Feature Article – Lessons and Limited Situations from San Juan


My first goal when I go to a Pro Tour is to do well. When that doesn’t happen, I try to at least have fun and improve.

One entertaining thing happened when a few of the people I tested with and I went to a restaurant we found on Yelp. We were turning onto a street, and suddenly a police car turned its siren on and pulled us over. The officers told us we were going the wrong way on a one-way street. We told them where we were trying to get to, and they offered to help us. What we didn’t expect was that we got a police escort with lights flashing for the entire route! The food tasted even better when I won the credit card game at the restaurant, so I didn’t even have to pay for my meal.

In the first round of the Day One draft, I played against Grand Prix Houston Top 8 member Pete Picard. He was playing Blue White Levelers against my Black Red deck. In game three, I had a Valakut Fireboar out against his army of small creatures. Pete wanted to push through some damage, so he attempted to Narcolepsy my Fireboar. When I say “attempted,” he didn’t actually put the Narcolepsy into play. Instead, Pete accidentally reached for the wrong card, putting an Eel Umbra on my Fireboar. Pete attempted to take it back, but he wasn’t allowed to do it. He then did Narcolepsy the Boar, figuring that if a 1/7 was worth enchanting, a 2/8 certainly was.

From this point on, Pete was completely tilted and he began attacking illogically. His first attack allowed my now 2/8 Boar to eat a Venerated Teacher. The very next turn, a pumped up Zof Shade took down a Caravan Escort. Each attack was only getting through one or two damage and was costing him a guy, but Pete was just hellbent on attacking.

I think this may have been a more extreme case of tilt than is common, but getting tilted after something bad happens is just way too common. Whether it’s a punt, an online misclick (or a real-life misclick, as in this case), or simply your opponent getting lucky, there is no excuse for letting tilt cost you a game. What Pete did at first was exactly how he should have handled it: he calmly evaluated the situation after the irreversible effect happened, and made the correct play (Narcolepsying the now 2/8 Boar). If Pete had continued to keep emotion out of the situation, he would have had a chance to win. Instead, he simply became hyper-aggressive. If the Fireboar had been Eel Umbra-ed by me, there is no way Pete would have played the game the same way even though the situation was the same.

I lost my next round in the draft which left me playing for Day Two against Jan Reuss. Game Three was an extremely odd game. I was mana flooded the whole game, and Jan was mana screwed. Late in the game, I came across a situation where I had all lands in hand and a twice-leveled Lord of Shatterskull Pass in play. I had enough mana to fully level it next turn. Jan had a Dawnglare Invoker with a Hyena Umbra on it and an unleveled Kabira Vindicator in play. He had 5 lands out. I was at 8 and Jan was at 12.

The critical point in the game came when Jan attacked with both the Dawnglare Invoker and the Kabrira Vindicator. Obviously, Jan would attack with the Vindicator regardless of what he had in his hand. Thus, I had to figure out which cards would make me want to block and which would make me not want to block. If I block, my Lord would be vulnerable to a Flame Slash. I had seen two in the previous game, but he had already used one. It would certainly fit that he could have a Flame Slash in his hand because I didn’t play any targets for it.

On the other hand, if I didn’t block, I would take 5 down to 3. On the following turn, I would crash with the fully-leveled Lord and attack. This would take the Hyena Umbra off the Invoker and take down the Vindicator. On the next turn, Jan could crack back with the Invoker, putting me to 1. This would leave me vulnerable to a number of cards, Spawning Breath being the only one I had seen. It would not make sense for Jan to have Breath in hand because I had played some x/1s and he was mana-screwed and thus would probably want a Spawn.

Thus, I decided I should play around the card he was more likely to have. I took the damage and cracked back with the Lord. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about one of the cards Jan was playing: Akoum Boulderfoot. It was so obvious! Jan didn’t have the mana to cast Boulderfoot all game, so it would be perfectly logical for him to have one in hand. The card is not too powerful, and even though I had seen it in Game 1, I did not make a mental note of it because it is usually a 23rd card. Of course, instead of ripping the land to cast his Boulderfoot, Jan simply drew the Spawning Breath that was left in his deck. He did not have a Flame Slash in hand.

The Lessons

There are a couple of important lessons from my play mistake that ended up costing me a chance to play on Day Two. First of all, I had forgotten about cards in his deck. There was no excuse for this, as taking notes is legal. Even though Boulderfoot isn’t a very good card, there are a lot of situations where it is relevant to know about. It is more important to remember cards that you can play around rather than simply remembering the best cards in your opponents’ deck. There’s a simple way to solve this: write down any card and every card that you think might ever be relevant. Even if you have a good memory, it’s easy to get confused about cards you saw in as earlier round. Writing down cards is absolutely allowed: it costs you nothing and can save many games.

Another thing I did not take into account when making my decision was the cost. If Jan had the Flame Slash, I was going to lose my Lord. This would put me in a bad situation, but not an insurmountable one. However, if Jan had the Spawning Breath in hand, I was simply dead. Thus, even if I thought he was more likely to have Flame Slash, playing around direct damage would still have been the correct play. The key point is that when you calculate, don’t just think about the likelihood of a devastating card; there is a big difference between a bad situation and a loss.

Using the Rest of the Weekend

Although I missed Day Two in the PT, I did get the extra pro point I needed to get to Level Three and to have an invite of my choice. Because I want to use that invite for Worlds, I decided to play the side-event PTQ. I played a Mythic list from my friend Tom Raney, who had Top 8ed back-to-back PTQs with the deck. His build was heavy on Planeswalkers, which I liked in the Blue/White Control matchup. Here is the list he recommended:

I started off 5-0 and I felt like I couldn’t lose. Basically, one game per round I would get a nutty draw with Cobra and a Bird/Hierarch, and then I’d only have to win one of the other two. Unfortunately towards the end of the PTQ, I found the downside of this nut draw deck: mulligans. I began mulliganing to five on a regular basis and started getting destroyed. I ended up losing the last three rounds and failing to make Top 8. When the Mythic deck was good, it was great, but when it was bad, it was terrible.

Tom Raney ended up winning the PTQ with Mythic, which was awesome. The deck has been so good for him I think it’s safe to say it is one of the best choices in Standard if not the best. Clearly, the mulligan issue has not gotten to him, so I think it might’ve just been a fluke. I still think Mythic is a good choice and would definitely recommend it for PTQs, but you do have to be prepared to mull any hand that doesn’t have an accelerator.

Sunday I mainly did drafts on the side. For me, the best drafts were when I played on a team with LSV and Wrapter against Jon Finkel, Gabriel Nassif, and Adam Yurchick. Not only did we win both, which was awesome, but it was also just really cool to play against the best player of all time, Jon Finkel. Both times, Finkel drafted decks that were completely based on card advantage. In fact, I’m pretty sure he would take Mnemonic Wall and Cadaver Imp over just about anything. In the first draft, I had double Vengevine with lots of creatures which was basically impossible for his blue black removal deck to handle, so I beat him.

In one of the games from that match, I had three lands out (it was Turn 3) and another land in hand. I also had a bunch of dudes in hand, including a Daggerback Basilisk and a Vengevine. I tanked, and eventually chose to just pass the turn. This was definitely the correct play, as the Basilisk ended up help recurring the Vengevine later and won me the game. I was proud of myself for making such a clever play when it was clear the natural instinct would be to curve out. However, after the match, Luis mentioned that I thought too long on my turn. At first, I thought this was unreasonable because it was not an obvious play and I’m not good enough to make that play on the spot (although Luis probably is). However, after talking with Luis about it more, he pointed out that I could’ve thought about the play on Finkel’s turn. Nothing I drew really affected the decision, so there was no reason I shouldn’t have been thinking about it. Luis pointed out that a player as good as Finkel could infer that I had Vengevine and a three drop in my hand from my tanking. Even though it was hard to admit I had made a mistake after I made what I thought was a good play, Luis was right. The lesson is clear: never miss an opportunity to think; it will give you more time and will keep your opponent in the dark.

Overall, even though I missed playing for Day Two in San Juan, I still had a great time, learned a ton, and got to see a lot of friends do really well.

24 thoughts on “Feature Article – Lessons and Limited Situations from San Juan”

  1. hey matt, look at you mr. pt super star, hahaha. good article dude, these are some solid limited insights. good to see you’ve risen up in the game, i always knew you could.

    <— is jealous of drafting with lsv against finkel and crew

  2. Great article, though I’ll admit I was hoping to hear more about the game where you played around every card in Magic except for Haze Frog and accordingly received the frogging of a lifetime.

    And to be fair, I don’t think there’s any way I could have known that that street was one-way, even after we ran it for like six blocks in heavy traffic. San Juan police are pretty awesome, though.

  3. Your think-tank solution to get to the right play vs Jan seems somewhat off to me. If he does not have the boulderfoot in his deck or you don’t know about him playing one, there is no way in hell you should block. As you correctly summarized yourself, it would be extremely unlikely for him to hold the spawning breath in the scenario you described. Sounds like he either drew it last turn or he simply shouldn’t have it. It can’t be correct to block in this scenario. Yes, you lose to burn. But as you correctly figured out yourself, it’s more likely for him to have slash.
    Think of it like this, what cards matter:
    flame slash (you know he’s got one left in his deck, you had no good targets and he is holding 5 spells) – no block.
    heat ray – surely he could have one of those you did not see yet. no block.
    spawning breath – highly unlikely to be holding it for more then 1 or 2 turns. block.
    staggershock – unlikely to be in his grip, surely could have killed 2 guys earlier. anyway, does not matter, you lose no matter what. bad luck.
    guard duty – you lose but he would not have attacked with the ground guy anyway.

    All the other cards ina normal white/red draft deck are creatures that will fold to your rare. That leads to a simple conclusion -> No block. The only cards that kill you are shock/breath (if you add uncommons, its a few more of course), one you don’t even know if he’s got it and even then at this point you think it’s unlikely for him to hold either.

    Now with the knowledge of him having the boulderfoot in his deck, 5 spells in hand and stuck on 5 lands, that scenario changes. You can STILL make a valid argument for no block. As you surely are the dog to win that game and will need to get somewhat lucky, so might as well gamble for him either not having the boulderfoot or simply not drawing the 6th land in his next draw (might have drawn it on this turn of course, so basically he had 2 draws to get there), as he is on 12 life and the lord will kill him on your 2nd next turn.

    Now something you did not talk about at all in your thought process is also important: How many outs did you have left in your deck? Jan’s attack only gets you to 3. He still has to attack with his flier on the next turn to get you to 1 and in range of breath/boulderfoot. You said you were flooded, so I’ll assume that you had the mana to level the lord 3 times and cast a 3-4 mana spells. Now if you have 2-3 fliers and 2-3 removal in your deck, with a high spell > land artio (being flooded and all), you are looking at a scenario that makes you lose when not blocking “IF he just drew the breath” or “IF he has boulderfoot in hand AND he gets the 6th land AND you don’t find a solution to the flier in your next draw step”.
    If you compare those probabilities with your probability to win the game if you block and your lord dies, which I would think must be very low, you are facing an invoker that will go active at some point with an umbra and Jan holding 4 spells, then ‘no blocks’ sounds like the right call to me.

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  5. lsv’s point is really big. Thats one thing I always wanted to improve, thinking just one turn ahead. If you can consistently be 2-3 turns ahead and then make adjustments when factors change then you should be a special player

  6. Brett: Haze Frog doesn’t exist, everybody knows that… Fine I’ll tell the story. My opponent had three green and Dreamstone Hedron up. I couldn’t think of anything he could have so I sent the team for what would have been lethal and got Haze Frogged. Fortunately this didn’t happen in the PT or I would have been on life tilt, but it was in the MODO live series side event thing that had a reasonable amount of money on the line. You will not be surprised to hear I heard the word “Haze Frog” a lot for the weak, and apparently Brett decided that even two weeks later it’s still funny.

    Kai: That’s an excellent point. I didn’t get into infinite detail on that scenario, but the outs in my deck is certainly worth talking about. I had nine mana in play, so the Lord had been leveled twice on the previous turn, and also had a land in hand, so I could level the Lord the necessary four more times and still play a two drop. As far as outs go, my deck had Forked Bolt, Nighthaze into Forked Bolt, and Shrivel (although if I remember correctly I had already Shriveled. I do agree that there could still be an argument for taking it if I remember about Bolderfoot, but I’m pretty sure the correct play is to block if I remember.

  7. FOG FROG!!!!

    That card seems to be underated imho…oh and it kills Escaped Null easily…thats a plus…right?

  8. R: in pack two I opened one Venge and then got passed one. I then took every creature in sight and my deck was pretty nuts. Ended up not being able to go mono green which was a little annoying, but it was still sweet. I am also a master since I bought them on modo for online ptqs before GP Sendai for like 20 and now they are like twice that. Basically just running good w/ regards to Vengevine all around.

  9. Good stuff Matt. Q: With the Eel umbra/Narcolepsy misplay, would it have mattered if he announced, “Narcolepsy on your Fireboar” before putting the card down?

  10. Michael Hetrick

    I’ve been told that if he had announced it as such, a judge could rule as intent to play Narcolepsy.

    I recall calling that Haze Frog before you had attacked, but in that situation you couldn’t really play around it anyways.

  11. Haze frog versus the Blue-Red draft deck that makes their guys unblockable is very good. Better than I thought the card was at first. Won me an 8-4 in an otherwise unwinnable situation with a Black-Green mana ramp deck. When I sided into three of them it felt like cheating.

  12. I think this is the best article you’ve written so far, it was more down to earth and the tone was a lot more personable.

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  15. Matt: heard you ran an interesting R/B list for standard that didn’t run creatures main. Any chance you or one of your decbuilding cohorts will run an article on it soon?

  16. I did. I didn’t do very well with it, but it did feel kinda powerful. Once I test it and tune it a little more I might talk about it if it turns out to be playable. Not sure it can beat Jund, but I think the right build might be good vs the gw decks and uw. the gist is 4 pyromancer ascension 4 staggershock 4 consuming vapors 4 bolt 4 burst 4 sign in blood 4 surreal memoir…

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