Hello everyone, my name is Kyle and this is the first article in my new series for Channelfireball.com! I don’t have a cool name for it yet, so be sure to give me some ideas in the comments. You may know me from my old article series on starcitygames.com, or just from wandering around tournaments. I have been playing in Magic tournaments since Apocalypse was released, and just broke through to the professional level this year. My main goal in this series is to prepare you for big tournaments and to keep you up to date with the latest constructed technology. Now that we are acquainted, let’s get to the article!
Grand Prix Toronto: A Test of Endurance
It’s no secret that Magic has been growing more and more popular lately. As a result, tournament fields have been getting much larger over the past year. I remember the good old days when we were shocked to get an 800 person Grand Prix, but GP Toronto had around 1,400 players and I was not surprised in the least. In fact, I prepared for a marathon of rounds instead of a test of skill.
We must approach Grands Prix in a much different light these days. When you arrive to the site, keep in mind that you will most likely be playing ten rounds on day 1 and have to wake up six hours later to play six more on day 2. I was never been a fan of the on site Grand Prix Trials, even when I needed to win byes. Staying up to play in a last minute GPT will kill your chances in the main tournament even if you win the trial. In the past, I have mentioned that getting sleep before an event is very important, and that is true now more than ever. GP Portland was the similar to Toronto because we had 16 rounds as well as three deckbuilding sessions. That is a lot of time to spend playing cards and you have to be ready for it.
My plan to get sleep before the Grand Prix was to stay up all night on Thursday so I could sleep well on Friday. I typically have trouble sleeping before a tournament, so I need to take more drastic measures in order to succeed. My car ride was only five hours since I am from the Detroit area. The crew I chose to travel with included Michael Jacob and Brian Demars.
Some things I tried to do to help me perform better included drinking an entire bottle of water every two hours and eating good food. I usually eat garbage fast food and I feel bad as a result. This time, I went with Brian Demars to get sushi and prime rib. I also got a box of granola bars that I snacked on all weekend. I also cannot forget that I drink two 5-Hour Energies each day. I cannot say enough good things about that product.
Drafting with Scars
When I got to the convention center, I decided to do a draft with Owen Turtenwald, Martin Juza, A.J. Sacher, Noah Swartz, and PV. My team barely lost the draft even though the two level 8 mages were on the opposite side. I drafted a bad deck, but I began to realize that you could get away with just taking good cards in this format. I was used to drafting with M11, where Day of Judgment would often be passed for an Infantry Veteran. The limited formats where you can get away with just drafting a good control deck are the ones where I am at my best.
I like to be on the draw in this format with pretty much every deck. I keep this in mind when I am drafting by taking the mana Myrs highly so that I can play sixteen lands and not fall behind in mana development. Most decks want to play sixteen lands, which is a pretty low number if you want to curve out. The first few turns are often spent casting Spellbombs and other artifacts that don’t hurt the opponent. The only case where I consider going first is against a dedicated infect deck, and only if my deck does not have much removal.
Infect is a very interesting archetype because it can only support about two good decks per pod. I like to scout out how many are in each draft because it affects the power level of each one. An interesting situation occurred in my first draft of day 2 where there were four poison decks at the table. All four of the decks were quite bad compared to a real poison deck because there are only so many infect creatures in each draft. As the number of poison drafters in a pod increases, cards like Tainted Strike get better because you are forced to play more non-infect creatures. The infect decks become half and half decks, only containing about seven creatures with infect because they are picked so highly. If I have this kind of information about my pod, I will choose to draw against infect because they cannot kill you as quickly.
I think the infect deck is a good option to force because each one in the draft has roughly the same power level. This makes the infect mirror pretty balanced since, if there are four at the table, they are all bad decks. This also holds true if there are only two because both decks will probably be the best at the table. There are also artifact decks you might play against that have a weak infect matchup. Their early turns involve playing cards that don’t affect the board so infect can kill them quickly. Artifact destruction spells are also high picks in this format and the infect deck doesn’t care about them.
The infect deck I drafted at the Grand Prix Toronto contained two Instill Infections and two Slice in Twains, so it was still more concerned with card advantage, despite being an infect deck. Having good removal spells is still more important to me than drafting creatures with infect. Both times I have drafted infect I have gone 2-1 on the back of those powerful 2 for 1 spells. It is alright if you have a couple creatures that don’t have infect because they can play defense or kill out of nowhere with a Tainted Strike. Remember that you can also target your opponent’s creature with Tainted Strike so they don’t deal real damage to you.
You may want to only adopt this heavy removal strategy after the first pack because you don’t want your neighbor to think the infect deck is not being drafted. You will often be faced with the choice of taking a good removal spell or a Plague Stinger in the beginning of a draft. Be sure to take the good infect guy in those situations because people can still switch archetypes so early in the draft.
My other favorite draft archetype is W/R/B metalcraft. Playing two of those three colors, you can make a good control deck by prioritizing removal highly. I drafted a RB metalcraft deck on day 2 of the GP as well. RB is the lesser-known version of metalcraft, but it is still very powerful. If you take all of the good black cards early, you can get cards like Skinrender passed to you in the later packs. Skeptics say that black metalcraft decks strategies are bad because half of the black cards are for the poison archetype. While this is true, nearly half of the cards for your deck are artifacts so it balances out in the end.
I went 2-1 with RB metalcraft, losing to Brad Nelson while playing for top 8. He had a dedicated poison deck that had the right tricks at the right times. I beat Ben Stark because his deck was mana acceleration and big threats, which couldn’t compete with the removal in my deck, including Skinrender, Oxidda Scrapmelter, Turn to Slag, and Grasp of Darkness. I also had a Kuldotha Phoenix thrown in there for good measure.
I thought I could still top 8 at 13-3 because I had the best tiebreakers, so I was battling for the last slot against Kai Burnett with his poison deck. This was one of those situations where my poison theory came in handy; there were three poison decks in the draft. I chose to draw in the two games where I had the option and Kai also chose to draw when he could. I ended up winning a close final game because I just killed all of his guys. The MVP of that match was Necrogen Scudder since the lose three life “drawback” was barely noticeable.
Unfortunately, the tiebreakers shifted in the last round, so I finished in ninth place. Ben Stark ended up sneaking in by less than one percent. I was bummed at first that I got ninth on breaks again, but the finish put me at 37 pro points on the year, so I am almost a lock for level 7 and am satisfied with my finish.
Scars of Mirrodin Sealed
The Scars sealed format is a little more defined than draft because it is so difficult to play infect. I would not consider playing infect unless I believe that my deck good enough to go 10-0. It is often the case that players think their infect deck is good enough if they open Hand of Praetors or Putrefax, but that is often not enough. You must take into consideration that each player will play the colors that have the most bombs and/or removal. This is different than draft because in draft someone may not get any removal and you also get to see 24 packs that contain infect creatures instead of six. I did not face anyone in the first day that was playing poison, and for good reason.
I did not pick up my first loss until round 9 so I played against the players that were doing a lot of winning in Toronto. I had three byes so I expected to face about six artifact decks with my sealed. I built my deck with 4 pieces of artifact removal, anticipating an infect-less metagame:
This was a tough pool to build because it had so many good cards in it. If I could go back, I would include the Tumble Magnet I left in my sideboard and cut the Ratchet Bomb. The Bomb did not impress me at all, and I sided in the Magnet once and it was awesome. My reasoning for excluding Tumble Magnet was that my deck was pretty slow since I played the control role and chose to draw. It turns out that your deck needs to be VERY before you should choose to leave Tumble Magnet on the sidelines.
I only had three red cards, but I wanted a lot of Mountains due to the mana hungry nature of Spikeshot Elder. In case you have never had a chance to play with that card, it happens to be one of the best cards in the format. There are not many cases where a one-drop can completely dominate a game, but this is an exception. I had about eight equipment cards in my pool, but I only included the ones that boosted Bloodshot Trainee’s power to at least four. The equipment cards I included, also all happened to be insane cards on their own.
I chose to splash green for Sylvok Replica because there are some powerful enchantments in this set that must be destroyed or you will lose the game. I built a deck that was capable of beating the best cards in the format and was able to go 9-1 with this pool. My loss was to a GB non-infect player who happened to earn his 8-0 without any byes. His deck was about as good as his record suggested, and I was promptly crushed. It was hard for me to beat big non-artifact creatures since Arrest was the only card I had to answer them
I think I got a lot of free wins by going second in the sealed format because many players had slow decks. They voluntarily gave themselves one less card to begin each game. I guess it was just my lucky day!
UW Control in the New Standard
I am often asked what I think about the standard format, and I still believe that UW Control is the way to go. Here is what my current list looks like:
Many people have switched to UB control, but I think it is inferior because there are less planeswalkers in that color combination. There are no good five drops, so UB is forced to play cards that perform a similar function to white’s five drops, but for an extra mana.
I tried playing two copies of Venser in the maindeck, but it is just so bad against aggro decks. It is very important in the mirror because it kills opposing Vensers. The popularity of Venser is also the reason I chose to remove a Volition Reins from the deck. I added a Mind Control to the sideboard because it is better at stealing Primeval Titan.
Into the Roil is a great out to cards like Jace and Pyromancer Ascension. If UW is the deck for you, be sure to practice against the Michael Jacob RUG special. It can be a tough matchup if you are unfamiliar with the mechanics, and I think it is getting popular.
That is all for what I have learned about the new standard and limited formats so far, but there is still plenty to explore. Grand Prix Nashville is coming up, so be sure to say hi if you attend. Hopefully this information helps for the PTQ season and maybe you can get a blue envelope yourself.
Thanks for reading!