the Roil and had the Spell Pierce ready when I recast it. Then I summoned an Oracle, kicked a Sphinx of Lost Truths and buried him in card/land advantage.
Game two (I mulliganed once) was much more of an interactive game because my hand wasn’t that great. He got some defense down early via Wall of Omens which held off my Ruinblaster. My Cobra got Journeyed and then my Oracle got killed also by Day of Judgment. I played a second Oracle while he played a Jace and Gideon, though I was able to kill the Gideon after double-activation my Raging Ravine to make it a 6/6. He couldn’t find anything to deal with the Ravine and it killed him.
Round 4: Jan Doise [BEL], Koros
He led off with Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede but I was able to kill both of them with Flame Slash/Burst Lightning before they damaged me. I went to summon a Cobra on turn four and play a Misty Rainforest, but Evil had the Burst Lightning in response to me cracking the fetchland which prevented me from playing one of the two Jaces in my hand. I had to be content with a Goblin Ruinblaster instead. Another Geopede came down on his side while I drew a Sphinx that I couldn’t cast. I died a few turns later after not playing any spells.
Game two I took ten from a Kor Duelist with Adventuring Gear before I could deal with it (yea, that one hurt just a bit). I gained control with Jace, Cunning Sparkmage, and other assorted removal. The Sparkmage neutered his other Geopede. I also killed off a Lodestone Golem. While blowing up Evil’s creatures was nice, Jace had been failing me as I had only drawn into fetchlands, other lands, and more Jaces. The game got to the point where I was at six life facing two Kor Skyfishers and Adventuring Gear while knowing that he had a land in hand. I brainstormed hoping for some answer, but only found another fetchland. Left with no other options, I had to play a Jace to kill the one I had in play and then play another one to bounce one of his Skyfishers. Unfortunately he had a second Gear in hand to kill me on his turn.
Round 5: Paul Heynen [NLD], Esper Control
I played this game rather poorly (it was actually disgusting). He summoned a Wall of Omens while I had Explore. I ran out Jace because he would only be able to stop it with Spell Pierce which he ended up not having. However, I didn’t notice the Creeping Tar Pit that he had in play which killed Jace on his turn (like I said, disgusting). I had a Cobra and an Oracle to get ahead even more, which allowed me to safely resolve a second Jace. Evil played Consuming Vapors which ate my Cobra and I tried to save my Oracle by playing a Ruinblaster, but Evil had Smother ready for the Ruinblaster while the rebounded Vapors was on the stack. Despite his best efforts to stay alive, Evil wasn’t able to deal with the Avenger that I played on my next turn.
Before the tournament had started I had told GWalls that I was ready to go 2-2-1 in Constructed like “normal”, though I wasn’t actually being serious; starting off 3-2 wasn’t exactly ideal in my mind. With the Constructed rounds behind me, I was eager to get to the drafting because I’ve generally enjoyed it more.
Draft #1, Pod 21:
Igor Skrypov [UKR]
Rob Wagner [ENG]
Michal Gorski [POL]
Alessandro Portaro [ITA]
David Ochoa [USA]
Julien Hammann [FRA]
Arjan van Leeuwen [NLD]
Tomoharu Saitou [JPN]
The draft started out well enough. I opened Staggershock and Joraga Treespeaker. I knew a few people who would have slammed the Treespeaker, but I’m not on that bandwagon yet. After taking the Staggershock, I got passed a Narcolepsy followed by a ton of Blue. By the end of the pack, I had gotten three Skywatcher Adepts and a Champion’s Drake after having to pass two Venerated Teachers that didn’t come back (yes, I could complain more). I also had a Battle-Rattle Shaman.
Pack two gave me more removal. I opened Enclave Cryptologist which I took over a Venerated Teacher. The pick was actually closer than I thought initially. However, I preferred the Cryptologist because it would help win the games of attrition that didn’t go according to plan. I was also able to pick up a Hada Spy Patrol, Halimar Wavewatch, two Heat Rays, and two more Battle-Rattle Shamans.
Pack three was okay. I opened a Flame Slash and got passed a Venerated Teacher which I was more than happy to take. Two more Halimar Wavewatches followed in addition to two Regresses. By the end of the draft, I was sitting on a nice Red/Blue deck that wouldn’t have much trouble going 3-0.
Round 6: Michal Gorski [POL], BLACK/RED
Evil won the roll and immediately chose to play first, a move that I was more than happy about despite my deck’s ability to close a game quickly. I’ve felt that the format is slow enough to draw first a lot of the time. As it turned out, the extra card would be good against this Black/Red removal deck. I summoned a Skywatcher Adept followed by Halimar Wavewatch against Evil’s Zulaport Enforcer.
The Adept got killed with Last Kiss when I went to level it up and the Zulaport Enforcer hit me twice before I was able to Level up the Wavewatch because I had summoned a Frostwind Invoker on turn five. Battle-Rattle Shaman let the Invoker hit much harder ad I dug in with my 0/6 Wavewatch. However, Evil was able to slow down my beats with a Forked Bolt to kill my Shaman. Conquering Manticore made the game a bit closer because I took some damage from my Invoker while creating a sizable road block. However, I drew a Narcolepsy to clear a path and win.
Game two (he mulliganed once) was not nearly as close. It involved another early Skywatcher Adept which got in five damage before it was killed with Last Kiss. Evil had a Tuktuk the Returned but my Wavewatch was preventing it from attacking; he also had a Rapacious One. I summoned another 2/2 Skywatcher Adept after Evil summoned an Escaped Null; the airborne beatings continued for a while. Evil set up Conquering Manticore to steal my Wavewatch, but I had Regress ready for the Rapacious One that threatened to hit me followed by Heat Ray to kill the Manticore. Tuktuk died but I had Surreal Memoir to get my removal back which let me kill the Null, Regress the token, and win eventually.
Round 7: Rob Wagner [ENG], Black/Blue
Evil won the roll and played first. I had wondered what he had kept because he led off with Jwari Scuttler on turn three; perhaps he just didn’t know what was going on. In any case, I played an Adept and a Wavewatch; the Adept began beating and the Wavewatch held him off for a while. I summoned an Invoker and a Battle-Rattle Shaman versus his Cadaver Imp that returned nothing. A few turns later he packed them up without offering more information about his deck.
This game was much closer than the first. I thought I was doing well with a Skywatcher Adept, a Champion’s Drake, and two Halimar Wavewatch. However the game went south as I traded one Wavewatch for Arrogant Bloodlord which he re-bought with Cadaver Imp; that trade wasn’t bad. What followed was him summoning two Bala Ged Scorpions to kill my Champion’s Drake and my other Wavewatch that I had leveled twice, along with him also playing a Consuming Vapors to clear most of my board. I went from fourteen to nine and then to two life after he attacked with everything including his Cadaver Imp. I played to my outs and drew one of them (Staggershock) to kill him exactly. Had he not attacked with the Cadaver Imp (which seemed like a blatantly obvious play), then I wouldn’t have been able to win that game.
Round 8: Arjan van Leeuwen [NLD], Green/White
Evil won the roll and played first, though I was the first to act with turn one Adept followed by Hada Spy Patrol. He summoned a Mul Daya Channelers on turn three and revealed a land which let me kill it with Heat Ray on my turn. Then the fatties started arriving on Evil’s side; he summoned a Kozilek’s Predator. I made my Adept into a 2/2 and continued the beats despite beginning to fall behind when he added a Wildheart Invoker to the board. I had a tough decision to make involving the next few turns because I had creatures that I wanted to Level up along with Heat Ray and Surreal Memoir. I didn’t think I could race effectively at that point and went into removal mode, killing his Invoker. The Spy Patrol chumped one turn as Evil added a Dawnglare Invoker and Aura Gnarlid to his board. I got back the Heat Ray with Surreal Memoir and killed the Dawnglare Invoker followed by the Kozilek’s Predator. After that I was able to win handily in the air.
Game two was similar to game one except that his Mul Daya Channelers was always a 5/5. He played an Aura Gnarlid again along with a Daggerback Basilisk and Snake Umbra to get far ahead. I wasn’t able to race and had to start blocking far too early.
Game three was a beating. I had a Skywatcher Adept on turn one again along with a Halimar Wavewatch. I leveled the Adept on turn three but soon found myself starring at a Sporecap Spider. I was able to get around the Spider with a Battle-Rattle Shaman that pumped the Wavewatch followed by a second Battle-Rattle Shaman that made the Adept a 6/2. Evil took a hit from the Adept once before chumping so he could safely summon a Deathless Angel. The Angel would have been a problem except for the Hada Spy Patrol that I hada in hand. The situation looked grim for Evil, but he had Oust to buy him more time. However, he wasn’t able to attack well which made it easy to win with the Spy Patrol in two attacks when I summoned it again.
Finishing the day at 6-2 was satisfying considering how I had performed in Constructed. Even though the day was over for most people, I still had the Magic Online Superdraft to play in; it was the tournament for people who had won Online PTQs. I ended up drafting a nice Black/Green ramp deck with Drana, Pelakka Wurm, and Joraga Treespeaker. I thrashed my opponent in round one by playing turn one Treespeaker; turn two Level up and summon Overgrown Battlement; turn three Drana; turn four Growth Spasm and kill your guy; turn five kill two more guys. By the way, he was Green/White so he couldn’t do much about that. Game two I accelerated into turn five Pelakka Wurm, turn six Ulamog’s Crusher which was “good enough”. I got crushed in the next round because my draws were awkward against a decent Blue/Black leveler deck with a moderate amount of removal. After finishing the Superdraft, we headed back to the house.
Draft #2, Pod 7:
Zohar Bhagat [USA]
Thomas Shackett [USA]
Gaudenis Vidugiris [USA]
Radoslaw Gromko [POL]
David Ochoa [USA]
Bram Snepvangers [NLD]
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa [BRA]
Brendan O’Donnell [USA]
This draft didn’t start well for me. I opened Transcendent Master and Domestication. Transcendent Master has always felt like a trap to me because White is harder to pair with other colors than Blue. If I took the Master, then I’d want to end up drafting Blue also because was the strongest color to pair it with. However, by passing Domestication I was sending a bad signal and would hurt me in pack two.
Domestication is a good card, but I don’t feel that it’s better than Transcendent Master because it won’t win as many games by itself.
To continue, I took the Transcendent Master and got passed a pack with Narcolepsy and Kozilek’s Predator. While I was fine with drafting Green, I felt that Narcolepsy was a better choice because it was more powerful and possibly a signal that Blue was open. Going heavy Blue in pack one/three and White in pack two was an option. Pick three was a Flame Slash over nothing and I considered abandoning a color and keeping my options open. Blue had dried up and White/Red were still flowing somewhat, though most of the cards were bad. The lack of Blue wasn’t necessarily all bad because I had only passed the Domestication which meant that the guy to my left (PV) might have abandoned Blue. At the end of the pack, I had the following cards:
Just like I had thought, PV had abandoned Blue and had likely moved into Green. I opened a weak pack and took a Venerated Teacher. Then I took an Evolving Wilds over Magmaw because Magmaw would have been terrible in my deck and I wanted a way to reliably cast the Flame Slash that I’d likely be splashing. I got shipped three Skywatcher Adepts and two more Venerated Teachers in addition to a Deprive and See Beyond. By the end of the pack, it was looking like I’d be able to salvage the draft with a reasonable amount of Blue/White in pack three.
Pack three ended up being very disappointing. White had suddenly dried up and Blue wasn’t flowing much at all either. I had opened a second Flame Slash and picked up another Evolving Wilds to make my splash solid, but I really didn’t get much out of the pack and ended up with a mediocre deck.
Round 9: Bram Snepvangers [NLD], BLACK/RED
Evil won the roll and chose to play; I didn’t complain. I started off with a Skywatcher Adept like normal while his first play was a Brimstone Mage. I leveled my Adept to safety and continued bashing. I got hit by the Mage and he summoned an Arrogant Bloodlord while I summoned a Merfolk Skyscout. I got hit for a sizable chunk when my Skyscout got stolen by Traitorous Instinct and I got taken from eighteen to eight life. However, I was able to stabilize with a Wall of Omens and Sea Gate Oracle while stopping a Vendetta with an Eel Umbra.
Game two Evil chose to play again but was forced to mulligan to four. Despite a good effort, he wasn’t able to win that game.
Round 10: Zohar Bhagat [USA], Green/White/red
I don’t remember who won the roll, but Evil did have to mulligan to five. I don’t remember exactly what happened except that I took no damage.
Game two was similar to game one except that I had to mulligan once and Evil led off with a Student of Warfare. I had a Skywatcher Adept but it was much slower than the 3/3 that was attacking me on turn two. I was able to get in three hits with the Adept before I was too far behind on the board to attack any further. Eventually I was overcome by the fully-leveled Student along with a Dawnglare Invoker.
Game three I chose to draw because his average draw didn’t seem that aggressive. I summoned a Skywatcher Adept on turn two, but faced down an Aura Gnarlid on turn three. I could have played See Beyond to draw into a Flame Slash to kill it, but that seemed excessive because I hadn’t seen anything that would pump the Gnarlid. Instead I summoned Venerated Teacher to Level up my Adept and create a roadblock for the Gnarlid. Needless to say, that plan didn’t exactly play out like I had hoped because he put a Bear Umbra on the Gnarlid and tore me a new one with it. The Umbra let him also summon a Beastbreaker of Bala Ged immediately afterwards. I summoned another Adept and would have been able to win the race if I had been able to draw into another Venerated Teacher with the See Beyond, but I didn’t and lost as a result.
Round 11: Gaudenis Vidugiris [USA], Green/Black
I don’t remember game one all too well, except that I had to mulligan once. Evil had a Bloodthrone Vampire that was racing against my Skywatcher Adept. I leveled my Adept via a Venerated Teacher while he summoned a Daggerback Basilisk and put a Snake Umbra on it. An Ondu Giant came down on his side while I summoned a Merfolk Skyscout. He tried to kill the Adept with Vendetta, but I had an Eel Umbra ready for it. He was running out of options at that point because I was ahead and he couldn’t block any of my creatures. He ended up having to play a second Snake Umbra before combat and attacking with everything. I blocked so I wouldn’t die from Might of the Masses and he scooped after that.
Game two Evil stumbled on lands after summoning a Nest Invader. My draw was also slow, but I had lands. I didn’t have a Skywatcher Adept this time and started summoning creatures like Wall of Omens, Venerated Teacher, and Sea Gate Oracle while he missed land drops. I found a second Plains for Transcendent Master, all the while keeping Deprive up. Evil found a third land and went to summon the Ondu Giant that I assume had been rotting in his hand ever since the beginning of the game. I countered it with Deprive and won easily after that.
Round 12: Yuuta Sasaki [JPN], U/W Control
This ended up being one of the most interesting rounds in the tournament, though not really because of how the games played out. We got deck checked before game one and got a ten-minute extension because of it. When we finally got started, I was on the play while he had to mulligan once. I opened up with a turn two Lotus Cobra while he summoned a Wall of Omens. The Wall was able to defend against the Cobra, but not the Goblin Ruinblaster that I kicked on my next turn to time walk him. He passed on his turn after playing a land. I went to play a Misty Rainforest and cast a Jace, but Evil had a Spell Pierce ready and immediately put the counterspell in his graveyard. The Spell Pierce would have been a problem except that I simply cracked my Rainforest to get mana from the Cobra and pay for the Spell Pierce. He conceded immediately after that; the concession of shame.
Game two wasn’t as easy as the first. I didn’t have a Cobra to enable unfair early plays and the game went long. He resolved a Jace and I wasn’t able to kill it on the ground because a few Walls were blocking my path. I went to the skies with a Sphinx of Lost Truths but he stole it with [card]Domestication[/card], a card that I knew existed but wasn’t expecting. I had found the Mold Shambler with a Sea Gate Oracle but had to destroy the [card]Domestication[/card] instead of his Jace because he also had a Celestial Colonnade that I had taken one hit from. I was too far behind and would have died in two attacks if I destroyed the Planeswalker.
At this point in the round time had expired and our match was the last one playing because of the time extension from the deck check; a crowd had formed around our table to watch. Evil played a Gideon and forced my team to attack it which let him protect Jace, kill my Sphinx, and clear a path for his Colonnade. I was able to destroy his Colonnade with a Ruinblaster, but it didn’t matter because he had another one; I died shortly afterwards. At some point in the game, Evil had gotten a slow play warning and we got an extra two turns of play once our time expired.
Game three I had the stoneblade and opened up with a Cobra on turn two. I summoned an Oracle on my next turn followed by a Jace which I use to Brainstorm. However, I failed to reveal the cards that I drew which the judge watching the match informed me of. I knew what had happened as soon as I drew the cards and told him that I knew, but there was apparently some sort of language barrier. He didn’t understand that I knew what was going on and that we were agreeing with each other. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that it took my focus off the game because it took so long to get the judge to understand that we were on the game page. After we went back into the game I went to play my all my extra lands with the Oracle, and at some point I almost played one too many because my focus had been turned elsewhere. My error became apparent when the group of Japanese players next to me began talking up a storm which wasn’t exactly desirable because I had no idea what they were saying in addition to what I suspected. A judge squared everything up, asked everyone else to move back, and we continued to play with me winning via the Oracle and Jace. I got out too many lands and was able to win in extra turns with a Raging Ravine and Ruinblaster along with the Cobra and Oracle over twenty minutes after the round had ended.
Round 13: Aras Aziz [USA], G/W Ramp
I don’t remember much about game two except that I won.
Round 14: Frank Karsten [NLD], U/W Control
This round was a feature match and can be found here.
Game one I had to mulligan once. I started off with a Lotus Cobra on turn two, but Evil was ready with a Journey to Nowhere. I missed on my land drop but found another Cobra on top of my deck which died to Day of Judgment. I drew a card with Explore but failed to find any more lands. I died shortly afterwards to a pair of Sphinx of Lost Truths.
Game two was the opposite of game one. My deck came back with a vengeance, firing on all cylinders. Explore into Lotus Cobra plus Jace let me set up double Ruinblaster and ended the game before Evil was able to get off the ground. Evil was short on land thanks to my Ruinblasters and had to cast See Beyond and Wall of Omens to find more. He had another Wall as well but I used Jace to bounce one which put him dead on the board.
Game three was a nail biter. I had to mulligan six lands and a Sphinx into five lands and a Cobra. Granted I had a Halimar Depths and Misty Rainforest to help filter my draws, but this game required much more work to win. I summoned the Cobra but it got exiled with Journey to Nowhere. I had a Raging Ravine as my only action which got in two attacks before it was neutralized with Spreading Seas. Jace and Sphinx of Lost Truths came down for Evil and he started discarding removal because he was setting up a board position. I only had a Ruinblaster and Sea Gate Oracle. Evil started attacking and summoned another unkicked Sphinx while I summoned an Avenger of Zendikar. Gideon Jura bought Evil time to let the Sphinxes hack away at my life total. I summoned my own Sphinx of Lost Truths that I had found with Halimar Depths unkicked and drew into a Spell Pierce which let me force Evil to tap out when he summoned his second Gideon. Jace bounced my Sphinx and Evil’s two Sphinxes took me to one life. At this point I had to rip one of the two Mountains left in my deck or the one Kazandu Refuge to let me use the Scaling Tarn that I had in play so I could cast Comet Storm (I only had one Red mana). I drew for the turn: Mountain. Comet Storm killed the two Sphinxes and Gideon fell to my Avenger and company. Evil tried to regain his board position with a Sphinx and Wall of Omens but was exactly dead to my team.
Round 15: Koutarou Ootsuka [JPN], G/W Ramp
I had to mulligan once. Evil was able to successfully ramp up because I failed to find any Ruinblasters. I had a Jace, but it got destroyed by Ulamog. I found an Avenger to mount an offense, but All is Dust dispelled those plans as I got annihilated to death.
Game two Evil accelerated with two Overgrown Battlements, but I was able to keep him contained with Jace by bouncing one of them. The time that Jace bought me allowed me to summon an Avenger of Zendikar and win through his Kozilek.
Evil had to mulligan once in game three. Everflowing Chalice for two and one let Evil ramp up. I had set up a Hellkite Charger and Avenger of Zendikar, but Evil used Eye of Ugin to find Emrakul and take an extra turn. On his extra turn Evil played All is Dust. I countered it with Deprive but had no answer to the second one that he played immediately afterwards.
Round 16: Michael Jacob [USA], R/U/G Ramp
We both mulliganed in game one, but I only had to mulligan to six while he went to five. I accelerated with Explore into Oracle of Mul Daya which got killed with a Burst Lightning. I played a Jace and then kicked a Sphinx while he was playing catch-up with an Oracle of his own. I killed his Oracle and started attacking with Raging Ravine and the Sphinx. By then he was too far behind to come back.
I had to mulligan once in the second game and kept a hand with Halimar Depths, Mountain, and Green cards. I missed on the Depths while Evil had a Ruinblaster to punish me. I was dead shortly afterwards.
Game three he had to mulligan once while I kept a good hand. I started off with Lotus Cobra on turn two followed by Jace on turn three and Hellkite Charger on turn four while facing little opposition.
While I had lost playing for Top 8 in round fifteen, I hadn’t let that get to me because there was no reason to anguish over it. Sure, Top 8 would have been nice, but it wasn’t really a big deal to me. I’d finish wherever I’d finish and have a good time. After the Top 8 had been announced and the final standings posted, I found out that I had finished in 12th place which equated to a nice chunk of change.
We all decided to go out to dinner and celebrate, though our destination (the restaurant in the Sheraton) was a bad one. While the service was exceptional, the food was very unimpressive especially considering the price. We split up after eating. Some of us headed back to the house to sleep while others went back to the site to draft. After briefly getting lost, again, we made it back to the safety of the beach house.
The top 8 played out with PV eventually winning, whom I was happy for a few reasons. Not only had PV broken the trend of not getting past the quarters, but he also became the first PT champion to lose in the first round of the tournament.
Sunday was a lazy day for me. I went to the site with BenS while he raced to get into the Wizards’ Play Network tournament (which he eventually won). I spent the day watching the Top 8 play out while I played in a few team drafts, winning them all like a savage.
The next day was spent getting everything squared away before we left. We had to clean up the house, shuttle people to their new hotels, and return the rental cars before checking into the airport to leave. Big Z and Luis were staying an extra week in paradise with their better halves while the rest of us were leaving.
I felt like I had wasted my time in the trip to San Juan. That isn’t to say that the endeavor was a failure, but rather that I had squandered the opportunity to be a tourist and enjoy what the “country” had to offer. From what I had seen of San Juan, Puerto Rico was indeed an island paradise; an island paradise under construction. Had I tried a bit harder, I’m sure my view would be much different. The trip was both the best and the worst I’d been on, and while I told you of a great number of stories and misadventures, I’ve also left a great deal out.