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Breaking Through – Almost in Amsterdam, Part 1 *22nd*

Our story continues from a beat up and bruised sequence of events that led up to, and through, the Grand Prix in Gothenburg just the day prior. After arriving in Amsterdam, things already looked to be on the up and up as we managed to navigate the public transit and get to our hotel without too much difficulty. Before I go any further though, let me brief you in on the tag lines used by our hotel when booking it.

The Hotel

“Quentin England features multilingual staff, coffee in the lobby, and self parking. High-speed wireless Internet access is complimentary.”

“Quentin England offers 50 guestrooms. Rooms feature city or courtyard views. LCD televisions come with cable channels. Complimentary wireless Internet access is provided along with phones. Bathrooms include showers and makeup/shaving mirrors. Electronic/magnetic keys and wake-up calls are also included. Irons/ironing boards and hair dryers can be requested.”

So we walk into a somewhat raggedy building, although most European hotels have a similar appearance and are greeted by the desk worker. We check in as planned and then ask what information we would need to access the wireless internet. In return, we received a puzzled look.

“There is wireless internet right?”
“Theoretically,” he answers back…. Great.

We are located on the fourth floor and therefore begin looking for the elevator to get our bags up with ease, as any reasonable person would. After 5 or so minutes of searching, we head back to the front desk.

“Where is the elevator at?”
“The stairs are right over there sir.”

I guess that meant there wasn’t one. I am fine with huffing it of course, despite having multiple bags full of cards, as I wanted to make sure I had everything I would need to build whatever deck I settled on. I tied the bags together and threw the 100 pound mess on my back and began upward.

Now these were not any normal set of stairs. Each stair seemed to be taller and more narrow than the last as they creaked under my feet. The railing was hardly stable and made the journey that much more difficult. Between each floor, there was not just a single flight of stairs, not even a pair. Instead, three different flights of stairs forming a square led from one floor to the next. By the time you reached the third floor, each individual stair was at least 12 inches high and probably 6 to 8 inches wide. This would be comical enough without mentioning the fact that I happen to wear size 18 shoes (for you Europeans I think that is size 586 or something). The ascent took somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes and was not something I looked forward to in the future.

Sara was the first to enter the room and she immediately turned to me with a shocked aura about her. I entered and quickly saw a room that could not even be compared to the pictures I had seen when booking. This room was small, to the point of not being able to have the bathroom door and main door open at the same time or else neither one could close. Our electrical did not work but instead pulsed on an off, and that so-called free WiFi was definitely absent. We went down to the front desk an hour or so later and talked to a new staff member.

“Who told you that we have free WiFi?”
“Uh, the internet and your morning staff member.”
“I told him to quit telling people that.”

It turns out, they stole their internet from a family across the street and it would occasionally work and occasionally not. This would make turning in articles and checking for new card tech difficult, but we would have to make do.

I had plenty of decklists ready to be tested out for the tournament, but the issues that arose during travel had limited the amount of testing time I would have. On Thursday I met up with Thomas Ma and Grahm Salva, two of the up and comers out of Colorado and we headed to the event site. There, I found out that dealers were selling Treefolk Harbingers and Lotus Blooms like crazy, giving me a little insight into just what I would be seeing the next day.

Luis hooked me up with the team Fireball Doran list just in case I would need it and so I had a pretty good idea of just how the masses might build that list as well. Later that night, the first thing I needed to test was a mana denial deck that we had vocally brewed up in Gothenburg the week before. We were using things like Boom/Bust, Fulminator Mage, and Lodestone Golem to contain opponent’s resources and bash for damage in the mean time. Long story short, that deck was basically poo. It was time to pull another rabbit out of my hat.

I don’t enjoy building decks the night before a tournament, but sometimes necessity requires it and thankfully, due to a ton of deck building and metagaming over the years, I have become pretty good at it. The bottom line is that you have the most information about a metagame just before a tournament. This makes building a deck that attacks the metagame that much easier in the midnight hours of preparation. I do not ever wish to be in this situation, nor do I recommend it to others, but the reality of it all is that it will come up and occasionally you hit the nail on the head.

I had narrowed the field down to the three big combo decks, Ascension, Ad Nauseam, and Living End, then Doran, Faeries, and the various Punishing Fire control decks and midrange decks. Obviously there would be other decks, but when looking to attack a metagame, making your target too broad will only weaken each match up a little in hopes of catching more fringe decks.

Banting

Meddling Mage has been a card I was impressed with in testing as it was good against most of the field so I started there. Naturally, Vendilion Clique quickly showed up as one of the more versatile, yet powerful creatures to run in a blue hate deck. From there, I had some ground work laid out already with the deck I played back in Grand Prix Houston, which was technically legal in a different format, but the work would help expedite the building process for me.

Bant would give me access to Bant Charm, which is one of my favorite spells and particularly powerful in the new Extended format. Picking off Doran, Coalition Relic, or Ad Nauseam made the spell so versatile yet so powerful. Knight of the Reliquary was a new addition to the deck that really allowed me to maximize the value of my manabase. I did not have the number of fetchlands or Forests/Plains that would make him as bonkers here as in other decks, but he would provide a nice body while also offering a free toolbox along the way.

Tarmogoyf looked to be weaker in my deck that I would have liked. I only had instants, lands, and creatures that I could reliably get into the yard with 3 planeswalkers in Jace, the Mind Sculptor to supplement those, but even at max value of a 4/5, he was not as insane as he could be. He still offered a nice place in the curve though and my opponents would be playing other spells to boost him, so I wanted to run some number of him. Ultimately, with needing 1 additional sideboard slot for the 4th Rhox War Monk, I decided to just run 3 Goyfs and have 1 Monk in the main. Sprinkle in some counterspells and this was the final list.

The sideboard was another exercise in making an educated guess as to what the metagame would be like. Great Sable Stags were there for Faeries and the various multi-colored control lists, but also were decent against Doran lists that utilized Putrid Leech or Jund for that matter. I still wanted a little extra against the Fae though which is where the singleton Cloudthresher came from.

Rule of Law and Declaration of Naught were aimed at the combo match up obviously, but I did not want the 3rd Rule of Law as copies became redundant and the DoN had some other uses, like holding a Punishing Fire at bay. Sure, Rule of Law could keep all of my 3 toughness or more dorks around, but DoN would just act as a 5th Meddling Mage to save my Vendilion Cliques and Noble Hierarchs.

Negate again served double duty, being good against both combo match ups and the control variants that would show up. This also explains my choice of Celestial Purge over Path to Exile. Both cards serve a similar purpose, coming in against mid-range decks and Doran, but Celestial Purge could also come in against Pyromancer Ascension or possibly even Bitterblossom. Path to Exile could obviously take out Goyfs and Mistbind Cliques, but I felt I had enough removal for those sorts of threats already.

The Rhox War Monks were there to cement aggro match ups, with Red being the primary deck that came to mind. I did not have the White Weenie deck on my radar although they were fine there as well, sans Student of Warfare as a 4/4 first striker (this is called foreshadowing). The lone Bojuka Bog is pretty self-explanatory as well.

I felt confident in my matchups against the decks that I pegged to be the majority of the field, although all of my work was done in theory. It was already midnight by the time I got done with the original list and I would end up tweaking it and changing it 2 or 3 times to get to the list posted above. This put the time at around 1:30am or so, so there would be no time to test the deck. What better time to test though than the start of the tournament. I did not take detailed notes so most of this is from memory.

The Tournament

Round 1: with Faeries

This matchup was pretty simple from my perspective. I just wanted to get down a few early beaters and then protect them while countering key spells. In essence, we both had the same game plan, only my tools were independent and theirs required pieces falling into place. The only card I was really worried about early was Bitterblossom, and then only if I didn’t have a quick follow up. In game 1, he mulligans to 6 and keeps the dreaded Mutavault plus Sunken Ruins hand and although he makes land drops 3 and 4, they are both Sunken Ruins. On turn 5 he finally gets colored mana but is too far behind and my Knight of the Reliquary attacks through his Cryptic Command thanks to a Bant Charm.

Game 2 is closer but I get a pretty big blowout when Meddling Mage successfully stops an Ancestral Visions from resolving. He manages to stabilize at 3 life with a Bitterblossom in play, but has to tap out to double block a Great Sable Stag with 2 Mutavaults, This lets my post combat Cloudthresher sneak in for 2 damage leaving him dead to Bitterblossom even though he shows the Mistbind Clique on his upkeep.

1-0

Round 2: with Faeries

That extra Fae help in the form of Cloudthresher is looking good now as I run into the matchup again. This time I come out of the gates on the play with a Mage on Bitterblossom and then a Vendilion Clique shows 2 of them stranded in his hand. I leave open Bant Charm and Mana Leak as I bash in with the squad including a Tarmogoyf just to keep removal at bay and quickly take the first game.

Game 2 has him come out with the typical Faerie nut draw that is so feared. Thoughtseize into Bitterblossom into a duo of Mistbind Cliques. I have a Great Sable Stag that desperately wants to race but is a turn too slow when my Cryptic Command gets countered on the last turn I have available.

Game 3 is the opposite of game 2 though, as a Turn 1 Hierarch breeds a turn 2 Knight, turn 3 Stag with Mana Leak and turn 4 Stag with Bant Charm to give me in a nice 2-0 start.

2-0

Round 3: Marco Orsini Jones with Ad Nauseam

This match is covered in depth here.

I cannot get info on what Marco is playing and therefore have to go about my mulligans in an honest manner. This leads me to keep a 7 card hand that is good against most decks, but terrible against Ad Nauseam.

 

As soon as he suspends a pair of Lotus Blooms on turn 1, I feel a little scared as I have no way to disrupt him save the prospect of a Tectonic Edge but when he draws another Lotus Bloom on turn 2, A.K.A. a blank, I am granted a little extra time to find an answer.

I play a Knight and leave it back for a Cryptic Command that bounces a Relic and draws me into a Meddling Mage. I don’t draw anything over the top amazing, but Marco draws even worse and is forced to cast Simian Spirit Guide. The game ends with a few attacks and a few Jaces.

In game two, I mulligan a good hand that contains no disruption and open up the nuts as I look down at a hand with the following:

 

Marco once again suspends a Lotus Bloom on turn 1 and then on turn 2 so I decide to play the first Mage on Bloom. The second Mage I play on Punishing Fire despite not seeing it yet as it seemed like the easiest way for me to lose the game (It turns out he isn’t playing it). The 3rd Mage is played on Ad Nauseam and I draw a counterspell or two to protect the trio as they easily carry me to victory.

3-0

Round 4: Ricky Sidher with Doran

I ask Ricky where he is from and he tells me he is from Northern California so as soon as he plays his first Murmuring Bosk, I put him on the CFB Doran list as I am sure LSV or someone gave it to him.

Neither game is that exciting as my deck does what it is supposed to do in the match up and removes the key threats while playing my own. The issue with these decks running 4 Treefolk Harbingers is that once their Doran has been dealt with, they become blanks on the board which lowers their total threat density. This makes a deck with 7 spot removal, counterspells, and Jaces, pretty difficult to deal with as the game progresses. In game 1 Jace presents some issue for him late and in game 2 I have a Cryptic Command that he can’t beat so both games go as planned.

4-0

Round 5: Martin Juza with Doran

Juza is a good guy and is a fun opponent to play against as he is willing to banter a little bit but also knows when to knuckle down and get serious. Our match is probably the closest Doran match I face on the weekend. He gets game 1 despite 3 separate Vendilion Cliques all getting value, killing a Treefolk Harbinger, Tarmogoyf, and Treetop Village respectively. I just don’t draw enough gas to take out his 3rd Doran and go down a game.

Game 2 has him mulligan to 5 I believe while I only mulligan to 6. I get out a Knight of the Reliquary on turn 2 that is met with his own. I am in the driver’s seat most of this game though despite it going long. I basically am playing around a Sejiri Steppe from him as I know he is running 1 additional land over the ChannelFireball list but do not know what that land is. Eventually I put him on the land not being Steppe and get in a position where it doesn’t matter anyway and take the game.

Game 3 is even longer as we both deal with most of each others threats via removal, discard, or counterspells. A bit of a stalemate develops where I have 2 Rhox War Monks, a Tarmogoyf and a Knight in play my Steppe in play. On his side is a Doran, 2 Harbingers, and 2 Knights as well. Fortunately, I have Celestial Colonnade in play that begins chipping away at his already bruised life total. By the time he is able to draw into spells that matter, his life total is too low and mine too protected to really come back.

5-0

I get “paired down” as it were into a pod with only 2 undefeated players and then a bunch of X-1s. That said, my pod is pretty stacked and I know I will have to be on my A game to come out of it with a comfortable record going into day 2. Of course, that means a punted first pick that I somehow get rewarded for.

I open my pack and see a bunch of chaff with a Pacifism and Ancient Hellkite as standouts. Now this pick should not really be close, and I knew that the second after I made it, but I had never played with the Hellkite and for some reason was drawn toward it. After going to time, I took the rare and felt miserable about it. Luckily for me, no one wanted to be in red, which is usually the case, so I ended up with a good green/red deck with a few bombs and some decent removal including multiple Chandras Outrage and Ember Haulers that would help against the aggressive decks.

I also had a pair of Vulshok Berserkers which, for the record, I think are a very underrated creature in the format. Nothing else really has haste so it is easy to forget about them when calculating damage. The 2 toughness seems like it makes the card worse in slower decks than a Canyon Minotaur, but I have noticed that the ability for the Berserker to turn a defensive game into an offensive one at a moment’s notice really allows for surprise games.

Round 6: Shouta Yasooka

Shouta has a slower blue-based deck which was what I was expecting to play against the most. Neither game had much excitement as he played some Augury Owls and a Foresee which I managed to Reverberate for good value. A cloaked Hellkite won game 1 for me after a long back and forth. Game 2 had me throw down a few early drops and then draw most of my removal to clear a path and deal a few extra points of damage. No fattie or cloak needed.

6-0

Round 7: Taisuke Ishii

Taisuke is playing another blue deck with some powerful uncommons like Air Servant and Mind Control. That said, he is pretty slow which allows the power level of my deck to shine through. Game 1 is just a matter of my deck having threat and after threat and him not having answers. His Air Servant gives me troubles in the first game, but when I am able to Reverberate a Jaces Ingenuity from him, I get back into the game with a blowout Fling that saves my 6/6 Protean Hydra from a Mind Control and kills the Air Servant with me at 8 life. At that point, my Ancient Hellkite that I have been holding is able to come down and shake things up for the win.

In game 2 another Reverberate, but this time on Doom Blade, deals with his Air Servant and he is not able to muster enough offense or defense to do much of anything. A few random guys like Vulshok Berserker, Ember Hauler, and Yavimaya Wurm are too much for him to handle.

7-0

Round 8: Martin Juza

Juza had bounced back from our match earlier and was still sitting at X-1/ He had a really fast W/G aggro deck that would be a bit of an issue for a little slower of a deck like the one I had.

In game 1, I am able to stabilize with an Ember Hauler and Chandras Outrage all the while putting out must-answer threats that he in fact, does answer. Once I feel the coast is clear though I throw down my Hellkite and he tanks looking to beat it. I play a Whispersilk Cloak and attack, clearing his board sans a Palace Guard and putting him to 6 life. I am at 4 and leave back a Cudgel Troll just in case. This ends up winning me the game as he has an Awakener Druid in hand and has to pick up his cards when the coast isn’t clear.

Game 2 has him come out too fast with Honor of the Pure as a dagger that just makes his squad survive my removal and hold off my own team. I die on turn 5 or 6 as I don’t want to show him a useless Prodigal Pyromancer to chump with.

He begins talking about how slow my deck is and then we are both faced with mulligan decisions. I keep a hand that defies the normal draw of my deck.

 

He tanks and apparently keeps something along the lines of

 

I lead with an Expanse that I plan on grabbing a Mountain with. I have 9 Forests in my deck and only a Giant Growth in hand that requires green. Beyond that, a turn 2 play against him, especially one that comes with a shock, is desperately needed. Even if I miss on a Forest for a few turns, I have a 3 and 4 drop that will be occupying my turns.

I proceed to play turn 2 Ember Hauler and he leads with a Stormfront Pegasus. I play Prodigal Pyromancer (drew a Fling and Mountain) and announce that he will have to play that Honor of the Pure now as a guess. He does just that and we begin racing. I draw another Mountain and play my Berserker to put him on the defensive. He attacks with the Pegasus and runs out a Griffin. I, in a bit of luck, draw my Forest and am able to attack, Thunder Strike and Giant Growth the unblocked guy, and the Fling it after damage to kill him on turn 5. Definitely the fastest draw my deck could get and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

8-0

That night we head out to dinner at this place that really cannot fit any specific food demographic. They advertised as a Pizza place but had a ton of lamb based Greek style dishes that threw us for a loop. I decided to be adventurous and get a calzone that was described on the menu as, “Calzone with every ingredient on the menu (NO FISH!).” A quick scan of the menu revealed such ingredients as egg, spinach, lamb, chicken, and eggplant, so this was bound to be a bit strange. Grahm has this ritual when he comes out with me where he literally just orders what I order, so he did, and while the food was far from bad, it was not anything to write home about (note that Channelfireball.com is apparently not home).

I wanted to catch up on some sleep that I missed from the night before but it was only approaching 10 so I figured I had some time to hang out with Sara in the room before crashing. Little did I know that this would begin a string of events that would put my day 2 at risk. But that’s for tomorrow. Until then, thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

23 thoughts on “Breaking Through – Almost in Amsterdam, Part 1 *22nd*”

  1. Nice Day 1!

    Something that threw me for a loop though. I assume you mean Reverberate when you say Reiterate. >.>

  2. Never thought about Reverberate being a draw spell before. That’s actually pretty insane, I will have to look more seriously at that card from now on.

  3. Yeah it can be dead against a bunch of decks but in a pod where the cards aren’t all terrible it’s typically able to do anything from bouncing, drawing, pumping to removing, which is pretty tasty.
    I’m pretty sure most European countries don’t have the same building codes that those in the US do, allowing them to make their steps 60 degree angles, always dealt with that when over there.

  4. Actually, those stairs sound a lot like the ones on the great wall of china when I was there a year and a half ago XD.

    Nice job Conley, glad that day one was good. Can’t wait to read about day 2 😀

    Also, I am impressed you were able to put together that bant list on such short notice. Props.

  5. “It turns out, they stole their internet from a family across the street and it would occasionally work and occasionally not. This would make turning in articles and checking for new card tech difficult…”

    you used to do stand-up comedy as a career, right? Let me not cast aspersions that you aren’t a great Magic player, I’m sure you make far more from Magic than you ever did from stand-up, but, personally, I would pay a lot of money to go to one of your stand-up shows, and I’m sure all of the Pro tour travel gives you a huge amount of material. You should get a gig on comedy central, because you give Aziz Ansari a run for his money, and that’s saying something.

  6. There was a rumor going around that you were at the top tables playing Knight Exemplar. Somehow it was believable. What a let down.

  7. A lot of those houses are 100-200 years old, or more in european capitals, that explains their poor layout.

    It’s a long time ago that I have seen people throw together a bunch of cards the night before the pro tour and just win every match. You a true master of the game, sir

  8. “It turns out, they stole their internet from a family across the street and it would occasionally work and occasionally not.”

    Epic win

  9. Indeed the stairs in amsterdam are unique to that place. Our hotel had the same kind and I nearly broke my neck a few times trying to walk down on them. I had planned to offer you a 20 euro bill for a certain deal you advertised on Monday night Magic a while ago but couldn’t muster up the courage in the end. Maybe next time!

  10. Reverberate is simply amazing in most matches. Granted red is a pretty weak color but Reverberate can be your opponents best spell or doubling your best spell. It can be a counter spell, card draw or even a double red Lightning Bolt. Late game Reverberated Fling is a huge finisher!

  11. Your deck was the best deck at PT Amsterdam. I was rooting for you ever since I found out what you were playing, because the best deck deserved to Top8.

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  13. Doom feels your pain, Conley. Doom wears a size 17 boot (size 19 spiked because peasants need to learn their place!).

  14. “3 separate Vendilion Cliques all getting value, killing a Treefolk Harbinger, Tarmogoyf, and Treetop Village respectively”

    Doesn’t Clique say “nonland”?

  15. @ Conley: do you really wear size 18??? I wear european 44,5 that’s the US 10,5 and already get trouble in finding shoes. I’m pretty sure in Europe you will have to order your shoes personally.
    Anyway, if the Hotels offers you smt. like internet and there actually isn’t any, it’s a good enough reason to get a refund or an alternate accomodation (a.k.a. “Re-protection”) in an other Hotel of at least the same stars level. If you get again in such a situation, claim for your rights: you’ll do a favor not only to yourself but also to all the other tourists.

    @Zinc6c12: i can’t tell you about the code differences, but for sure the most Hotels/Hostels in the European downtowns have terrible problems if they need to do renovations right because of our actual code. Thing is, the most of them were built originally more then 100 years ago and there’s a lack of space and structure in order to do the things properly. That’s also a reason why if you travel here to Europe, you shouldn’t trust the pictures of the rooms but actually do a proper research through the comments you can find on the internet.

    Cheers!

  16. For people who travel so much Mtg Pros seem to be terribad at travel. I quick look on TripAdvisor.com for that hotel nets you: 81% of travelers do not recommend, 45% rated it terrible which is the lowest rating, etc. I’m sure if I read some of those I could find someone mentioning they have no internet.

    Every write up has these travel horror stories involving airports and/or hotels. It seems like you guys have created a culture where there is so much pride in doing the travel on the cheap that you total screw yourselves in terms of getting enough sleep and having a decent home base which I believe must improve your performance at the tournaments themselves.

  17. Good report, I enjoyed it,as I wondered how Bant was considered a format breaker when I was watching the webcast. Nice to see a game by game.

    On the subject of hotels, seriously, there are plenty of great hotels at all budgets in all major european cities, I totally agree with El6t6one. Perhaps you guys should get some advice from European pros, unless bad hotel stories are half the fun (this one was)

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