Feature Article – Conquering GP Costa Rica *1st*(English)

English translation by Emily Porcher

It’s been quite some time since I last wrote. The translator was away for the summer, and as a result there was a long break between this and my previous article. I originally thought I would resume writing at the beginning of this month, but because I ended up staying in the United States for the two weeks after the Players Championship and then returning to Japan after playing in Grand Prix Costa Rica, I couldn’t find the time to write. However, thanks to that stay I also have a great topic for this article.

So, although the time for discussing Magic 2013 Limited is running out, today I think I will share my Grand Prix Costa Rica report.

Sealed Deck

When I am facing a Sealed deck tournament I keep in mind what kind of environment I am dealing with. For example, is it fast or slow? Is it possible to construct a more controlling deck? These are the sort of basic things I start with. Additionally, I consider whether it is easy to splash a third color and how many strong commons and uncommons there are that can end a game by themselves. Or, I think about how many difficult to deal with rares exist and which I think will often be lethal when played. These are the sort of impressions I put together.

When I tried applying this methodology to get an impression of M13, I believed that the environment was fast and that it would be difficult to make a control deck. Due to [card]Evolving Wilds[/card] playing a third color would be relatively easy, and there weren’t any uncommons that could end the game on their own. Instead, you need to be careful of commons and uncommons like the blue and black auras and cards that deal one damage to each creature. Most of the bomb rares could be dealt with without too much trouble. Only the two truly dangerous artifacts [card]Sands of Delirium[/card] and [card]Staff of Nin[/card] could appear in any color deck and cause you to lose the game abruptly.

Those were my impressions.

And one more thing: this set has excellent removal but there is little of it, and there are very few utility creatures. Thus, going on the defensive is worse than being the aggressor, and Exalted creatures and auras further support this. I don’t think the power level of the cards in this set is particularly high, but in this environment playing and attacking first gives quite a big advantage.

Here is the deck and sideboard I put together at the Grand Prix:

[deck]Duty-Bound Dead
Arbor Elf
2 Knight of Infamy
Centaur Courser
Yeva’s Forcemage
Rummaging Goblin
Primal Huntbeast
Spiked Baloth
Bladetusk Boar
Duskmantle Prowler
Disciple of Bolas
Sentinel Spider
Veilborn Ghoul
Crippling Blight
Searing Spear
Flames of the Firebrand
Sands of Delirium
2 Mark of the Vampire
Evolving Wilds
6 Forest
6 Swamp
3 Mountain
Rise from the Grave
Turn to Slag
Volcanic Strength
Hellion Crucible
Augur of Bolas
Courtly Provocateur
Scroll Thief
Wind Drake
Talrand’s Invocation
Vedalken Entrancer
2 Archaeomancer
2 Divination

My white cards were all creatures and were therefore out of the question, and although my red cards included some removal there were few of them in total and it could not be my main color. Blue had a [card]Talrand’s Invocation[/card] and two [card]Archaeomancer[/card]s and seemed quite strong, but I dismissed the idea on the basis that there weren’t enough good cards to outweigh the disadvantage of building a more controlling deck. Eventually, I chose black and green because this combination had the most stability in terms of creatures. Because my black and green cards did not include removal, I added some red and ended up strengthening the creature base in the process.

I admit that playing sixteen lands is risky both in terms of the sheer number and the fact that I was playing three colors, but it was a Sealed deck that included two mana generating cards and rarely needed more than five mana. Additionally, when I had one black mana and one green mana [card]Sentinel Spider[/card] would be the only issue . Lastly, because I still felt that I had an insufficient creature base I added [card]Veilborn Ghoul[/card] to complete my deck.

With regards to this deck’s general course of action [card]Sands of Delirium[/card] obviously stands out, and although this card is unrelated on that level it is absolutely too powerful. At the prerelease I didn’t include it in my deck, but making that mistake once was enough. I’d say my level of satisfaction with this deck was about 8/10.

Although I did not give it a 7, there were still many holes in the deck. There were no cards along the lines of [card]Naturalize[/card] or unconditional removal spells like [card]Murder[/card]. There is also the negative element that by playing three colors access to that removal was really not guaranteed.

Day One I felt my objective was to make it to Day Two by losing only one match in the eight rounds.

Round 4: Victor P. Garcia playing White/Green/Black

In the first game, I started off with a mulligan and my opponent surprised me by casting [card]Sands of Delirium[/card]. To make matters worse, he was able to resolve a [card]Thragtusk[/card] and I ended up losing. Game two we both took a mulligan, and although I managed to stick [card]Sands of Delirium[/card] this time it was a damage battle. Drawing [card]Rancor[/card] was crucial. In the third game only I mulliganed. However, because this time I was the one who played [card]Sands of Delirium[/card] it was a reversal of game one and I won the match.


Round 5: Brian M. Kibler playing Blue/White // Blue/White/Red after sideboard

This was a match we test played around twenty times during the bye period. It really seemed now like we hadn’t needed to do that. If we knew what it took for each others’ decks to win, naturally everything depended on whether we could get to that point or not. In my case, I needed to put [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card] on [card]Knight of Infamy[/card], and if Kibler could disrupt this he would have the advantage.

There was also the contest between [card]Sands of Delirium[/card] and Kibler’s Jace, but as you might expect the mythic planeswalker is far more powerful. If we are both being milled the outcome is not even worth considering. Most of the time it’s correct to assume that I would be the only one being milled in a showdown of this kind. In this match only, I removed the artifact post-board and added [card]Kitesail[/card] in order to bring down Jace.

In game one when Kibler was close to seven life he was able to stop my attack. However I ended up winning when my plan B, [card]Sands of Delirium[/card], showed up and his Jace was did not make an appearance.
In the second game, I lost due to the burn spells he sided in and used to destroy all of my creatures. Game three was decided by Kibler’s mulligan and was a swift creature battle.


Round 6: Pascal Maynard playing Blue/Black // Blue/Black/White after sideboard

Game one was the result of a childish hand and was a childish game. I struck only two or three times with large evasive lifelinking creatures and scored the win. The second game developed with an unexpected twist. The pressure I was applying was stopped completely when his life total was around seven, but then [card]Sands of Delirium[/card] showed up and plan B went underway.


Round 7: Carlos Pal playing White/Black

In game one I had a excellent start with tons of removal, and the game developed in such a way that I destroyed many of his creatures. Remaining on the battlefield were two [card]Tormented Soul[/card]s versus my [card]Bladetusk Boar[/card] and [card]Sentinel Spider[/card]. You can probably see how that ends. In game two he had to take a double mulligan, and it was quite one-sided.


Round 8: Carlos Urrutia playing Black/Green

After he took a mulligan game one, I was able to take advantage of his slow development and beat down, finishing his life total off with a burn spell. In game two my [card]Arbor Elf[/card] was destroyed leaving me short on mana, and in order to preserve my offense I needed to use a top decked [card]Searing Spear[/card] on one of his blockers. He followed up with a 3/3 [card]Primordial Hydra[/card]. Regrettably, three turns later I was trampled to death by a monster with more than twenty power. Game three, I took a mulligan. Although my start was quite bad his was equally weak, and more than anything the game was determined by the absence of the hydra. Finally, my [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card] enchanted creature stared down his own creatures, and this MVP card decided the last game of the day.


Going undefeated was truly unexpected. Honestly, I thought getting through Day One would be the best possible outcome, and I was thrilled.. However, in thinking about the next day I was very worried. Normally I feel that draft is my best format, but I have to confess that among recent expansions I have the least confidence with M13.

When I discuss my results from Magic 2013 Limited Premier Events I just want to cover my eyes. At Grand Prix Boston I went 1-2, 1-2 in the drafts. And, at the Player’s Championship I also went 1-2. Well, normally with this kind of result you wouldn’t say the format was your strong point. Although I think it’s possible to methodically construct your own draft strategy, in practice this plan is ineffective and more than anything it was too difficult for me to manage. Of course, it can’t be helped that there are matches where relative elements of luck and a deck strength determine the outcome. However, those aspects of the game are not particular to the current format.

I never use words like“perfect” to express respect because although a player may have tried their best and said they lost due to things out of their control, there is usually a way to improve on your play. Even if that isn’t the case, placing the blame for a loss on anyone but yourself is contrary to my way of thinking.

I believe either I have simply become weaker, or I have been making errors in my draft strategy. I think it might be the former, but it wasn’t a problem that could somehow be resolved quickly and I had to resign myself to it. Anyhow, the Grand Prix was already imminent.

So, how about turning the subject to draft? Reexamining my choices seems very promising. Simply put, in this environment my draft strategy is as follows:

1) I really like red. In particular, I like hitting with creatures with a power and toughness of 3/3 or greater.

2) I also like green for similar reasons.

3) I dislike white. In particular, white Exalted decks seldom seem to win.

4) In contrast, I think black’s Exalted cards are strong. And, I really like Mark of the Vampire.

5) At first I liked blue, but right now my valuation of it is shaken. The best example of this is [card]Kraken Hatchling[/card].

6) As an individual card, [card]Chandra’s Fury[/card] is underestimated.

When summarized like this, the points are evident: I’ve vastly overestimated one toughness creatures and have only been partially aware of drafting 3/3s. And with regards to blue, not being able to clearly recognize my changing valuation of it was a big deal.

So now, what would you do?

I returned to my original intention of asking some great players for their advice. This is taken from a discussion with Channel Fireball’s Draft Guru Ben Stark and a Saturday night blog post on drafting by Min-Soo Kim which I have since reread many times.

And this is essential: you cannot simply swallow this information, you have to absorb it, digest it and combine it with your own draft theory. Their way of winning is theirs, and by simply copying it you will only get a lesser version.

In my case, it is necessary to pick consistently because I sometimes follow the particularly basic strategy of proactively drafting unpopular colors. I have tried it out tens of times on a draft simulator and attempted to use my revised picks as a guideline for study.

I can reaffirm that for the first draft my discussion with Ben the previous day proved very useful. Our draft guidelines were almost the same on points 1-3, but there were some discrepancies in how we felt about blue. The general difference was that Ben said that he didn’t want to play blue, whereas I thought that playing it would be fine.

Ben, who was seated on my right passed me a [card]Talrand’s Invocation[/card], a clear sign that I could move into blue. I had narrowed the question of which other color to play down to two, but the decision was made when I was able to snag two copies of [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card] in the second half of the first pack and first picked [card]Murder[/card] in pack two. I am generally satisfied with the deck I built.

[deck]Duty-Bound Dead
Knight of Infamy
Augur of Bolas
Fog Bank
2 Scroll Thief
Giant Scorpion
Vedalken Entrancer
Primal Clay
3 Faerie Invaders
2 Essence Scatter
2 Mark of the Vampire
Talrand’s Invocation
9 Island
8 Swamp[/deck]

Round 9: Ben S. Stark playing Red/Green splash Black

In game one, I was wary of [card]Yeva, Nature’s Herald[/card] because Ben had done little with the exception of starting an [card]Essence Scatter[/card] exchange, and on my fifth turn on the play I did not attack with the [card]Primal Clay[/card] I had played as a 3/3 the previous turn. However, in my hand I held [card]Faerie Invaders[/card], two [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card] and [card]Knight of Infamy[/card]. Considering my potential board development, at that point I thought this play was correct. But the actual correct move might have been to play [card]Primal Clay[/card] as a 1/6. In any case, although the opposing red/green deck made few plays in the opening turns, later the size difference between our creatures made things difficult for me. Being more defensive would have been better.

During the game, the Clay was burnt up by a [card]Searing Spear[/card] followed up with a [card]Fire Elemental[/card]. I played [card]Faerie Invaders[/card]. Even though I then drew a land and was able to attach [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card] to [card]Knight of Infamy[/card], [card]Plummet[/card] and [card]Prey Upon[/card] utterly destroyed my board and the game ended shortly thereafter.

After mulliganing in the second game, I drew exclusively black cards and played only Islands. Of course the game ended quickly after that.


Round 10: AJ Sacher playing White/Green splash Black

I won this match 2-0, but both were extremely close games. In the first game, I couldn’t face down the opposition and I changed my strategy to using [card]Vedalken Entrancer[/card] to mill him out, just barely winning.

Game two started in the opposite way. My original plan was to mill him out, but when AJ’s library had three cards remaining the plan fell through and Entrancer was killed. There was a [card]Vastwood Gorger[/card] enchanted with [card]Rancor[/card] on the battlefield, and it didn’t seem at all likely that I would be able to hold on to my life total. Just when I thought it was hopeless, I drew [card]Disentomb[/card] and brought [card]Vedalken Entrancer[/card] to the battlefield again. Even there, AJ outdid me on his turn by top decking [card]Ground Seal[/card], drawing [card]Revive[/card], and trying to return [card]Prey Upon[/card]… but then he couldn’t target it and ended his turn. It was an incredibly close game. One turn’s difference, and my [card]Disentomb[/card] would have been scrap paper.


Round 11: Hugo S. Terra playing White/Black

Two matches were over, and we knew each others’ decks to some extent. His deck was white/black Exalted. I knew that for me the threats were [card]Sublime Archangel[/card] and [card]Mutilate[/card]. I was able to take the lead in the game because the Archangel met with an [card]Essence Scatter[/card]. Although I was unable to attack due to [card]Ring of Xathrid[/card], the strategy of milling out with [card]Vedalken Entrancer[/card] was once again a success. During the game, I confirmed the presence of the other removal in his deck: a [card]Public Execution[/card] and a [card]Pacifism[/card].

Game two started off with a drastic difference in development, but somehow around turn five I succeeded in stopping the bleeding. Once the Exalted deck stalls the action on the board it’s very difficult to make a comeback. Of course, I only needed to worry about [card]Sublime Archangel[/card] and was able to cut down more than thirty of my opponent’s life points with a [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card] enchanted [card]Faerie Invaders[/card].


Although it could be said that my first draft was a success, my second draft was a great failure. Ben was seated to my left this time, but he and I shared the belief that [card]Planar Cleansing[/card] is a useless white card. The fact that it is a controlling card means it is doubly bad. Although I half understood this, I picked [card]Planar Cleansing[/card] second. After wasting this pick, I ended up moving in to red thereby weakening both of our decks. Finally, in the second pack I first picked [card]Talrand, Sky Summoner[/card] and in the third pack another Talrand came to me third pick, meaning I was somehow able to assemble something resembling a deck. However, I wouldn’t want to put this kind of deck together twice. Unexpectedly, only one win was necessary to reach the Top 8 and I was very lucky to win my first round.

[deck]2 Kraken Hatchling
Augur of Bolas
Mogg Flunkies
Wall of Fire
Scroll Thief
2 Talrand, Sky Summoner
Bladetusk Boar
Fire Elemental
Kindled Fury
2 Unsummon
Volcanic Strength
3 Wild Guess
2 Divination
Searing Spear
Turn to Slag
8 Island
8 Mountain[/deck]

Round 12: Josh W. Utter-Leyton playing White/Green

Truthfully I ended up winning because Wrapter was playing White/Green, which made it difficult for him to disrupt Talrand. Nevertheless, the first game was close and was decided by one turn.

Similarly, in the second game Wrapter ran out of gas while I somehow drew Talrand for another dangerously close win. I think that describing that game again is unnecessary.


Ben S. Stark

Of course, this was an intentional draw. In the free time I went to buy a smoothie on Ben’s recommendation, but it really felt like a chance to finally catch my breath. We discussed what we had picked at what time, but I reaffirmed that I should not take red in the next draft if I was once again close to Ben. It was enough to know that I would play blue if I could.


David A. Ochoa

Obviously, another draw. I returned to the hotel and packed up some of decks and luggage I wouldn’t use. Then, there was the Top 8 draft.

It was the third draft, but once again Ben was seated to my right and my first pick of [card]Talrand, Sky Summoner[/card] made my decision. And just like in the first draft, a [card]Talrand’s Invocation[/card] came around! After that, I gathered up blue instants and sorceries exclusively. I was a little worried about choosing white as my second color, and in the second pack choosing [card]Fog Bank[/card] over [card]Arctic Aven[/card] second pick turned out to be an error. However, it was almost an ideal draft. Furthermore, third pack fourth pick I was passed a [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card]. When I completed my deck, I was satisfied that I had made a good one.

[deck]1 Evolving Wilds
10 Island
6 Plains
17 lands
2 Augur of Bolas
2 Aven Squire
1 Fog Bank
1 Griffin Protector
1 Primal Clay
1 Talrand, Sky Summoner
1 War Priest of Thune
2 Watercourser
1 Wind Drake
2 Captain’s Call
1 Divination
2 Essence Scatter
1 Redirect
1 Show of Valor
1 Sleep
1 Talrand’s Invocation
1 Unsummon
1 Jace, Memory Adept[/deck]

Versus A.J. Sacher

Honestly, this was the matchup I least wanted to face in the Top 8. This is because of the current Pro Tour invitation policy, where only the Top 4 of a Grand Prix receive the right to play. I knew that AJ wasn’t qualified and that he really wanted to be. However, given my lifestyle of traveling the world seeking pro points, conceding would deny me my livelihood itself.

In game one, after a mulligan I was faced with a [card]Knight of Infamy[/card] I could not stop, and just like that it became enchanted with a [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card] and took the game. During game two I used [card]Talrand, Sky Summoner[/card] and tokens to recover from A.J.’s initial attacks.

In game three he. took a double mulligan, and although I had Jace, Memory Adept in my hand from the start it was quite a close game due to my getting mana flooded. The creatures on A.J.’s board had Exalted, and if the [card]Encrust[/card] I had swapped for [card]Sleep[/card] when sideboarding was still the latter the game would be simpler. On the other hand, A.J. could only attack with one creature per turn. I had been drawing land. However, even when I used [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card]’s plus ability and kept drawing chump blockers I still didn’t feel like I was going to survive. One turn after [card]Talrand, Sky Summoner[/card] arrived, I drew the [card]Captain’s Call[/card] I was waiting for, and I felt the game was finally decided.

Versus Willy Edel

The difference in the power level of the decks as well as the difficulty of the match up were such that there really isn’t too much to say about these games. In the first one, he had to take a double mulligan and [card]Talrand, Sky Summoner[/card] had plenty of time in which to decide the game. Game two I simply protected [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] for two turns.

Versus David Sharfman

Although the article about the finals says it, it was a big deal to win the first game after a double mulligan. Furthermore, the one card that remained in my hand, [card]Redirect[/card], was the absolute last card I selected for the deck, and I agonized over the choice. As you might expect, I am truly happy that it ended up playing the most crucial role.

It’s been five years since I won Grand Prix Stuttgart in 2007. That is a very long time. At first I was just anxious about this season, but I have had a good start and I am going to try my best to make this a great year.

I would also like to thank the players at Grand Prix Costa Rica. I was very grateful for your being so friendly and kind. I feel like a complete fool for choosing to spend so much of my valuable time in Costa Rica sleeping. The next time I visit there, I will absolutely take a longer trip of about a week.

As always, thank you for reading.

Shuhei Nakamura


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