FFfreaky Friday – Expensive (and Valuable) Lessons


Pro Tour Austin and Grand Prix Tampa are over, and after sorting through the wreckage, all that’s left are the lessons learned. The two tournaments did not give me the wins I was looking for, but the knowledge I obtained was worth more then anything I could have imagined. This is important to dissect properly because in a month I do it all over again.

Going into Pro Tour Austin, I had great expectations for how I would do. I have been playing really good magic with the results to prove it. I began testing for the tournaments with Chris Lachman, Steve Sadin, Conley Woods, and Corey Baumeister, my brother. Early on we discovered how powerful the Dark Depths deck could be if we put the work into the deck.

We tested the deck in many different variations until we were finally comfortable with the list. When I got to Austin, I sleeved it up and started the tournament. When the first portion of draft started, do you know where I was? I was out eating with Charles Gindy and Tom Ross. That’s right – I 0-5’d the Extended portion of the tournament. That’s that and I was out of the main event.

Here’s the list. For the record, my brother played the same 75 cards and took 27th place:




This was a big eye opener for me. I was on the PTQ scene for many years, but once I broke away from that it seemed like my trail was coated in gold. I did really well at my first Pro Tour and the Nationals that followed, got a job writing for Channelfireball.com, and felt really good about Magic. Now I just received my first bad finish.

I could blame this on bad draws, and I did have a few of them, but what could I learn from leaving it at that? There had to of been a few draws I should have mulliganed to try to pull out a few more wins. There is no reason to 0-5 any tournament unless there were multiple play mistakes.

I spent the rest of the day with some of the best people I could have met. Tom “The Boss” Ross, Charles Gindy, and I went out to eat for some “celebration” sake and sushi. We talked about Magic, life, and the better finishes we had all earned at some point.

That’s when I realized something amazing. I would not have met these people if it wasn’t for my failures. Sure, I knew them a bit and talked with them before, but nothing to the point of getting to know each other and putting our personalities to the test. If there was one good thing to happen about getting five losses, it was creating some great friendships through the experience.

This made me realize something that Patrick Chapin told me about after Sunday’s competition at Nationals. After I lost in the play-off, I asked Brian Kowal to go out to eat with me. Chapin was there and tagged along. We got to talking and he said something that seemed very random.

“Do you know what’s going on here?” he said to me very aggressively. I didn’t know how to respond except to say I was playing Magic and we were at a tournament.

It took me until Texas to understand that there is something much bigger going on. The people I have met during my Magic travels are some of the best I’ve ever met. That’s what is more important during these trips. Getting to spend time with people, win or lose. It’s what Magic is all about, from Friday Night Magic all the way to the Pro Tour.

I have let results dictate my happiness about tournaments, but for some reason an 0-5 record at Texas didn’t bother me. I played tight and things didn’t go my way. I got to have some good eats and watch my brother finish the day at 6-2 (the same day one finish I had in Hawaii). He went on to take 27th, earning a decent check and a huge hug from his big brother.

After doing badly, I got to learn a great lesson in what is most important on the Pro Tour. But what about dissecting the results? I have to do something to try to correct what went wrong. One of the things that could have gone sour was the inability to test on Magic Online. This is the tool I have always used for testing. I prepared for my first Pro Tour by playing extensively online.

This time I could not test on MTGO and I think not getting in enough games of Extended – compared to the hundreds of Block games I played – could have been a deciding factor. I should put more focus into testing without MTGO. It has been a great tool for me, but learning to play offline during testing would prove more beneficial.

Standard Play

Enough talk about Texas. I’m sick of it, you’re probably sick of it, everyone but Kibler is sick of it. I have been playing a lot of Standard lately and cannot wait for Zendikar Game Day and Worlds. This format seems like with a decent amount of work, it could be a healthy format.

Online, the only decks being played are Jund variants, Jund variants, and a few more Jund variants. This is all I have played against. Sometimes a random control deck, but 80 percent of my matches have been against the Cascading Elephant. I have not cascaded yet in Standard and it feels good to say that. I’m not saying Jund isn’t a good deck, but I’m just sick of [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] already. I also don’t like to play aggressive mirror matches out of taste.

I have been playing a version of Christian Calcano’s Boros Landfall deck. I think he designed a really good deck, but after playing it for about two weeks I found some consistency problems. I also think he didn’t know what to sideboard against, but that’s fair. The format was really open that weekend.

This is what I have been playing in Standard Online:


I’ve played this version for about three days without changing a card. It’s a really tight list and even though I want to change cards, I cannot figure what. Ancient Ziggurat has been really good for fixing many of my draws. I wish I could play more, but having so many sac lands means my basic count has to stay high. Ziggurat has saved me so many times from mulligans that I might need to find room for one or two more.

Ziggurat does hinder the deck from being able to play some really powerful spells for the mirror, though. Before I was playing Ziggurat, I had Intimidation Bolt in the sideboard. It was the best card you could think of on the turn they were Bushwacking. It had to go when I realized how insane Ziggurat was for the deck.

The other change I made to the deck was replacing Burst Lightning with Harm’s Way. This change is just because of what I play against online. Jund has been the main deck to play against, but as of yesterday I got to play against an array of different decks. In those matchups I would like to have Burst Lightning more than Harm’s Way.

Harm’s Way is better against Jund because Burst Lighting is a “Dome only” spell, since all of their creatures live through the spell. I understand Bloodbraid doesn’t and Putrid Leech dies in response to pumps, but the ability to protect a Landfall creature through a bolt-style card is game changing.

This may be the most important thing I will say in an article about the current Standard format: If you are going to kill your opponent’s creature before it deals damage to you, it is almost always correct to do it during your turn. I’ve seen many, many players make this mistake.

In one of the last rounds of competition at Pro Tour Texas, I was watching my brother in a heated match of Dark Depths versus Dredge. The dredge player had the game next turn with four flying creatures, but left nothing back to block my brother’s 20/20 token. Corey was a bit taken back by this, but simply untapped and swung. His opponent cast [card]Echoing Truth[/card] and Corey showed him the Muddle the Mixture.

“I didn’t know that deck ran counters!” his opponent said. This could have all been avoided with a main phase removal spell.

Now that players are never playing around Harm’s Way, it makes the spell even better to cast against them. I have won many games because of how unfair that card can be when my opponent doesn’t see it coming.

The best thing this deck has going for it right now is that it is the fastest deck in Standard. The deck gets draws that are just unbeatable. Ranger of Eos can deal 11 damage all by itself with a Bushwacker and Steppe Lynx. This makes for some insane midgame attacks when your opponent has already exhausted his removal spells.

I don’t know why the deck has not been more popular unline, unless it’s just an expensive deck compared to Jund. I think Boros is the only deck in the format to have a positive win percentage against the field. Most of the control decks cannot beat its speed until they get more refined.

Some tricks to be aware of if you are going to play this deck:

Think before sacrificing. It feels really good to sac the fetch land and deal extra two or four damage, but it is not always correct. Knowing what your opponent can cast next turn or even that turn to prevent blowouts is very important.

Protect your dudes. If you know your opponent has a Pyroclasm effect in his deck or in hand, you can actually use a sac land in play as a counterspell. Until you are dealing the final blow, that sac land is protecting your Steppe Lynxs and Plated Geopedes from death. They also let you “overextend” so a wrath effect will not kill your landfall creatures.

Put your guys in Harm’s Way. Jund does not have anything to deal with mass amounts of creatures except for two-damage sweepers. If you protect your landfall creatures from those cards, you can keep playing the other creatures in your deck, which will put them in a very difficult position. They’ll have to decide whether to waste time wrathing half of your board or progress their own board. It’s a very difficult decision to make. Not to mention what a Harm’s Way could do in that situation!

I have been really happy with this deck and will be working on it a lot for Worlds. I might find something bigger and better, but if I don’t play it, I won’t mind having a deck that has multiple different turn 4 kills.

First Pick of the Week

Before I finish, I want to talk a bit about something being discussed in the comments on LSV’s last article: the Trusty Machete or Vampire Nighthawk pick-one pack-one debate. I was asked this at GP Tampa and it was a great conversation for a few dinners.

This is a very difficult pick. Both cards are powerful in their own way. I agree with what people say about Nighthawk being one of the most powerful cards in the format, but that’s in a vacuum. Every draft I play in I’m forced out of Black and put into colors people don’t want to play. Over the years I may have become a very passive drafter, but it has worked for me so I haven’t changed my style.

I like taking the best artifact in the set for my first pick. It not only gives me the information of what the person to my left is going to go into, but it lets me see what the person to my right is going to send my way. Gaining this information is more important then having a mana intense three-drop bomb.

I also take Machete here because Black has more first pick spells than any other color, which puts more people into it. Black is a very powerful color to be in and it wins a lot of the drafts, but because it tends to be overdrafted because of this, I have gladly moved into Blue-Green and White-Red archetypes.

I would love to hear what you would draft and why.

Brad Nelson

FFfreaK on MTGO

[email protected]

31 thoughts on “FFfreaky Friday – Expensive (and Valuable) Lessons”

  1. Loved the article. I netdecked the Bushwhacker deck from philly and have been playing it on MTGO for the past few days quite successfully. Thanks for the tips about playing the deck and I’ll try some of the adjustments you’ve made.

  2. I agree with taking Machete for basically the same reasons you pointed out. Anyone who’s drafted the format knows that black is very strong if you can get your hands on it, which makes it all the more sought after and harder to get said hands on. That being said it just makes more sense to me to take the more open card, which isn’t as objectively powerful, but fits into more decks as you’ll probably be forced to sideboard that first pick nighthawk a large majority of the time.
    Another debate that’s come up locally is what rare you want to open in pack one. Most of the people I’ve talked to have immediately said Hellkite Charger, but as I’ve personally never opened the card in about 80 drafts I can’t have much of an opinion. What I can say is that I’ve opened Eldrazi Monument more than my fair share of times, and seeing that thing go 6th in the Austin coverage was mind boggling to me. Anyone have additional thoughts?
    Anyway, sorry about the long comment, keep up the great writing Brad, it’s good to hear about the possibilities the Pro Tour offers beside just traveling to exotic places and slinging some cardboard.
    All the best,

  3. Brad, can you comment just briefly on what you bring in for different matchups from your sideboard? I would think that you would basically want to be main decked up for Jund since it is by far the dominant deck right now but I see you have the purges on the sideboard…

  4. Hi Brad, I’m been running boros on MWS for 2weeks, testing for games day. Just like to ask your opinion of ajani vengeant v.s goblin ruinblaster and what matchups are the pyroclasms for? I’m surprised that you chose not to max out the purges, considering it rids nighthawks, thrinax, leech, e.t.c

  5. brad sorry to hear about the 0-5 (did you get any fail cake), but you made excellent points about how fun the events themselves are and how you meet people.

    i mean i met you at GP Boston and because of the ptqs and what not i have become really good friends with jake.

    awesome article well done

  6. Hurray for never giving up and making awesome friends!

    Do the U.S. proud in Rome buddy! Great Article!

    And another exclaimation point for good measure!


  7. one of my favorite archetypes is BG nekretaal as i call it, you can end up with silly amounts of creatures that cip kill somthing, (i.e. oran-rief recluse, hearstabber mosquito, gatekeeper of malakir, halo hunters if your lucky) i aim for grabbing the three toughness guys that are just bigger then all of the two drops ie recluse and giant scorpion and closing out the game with a baloth of somesort, or equipment wearing mosquito, or surrakar maruadars. just somthing to think about i know a lot has been said about the speed of the format but you can punish an opponent for not playing “bigger” creatures if you aim for certain spells

  8. Trusty Machete! Everybody and their grandmother wants to grab black, leading to pretty horrible pack ones if you’re in the wrong seat.
    Like LSV in his draft video’s, I always end up U/W anyway..

  9. I really like Machete and Nighthawk… but I myself would just force black for Nighthawk… Nighthawk is the reason people draft black… It only takes 6-7 other playable black spells to have a ridiculous bomb in your deck and with 41 cards to go I think I could get there… a couple of Mosquito’s, Disfigures or Hideous Ends and your deck could just be sick… those are all commons so getting there shouldn’t be all that hard… I also hate seeing Nighthawk more than Machete… I just think Black is pretty powerful for it’s power vs rarity…

  10. I drafted a Hedron Scrabbler once, I wanted another 2 drop, and boarded it out every game. But one game, my opponent refused to trade with it, and it just kept clubbing him in the face for 2. For one game, he was the best creature in my deck. He got in for 12 total.

  11. I pick Nighthawk pick 1 – I think it is just TOO STRONG in this format, and a much better card than Machete – he completely dominates the board on turn three or on turn 10…

    Btw, see, I DO read them, I was not lying 😉

    Congrats to ur brother on his finish!

  12. Vampire Nighthawk is the only card that I really truly fear in Zendikar limited. I would never pass one in draft.

  13. What are your sideboarding strategies for the boros deck? I have been playing a slightly different deck but I still can never decide exactly what I want to cut and bring in vs certain decks.

  14. Take the machete there are many more answers to nighthawk.
    Slaughter Cry being one of them
    I think many players discount Red in draft because maining Red is rather weak but as a splash color it is very enabling for all the other colors.
    Teetering Peaks in Landfall is ridiculous which opens the option of running saughter cry/burst lighting and Geopede if nothing else.

    First strike in this environement is huge and slaughter cry makes nearly any creature in the envronment a killer. Geopedes First Strike ability only enhances the landfall.

    I like the Standard list and am Finding Jund’s success to be more of a factor of the number of players playing it than it being overly dominatingly aggro. (Dont get me wrong its a good deck but its not nearly as theatening as some others)
    This i the list Im currently testing in Standard and seems to be working against all aggro so far. Im not completely set on the board but seems to work for now.

    Monument Coup
    3 Arid Mesa
    2 Forest
    3 Graypelt Refuge
    2 Island
    3 Marsh Flats
    2 Misty Rainforest
    6 Plains
    3 Sunpetal Grove
    4 Birds of Paradise
    2 Noble Hierarch
    2 Ajani Goldmane
    2 Conqueror’s Pledge
    3 Day of Judgment
    2 Eldrazi Monument
    2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
    2 Garruk Wildspeaker
    4 Harm’s Way
    3 Howling Mine
    3 Martial Coup
    4 Path to Exile
    3 Safe Passage
    4 Silence
    4 Into the Roil
    4 Negate
    3 Celestial Purge

  15. You were definitely one of the sickest people to hang out with at Hollywood and Nats. Its good to see you become so successful.

  16. I keep forgetting you name everytime. For me I should find your name on parings as FFfreak and not Brad… Brad who?


  17. Machete. I tend to get way more value out of the equipment in this creature heavy format. When it’s aggro vs. aggro, I’d rather consistently have the bigger creature than have one guy.

    Nighthawk puts me into a color that I don’t really want to fight over, and if they have the answer to it, it didn’t do you much good. Worst case scenario, Machete gets hit on turn 4 by a Sanctifiers or something.

  18. SInce I didn’t have a playset of all the fetchlands when I decided i wanted to play Borod, I also tried Ancient Ziggurat and a single copy of Terramorphic Expanse (and 1forest) in this deck and they are still in this list to support me casting my Wild Nacatls as the only green card in the deck.

    I have also removed all the Burst Lightnings (now that the Ziggurat has downgraded this card to a Shock) in favor of maindeck Journey to Nowhere, to improve my chances against the Bant decks.

  19. Loved the article and really like the site. I’ve been playing the deck online for almost two weeks and have found it to be really solid. It’s good to read an article where you can tell the writer has actually played a lot of games with the deck. You know what your talking about and it shows, definately looking forward to your next article!

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  21. Nice article, definitely agree with the lessons you’ve learned. It’s an important step to realise that it’s not just about Magic and that winning is a great bonus to meeting awesome people and having a great time.

    Hopefully you’ll do better in Rome!

    Also, Nighthawk, and that’s saying a lot cause I’m a huge Machete fan…

  22. Why is it better to kill a creature that’s going to deal damage to you on your own turn and not your opponent’;s? I don’t really get hte example.

  23. Hurts me to say it, but… machete is the way to go. You will always play the machete and it’s an awesome card, but the Nighthawk relies on at least a heavy black splash.

  24. Hey man,

    Glad to see you have stuck with the deck since the side events of Austin. I took your maindeck with a couple of sideboard tweeks for my meta to Game Day and won the whole thing. See you in San Diego (if not before then)!

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