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Getting Nassty – Trying to Catch the Train in Portland

Obviously, I’ve done a lot of traveling in the last month. I am finally back from my four week adventure, and while it was awesome, it was also exhausting. I’ve found that the closer a tournament is, the better I do. This year, I 9-0d day one of both West Coast GPs and did better at tourneys in the middle of the country like Nationals than the east coast tournaments. Long flights are difficult to get over, and time differences are also hard.

It’s often good to take some time off to relax. I actually regretted going to Gothenburg, not because I didn’t do well (which I didn’t), but because I was gone for so long and became so tired over the trip. I really hope Wizards makes an effort to not schedule so many tournaments in such a short time span. However, if they do, I simply might not go to all of them.

Besides taking time off, I’ve also found it important to get to a tournament early. Having a day to get an extra night of sleep, get used to the time difference, and get over jet lag was really helpful. If you ever plan on flying to a trip across the country or outside of the country, I would really recommend giving yourself a day or two to get acclimated, unwind, and test.

Since I didn’t get a chance to write a report on either part of my Europe trip due to my average finishes, I thought it would be a good idea to put the most interesting thing that happened in Europe in this report.

The Bar

In Amsterdam, me, Brian Kibler, Tom Martell, and Zaiem Beg went to a restaurant bar in downtown Amsterdam. Seated next to us were quite the interesting couple. The man was quite obviously drunk and kindly asked all of us where we were from. He inserted some generic comment on each place mentioned and after making his rounds decided he needed a refresher course. He asked all of us are names again, and again, and again. He specifically asked Kibler where he’s from at least five times. He also kindly told us he was from Pittsburg at least 10 times. After that lovely experience, the wife came by, clearly embarrassed. She apologized for her husband’s actions, but then something odd happened. Instead of continuing to apologize or just leaving, she decided to talk to us about our eligibility as bachelors. She kindly mentioned that I needed to go to the person Tom uses for his eyebrows. She also suggested Kibler should dress Martell since Kibler apparently dresses like he’s gay. Suffice to say, it wasn’t long before she seemed less sober than her husband.

After Europe was Portland. Going into Portland I had 17 Pro Points. In order to qualify for Worlds and every Pro Tour next year I needed to top 16. Portland was M11 Sealed, and I felt like I understood the format pretty well. M11 sealed is very different from M11 draft. In draft, I consider Infantry Veteran a perfectly reasonable first pick. In sealed, I would rather have an Armored Cancrix. In M11 draft it is viable to play very aggressive decks. People don’t have as much removal, and decks tend to be more streamlined. In sealed, aggro decks simply don’t work. It doesn’t matter how few bombs you have or how bad your deck is at going long, you simply can’t attack in this sealed format. When you play with an aggressive sealed deck your bears always get shut down by cards like Armored Cancrix, Giant Spider, or Maritime Guard. Tough to beat cards like Pyroclasm are also going to be in a big portion of Sealed pools. Whatever you do, don’t attack in M11 sealed.

The Tournament

When I opened my pool at Portland, I had what I thought was a good, but not insane pool. It had really strong blue with two Cancel, a Frost Titan, and a Mind Control, along with two potential other colors: white or black. The white’s highlights were Blinding Mage, Pacifism, Vengeful Archon, and Angelic Arbiter. My black was strong with 2 Doom Blade and 2 Quag Sickness. In the end, I decided on blue-white since my deck was very controlling and I thought the bombs would be more important than the removal. After playing some games in my byes, I decided that the black was actually better because my deck already had enough lategame and needed more removal to make sure it got to the lategame. I only left in the white against decks that were light on answers to Archon and Arbiter or decks that were black and thus would blank Doom Blade.

I got off to a great start, taking down opponent after opponent. Each round, I would take a game with my blue-white deck, and then take the next one down with my Blue Black deck. Most of these games were pretty boring since my deck was just a lot better than most of my early opponents’, but there were a few highlights.

In one of my rounds, I had a game where Alluring Siren 5-for-1ed my opponent. I led with turn two Siren, and Evil played turn two Silvercoat Lion. On turn three, I played a Gargoyle Sentinel. I happily lured the Lion on the next turn. Later we each had an Azure Drake out. Thus, I lured his Drake into my Drake + activated Sentinel. I took down a Cloud Crusader the same way. During the game, the Siren also allowed me to get two Scroll Thief hits in. It literally earned me five cards. Of course, since the Siren hadn’t done enough, it also ended up being my finisher as it took out a blocker before my lethal attack. The Siren should absolutely be played in any sealed in which you are blue.

My first game loss came in round eight against good friend and fellow Nor-Cal resident Brett Allen. Brett had a very good base green-blue deck splashing Fireball. We split the first two in close games (I lost game two with the black version, but stuck with it for game three). In game three, I managed to stabilize at nine. I then drew a Flashfreeze for my turn. I was pretty confident Brett had Fireball in hand, so I lured him into casting it by taking a hit from his Garruk’s Packleader the next turn when I was representing a lethal backswing. Since I was at five, Brett now thought tapping out for Fireball would kill me. When he slammed down the Fireball, I slammed down my Flashfreeze, and that was all she wrote.

My ninth round was one of the most unusual rounds of Magic I have ever played. In game one, I played a Frost Titan on turn six. My opponent tapped five lands and Mind Controlled my Frost Titan. The key word here is five lands, as that was all he had, and the Mind Control was countered. If a player has enough mana to pay for the Titan, you legally have to remind them, but if they tap out to target it, the spell or ability does get countered. My opponent was obviously very upset. On the next turn, my opponent played a land and opened with a Cloud Elemental. He followed that up with… a Pacifism? My opponent once again tapped down to less than two open for a spell targeting Titan. At this point, he was clearly fuming. Now, I was far enough ahead that I could start tapping lands with Titan. On the next turn, my opponent had five untapped lands. He played a Clone copying my Titan. Clone’s ability doesn’t target, so he didn’t have to pay for that. However, when it was time to declare targets for his Titan’s tap ability, he immediately pointed straight at my Titan. Of course, that was countered and I was able to then send my Titan tapping his Titan, and took the game from there.

Obviously, my opponent did something very unusual this game. Rather than simply considering him confused, I think it’s important to look at what happened. Obviously, he wasn’t bad enough to make that many mistakes in a row, as he did get to 8-0 with a pool that didn’t even seem that bomby. If his natural ability wasn’t the cause, the next place to look is psychology. Clearly, he was very nervous going into the match as it was his first professional event and he was 8-0. This is what led to him Mind Controlling the Titan in the first place. From there, he was tilted. There were a lot of spectators, so it was very embarrassing, and he knew that it may cost him the game, which was frustrating. From there, his emotions took over and his brain stopped working. He played faster, and played cards in random orders (Cloud Elemental before Pacifism). He stopped looking carefully at the board and simply went on autopilot. From here, it isn’t hard to understand how something like this could happen. He simply snapped.

Tilt

Preventing tilt is one of the hardest things to do in Magic. Tilt doesn’t happen to the degree it did in the game above very often, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the biggest problems in players. Magic is one of the hardest games in the world. As A.J. Sacher says, everybody sucks. If you make a mistake, get over it. If you get unlucky, get over it. Having a cool and calm demeanor while playing is pivotal to success in tournaments.

In between game two, my opponent simply got more upset. What he should have done was take a deep breath, perhaps even get permission from a judge to go the bathroom and wash his face, and just clear his head from game one. Instead, he simply ranted about how terrible he was and how tilted he was.

Not surprisingly, game two was much of the same. My opponent again tried to target my Titan with Pacifism without paying, but because he had mana up I had to remind him. I then Aether Adepted my Titan. Ironically, I had lost focus at this point, and actually paid two even though I didn’t have to since Titan does not make you pay if you target it. Fortunately it didn’t matter. I easily took the game with my un-Pacified Titan.

It is important to note that just because your opponent is tilted it does not mean that you should relax or figure you are guaranteed to win. One of the great things about Magic is that the element of luck means you could lose to anyone. If a chess master let up a little against me, he would still win every single game. However, if a Magic player lets up against a weak or tilted Magic player, they will still lose some significant portion of games. No matter who you’re playing against, or in what setting, you should always try your hardest. I got relaxed because I knew my opponent was playing worse than me, but what if he drew a bomb or two? It wasn’t like he wasn’t playing his cards. I still should’ve been maximizing value on all my cards and playing around as much as possible.

On a related note, have you ever watched pros playtest? They simply don’t let up. If you play a playtest game against Patrick Chapin, you better believe he’s going to try his hardest to win every game. When I playtest, if someone gets a sick topdeck I simply laugh it off. When Pat tests, he gets just as upset as he would in a normal game. I find it hard to stay intense when there’s nothing on the line or I feel like I’m a heavy favorite in a game, but it is a hugely important skill to have. Always play your best and with full focus, and practice how you play.

All in all, day one was quite a crazy day. The tournament was ran quite slowly, so after eating I didn’t get to bed until about 1:30 am. I had some trouble sleeping since I was excited about being 9-0 so I only ended up with about four hours of sleep.

Day two did not go quite as smoothly as day one. Since the tournament was so big (around 1400 people) they had to start day two with a tenth round of sealed. I unfortunately got paired against PV. Not only is Paulo one of the best players in the world, but his deck was also significantly better than mine. We had both seen each other’s decks, so I knew he had Sword of Vengeance, Frost Titan, Mind Control, and double Doom Blade. This was a covered feature match, but I still think there are a few things worth noting from the match. Paulo won the roll and chose to play. He crushed me in the first game with Sword + Titan.

In the second game, I decided to board into the black deck since I wanted as many answers to his Frost Titan as I could find. When I had to choose whether to play or draw, I decided to play because Paulo had chosen to. I thought the matchup was kind of slow because we were both playing blue decks with a bunch of bombs, but because Paulo is better than me I trusted him more than myself. I know this sounds like a weird thing to do, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. If you legitimately think someone is smarter than you, there is nothing wrong with trusting their opinions more than your own.

Midway through the second game came the crucial decision. My board was two tapped Swamps, an untapped Swamp, two untapped Islands, a freshly cast Black Knight, and a Howling Banshee. My hand was

 

Paulo was at 14 and I was at 17. Paulo had five lands and a Sword of Vengeance in play. Paulo tapped out to cast a Stone Golem. At this point, I had three options. I could either Cancel it, let it resolve and Mind Control it, or let it resolve and simply ignore it.

All three options have some merit. The ignoring the Golem line wasn’t really viable because Sword + Golem would be too hard to beat. In the end I elected to [card]Mind Control[/card] it. The Cancel line had some merit, but I figured this would put the most pressure on Paulo, and make cards like [card]Mind Control[/card] from him not as good of a response. PV cast Frost Titan the next turn and once again used Titan + Sword to kill me.

In retrospect, I should have Canceled the Golem. That way, any draw except Swamp would be good. A spell would be good because obviously I wanted gas at that point, and an Island would allow me to Call to Mind back the Cancel while keeping 1UU untapped. As it turned out, I drew an Island the next turn and would’ve been able to keep up Cancel the next turn for the Titan and won the game.

Ironically when I asked Paulo why he played first in game one, he said he thought my white deck had some fast draws and that he would draw first against my black deck. Maybe sometimes it’s not right to just assume your opponent is smarter than you…

With that tough loss to Paulo I ended up 9-1 heading into the draft portion. I wanted to first and foremost draft the white aggressive deck and if that was not open draft some heavy black deck, possibly with Act of Treason. My opening pack lead much more toward black than white with [card]Liliana Vess[/card] against Ajani’s Pridemate. I took Liliana since I wasn’t that dedicated to forcing white. Pick two gave me a [card]Cyclops Gladiator[/card], since while I don’t usually like being heavy red the Gladiator is very good and red pairs well with black. I then took a few more black cards and didn’t see a single playable red card. In pack two, I opened a Garruk Wildspeaker and happily took it. Green had seemed pretty open, and I thought I could move into green-black. As it turned out, green was wide open, but black was not, so I ended up with more green playables than black even though I had only been drafting green for two packs. Unfortunately, I had very few answers for creatures since green doesn’t have any, and my black was weak. In multiple games, I took 10 or more damage from 2/x fliers simply because I couldn’t answer them. I barely scraped out a win against Brian Kibler to 1-2 the draft. I was now fairly disappointed since I knew I would have to 3-0 to reach my goal of top 16.

My second draft also led me into the black-red deck, but this one was a little better. I had three Quag Sickness and a Necrotic Plague. Unfortunately, I did not see a single Act of Treason, which made my deck worse, but I still felt like I had a 2-1 deck. I 1-1d my first two rounds, which meant I would need to win my last round to even top 32. The match wasn’t very interesting since I knew I wasn’t going to top 16 anyway, but I ended up with the win.

While I didn’t reach my goal of top 16ing, I was still happy to top 32 and am excited to make a push for the final pro point I need at GP Nashville and GP Toronto. I also have a chance to qualify on rating since I am currently 30 points short. While I didn’t quite achieve my goal, I put myself in a good position to get there in the upcoming tournaments.

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