It’s been a while since my last article, and what a busy few weeks… Wizards was kind enough to give us back to back to back to back tournament weekends across the globe. This was by far the longest stretch of Magic travel I’ve undertaken in my career, and now at the finish line I am very happy to be back in my own bed. I’m going to tackle the first three tournaments here and then offer a more detailed look into GP Portland in its own article next.
I played a version of Bant Shaman with Primeval Titans instead of Jace, the Mind Sculptor very similar to the deck run by Zvi & Co.
I lost my first round feature match and then lost round 2 to David Sharfman’s Mythic deck. Already on the ropes, I battled back and defeated a Naya deck and a G/W dudes deck (lots of men and Eldrazi Monuments, no red) to sneak into the draft at 2-2. Unfortunately my pod had LSV and Matt Nass to my right, so I didn’t really know what colors to look for. I found my way into a reasonable green/red deck but I only mustered a 1-2 record, losing to Nassty’s aggro G/W deck and then an extremely clunky U/R deck in the third round. In the 2nd draft, I put together a nice little aggressive U/W deck and I start out 2-0. In the first round I defeat a G/R deck with green and red Titans and in the 2nd I narrowly overcome a U/B deck with Frost Titan. Unfortunately, I cannot complete the Titan quintfecta as I lost to the B/W deck with Grave Titan, Sun Titan, Vengeful Archon, Day of Judgment, 2 Corrupt, 2 Assassinate, 2 Excommunicate, etc. in the third round and I drop at 5-5. Who has to play against all 5 Titans in a single pod?
One week later I was on my first trip to Europe. I had a good pool for day 1 and I was able to build a strong U/W control deck featuring good creatures and Day of Judgment. I bashed PV a few times during the byes and started to gain some confidence. Unfortunately, I lost a very close two games to Raphael Levy’s 3-color green deck in Round 4. Already on the back foot, I rattled off a few wins in a row before losing a frustrating U/W mirror. Thankfully I was able to win my last 2 rounds to make it to day 2.
I missed being in LSV and AJ Sacher’s pod by a single spot in the standings and got the “gift” of a pod full of people I didn’t recognize. I tried to find my way into white during the draft, but after a 6th pick Garruk’s Packleader and 8th and 9th pick Llanowar Elves I moved into the obviously open green. I ended up with a solid G/B deck with 2 Doom Blades and an assortment of green beaters. In my first round, I got paired against the gentleman feeding me and his deck was 4 Traumatize, 5 Tome Scour, etc. His only spells game 1 were a turn 3 Temple Bell followed by turn 5 Traumatize, turn 6 Traumatize + Tome Scour for exactsies while he was at 2 life. Game 2 he stumbled a bit early and I was able to kill him safely. Game 3 I missed my 3rd land drop for a turn and got decked on turn 7 with my opponent at 1 life.
For my 2nd round, I played against a G/W deck with 3 Sacred Wolf, Armored Ascension, and Sword of Vengeance. Both games I lost to a Wolf wearing pants, staring at the Doom Blades in my hand forlornly.
In round 3, I played against an 0-2 B/R deck. I was able to take game 1 but stumbled game 2 and lost. In game 3, my opponent had a very aggressive draw featuring a Bloodthrone Vampire, Reassembling Skeleton, Prodigal Pyromancer and Fiery Hellhound with 2 cards still in hand and 2 Swamps and 3 Mountains in play. I was at 11 and could either play a Greater Basilisk or Mind Rot him and keep up Doom Blade. I ultimately decided to Rot him and he discarded Act of Treason and Fling. On his turn he drew and played a Swamp before attacking with his team. I said ok and he pumped his Hellhound 3 times. I Doom Bladed it and he failed to sacrifice it to his Vampire. He sacrificed the Skeleton once and I took 3, going to 8, when with correct play (pumping his black creature 3 times with the Skeleton so I couldn’t Doom Blade) I should be at 2. I dropped the Basilisk into play and it looked like was going to stabilize. Unfortunately he immediately ripped a Goblin Tunneler and I emerged 0-3 and out of contention.
A quick aside: there is a lot to take away from this critical turn in the third match. My opponent had a great opportunity to think through the board state and come up with a sequence of plays to minimize his exposure to my potential tricks. On turn 5 in my B/G deck, I tanked for 20 seconds and then cast a Mind Rot and said go facing down a very dangerous board. This should immediately set off warning bells. If I thought for a while, I clearly had options. By choosing to not play a creature, I must have a plan for the following turns. If I am just going to take a million damage, I am going to be too far behind to catch up so I must be planning on a spell here. The only real options are Doom Blade and Fog. If he thought through his turn, he would have come up with the better play of pumping the creature that is immune to Doom Blade and he may also have avoided the technical error of missing the sacrifice.
My 2nd deck in Gothenburg was much better, featuring both Grave Titan and Inferno Titan along with other R/B goodies. I lost a close 3 game set to a G/B/W deck sporting Day of Judgment, Cudgel Troll and Grave Titan with plenty of mana fixing but had no trouble dispatching my other two opponents to end the tournament at X-6.
The trip from Gothenburg to Amsterdam was pretty standard; our flight was canceled when the front wheel of the plane fell off. On the shuttle back to the terminal, some Finns invited us to draft and LSV, Ocho and I were happy to accept the challenge. I had a sweet U/G deck with Garruk, Fauna Shaman, 2 Garruk’s Packleaders and a Primeval Titan. I lost a very close game to their U/W mill deck that had Sun Titan, Jace, Temple Bell, 2 Day of Judgments, etc. but was able to defeat their other two decks. Ocho and LSV also went 2-1 each and we were the proud new owners of a Foil Primeval Titan, normal Primeval Titan and other sweet rares.
When we finally made it to Amsterdam we made our way to our apartments. I was really happy with the setup as we had the two apartments on our floor with plenty of space for gaming and sleeping. I had a hard time settling on a deck, oscillating between Doran and Grixis for most of the week. In the end I sleeved up some treefolk.
I think my mental journey towards this deck is similar to what a lot of you do before a big tournament. I started my exploration of extended by trying to break it with Ad Nauseam. Very early on I had a build I liked a lot more than the Magic Online versions. It cleaned up the mana base by playing just Esper colors and was able to get rid of all of the annoying taplands. Ultimately, the win conditions remained too fragile and the deck could be attacked from too many angles. I wasn’t comfortable taking a known deck (even if it was a better version) into an unknown environment where I could face attacks from so many different directions.
After abandoning Ad Naus, I began putting a lot of work into the Grixis deck that Chapin designed. I really liked the flexibility and the chances to make a lot of decisions per game as I felt it would give me opportunities to outplay my opponents. The only thing holding me back was the thought of playing a deck of answers in a format that could have unknown questions. Decks like Grixis are tuned to beat certain strategies. They can offer the pilot a lot of different silver bullets, but if the enemy was unanticipated, you can find yourself without a good angle of attack. In the end, I would have gone with Grixis had the Doran deck not come along.
I first saw the deck when we all arrived in Amsterdam and Kibler was playing around with an early version. I’ve played Doran in extended in the past and I really liked the direction of the deck. I agreed with everyone that being proactive against unknown enemies is a good approach and this build of Doran was aggressive and disruptive. The only thing Kibler was missing was a good one-drop to go alongside the Harbingers. I jokingly suggested Loam Lion and I was surprised when his eyes lit up. After a little testing it was clear they were a good addition.
On Thursday night we headed over to the site to round up the missing cards. Thankfully I had some friends there who were able to pick up the Treefolk Harbingers I needed before they hit 5 euros each. That left nothing to do but get ready for the main event.
In round 1 I faced combo elves, which is probably our worst matchup. I was very happy that I added 1 Infest and 1 Zealous Persecution to my sideboard at the last minute. I was crushed in standard fashion game 1, but in game 2 I got a very aggressive start with a turn 1 Treefolk Harbingers and turn 2 beater. On turn 3, I decided to play it safe and I cast a Rule of Law instead of Doran. My opponent Oblivion Ringed the Rule of Law but I had Maelstrom Pulse ready. After that, he was only able to Primal Command it to the top of my deck, but when his creature search turned up a Vengevine (not an Acidic Slime) I was able to just replay it. Limited to only 1 creature a turn, his smaller guys couldn’t keep up with my Doran-enhanced beatdown. For game 3, I had my one Infest in my opening hand and I was able to clear his board on turn 3, leaving him with just 3 lands and a Pact in hand. It was not difficult to close from there.
In round 2, I faced another bad matchup in Brian Kowal playing the “Zvi Deck”. The games were pretty uneventful; game 1 we were both stalled on mana, but my early guys were beatdowns while his were Lotus Cobras. I was able to finish him the turn before he had enough mana to stabilize. In game 2 I again had early pressure and I was able to force through enough damage to keep him on his back foot. On the critical turn of the game I was able to Maelstrom Pulse away 2 Birds of Paradise and Slaughter Pact his Primeval Titan to keep him from activating any of his Hideaway lands the next turn while getting in for a lot of damage.
The rest of the rounds are a bit blurred together. In Round 3 I defeated a standard Jund list; in Round 4 I lost to Billy Postlethwait in the Doran mirror where he boarded in 7 cards, including multiple Consuming Vapors (aka the Blade). The games were both very close. In the first, Billy made a small mistake when he let me trade off his Canonist on the second to last turn. Sending in the Canonist didn’t improve his clock and it put an artifact in the graveyard for my Tarmogoyf. This made my Goyf into a 5/6 and gave me one turn to draw an Elspeth to deal the exact 8 I needed to kill him. Unfortunately I missed. In the second game, Billy stuck his Elspeth and a Linvala and started beating me down. Again on the second to last turn, he made an attack I thought was unnecessarily aggressive and gave me a chance to draw a removal spell to go along with my Slaughter Pact in hand to get through lethal. I bricked again and picked up my first loss. I defeated a Faeries player uneventfully in round 5 to make it into the draft at 4-1.
My first draft went very well and I had an excellent U/W aggro deck featuring multiple Infantry Veterans, Armored Ascension, Air Servant and Serra Angel. I won a difficult first match against a U/G deck with multiple Hornet Stings for my Veterans and several Giant Spiders and Azure Drakes to hold off my fliers.
In the 2nd round, I lost a close two games to Marcio Carvalho’s R/W deck when he had turn 2 Squadron Hawk and was able to fling for exactly enough damage to steal game 2.
I had a rematch with Billy Postlethwait in round 3 facing down his mediocre R/G deck. He mulled to 4 on the draw game 3 and I thought it was in the bag with my hand of Plains, Plains, Island, Squadron Hawk, Aether Adept, Air Servant. Unfortunately my first draw step was my 2nd Squadron Hawk and after adding an Infantry Veteran on turn 3, I didn’t draw a fourth land for two turns. Billy had a “god” draw for 4 cards, playing turn 2 Runeclaw Bear, turn 3 Brindle Boar, turn 4 replay Runeclaw Bear (that I Excommunicated), turn 5 Shiv’s Embrace, turn 7 Garruk’s Companion, turn 8 Yavimaya Wurm. I stalled on 3 Plains and an Island holding Air Servant, Jace’s Ingenuity, Aether Adept and lost with Billy on 2 life. This was a frustrating end to day 1 and day 2 didn’t start any better.
My draft pod ended up only having 7 people in it as someone didn’t show up. I had a controlling U/B deck with Royal Assassin, 3 Gravediggers and a few removal spells but not enough early creatures (only 1 Child of the Night) to trade off early to capitalize on the Gravediggers. I lost my first game to another mulligan to 4 where my opponent was able to Thunder Strike and Fling his Magma Phoenix at me in response to me Unsummoning it when I was at 8. Game 2 he had the turn 2 Goblin Piker, turn 3 Goblin Piker, turn 4 Prodigal Pyromancer draw against my Reassembling Skeleton. He forced through enough early damage that I was unable to stabilize outside of Fling range and I died to a Lava Axe a few turns later.
In round 2, I cast a turn 2 Sign in Blood on the draw and I missed my 3rd land drop. My opponent had turn 1 Llanowar Elf, turn 2 Cultivate, turn 3 Acidic Slime, turn 4 Demolish a land and I was quite dead. In game 2, he had a similar accelerated start but instead of going land destruction he had a turn 5 Hoarding Dragon. I was able to Brittle Effigy it, but this left me quite soft against the Ancient Hellkite he cast a turn later. Facing down my Nightwing Shade and 8 land, he sent in his Hellkite (3 mountains). I blocked and pumped my shade once. That resolved. I pumped it again. In response to this pump, my opponent cast Chandra’s Outrage. My only play was to hope he was bad, so I pumped again twice in response, and he let these resolve. He put his Outrage in the graveyard and told me my Shade was dead. I pointed out that it was a 5/5 now and he sighed. He let everything else resolve and I was able to trade my Shade for the dragon. I was very excited that he hadn’t noticed the opportunity to just ping the Shade for 1 with his last red mana before my final pump resolved. Unfortunately this was very shortlived, as he untapped and played the Rise of the Grave he drew to bring back the Hellkite. I died to it two turns later.
At least the worst I could do in this pod was 1-2 as I was awarded the bye in my final round. I took the time to go walk around and try to collect myself. I had a hard time focusing on the upcoming rounds as I replayed my last 6 m11 drafts from Nats, Gothenburg and Amsterdam over and over again in my head. Thanks to some sage counseling from both LSV and Brad Nelson, I eventually let it go and focused on the task at hand.
Finally re-armed with my trusty Treefolk, I was able to dispatch my Faeries opponent despite him having a well prepared sideboard with Smothers, Damnations and Vampire Nighthawks. I lost a very close round 13 to another Jund deck when I couldn’t draw spells in game 3. In round 14, I was very disappointed to find myself playing one Gabriel Nassif and his white weenies. This matchup looked pretty bad for me and at this point I was hoping to coast to the extra pro point. In game 1 Nassif had 1 too many combat tricks (I was able to Thoughtseize away a Brave the Elements but it left him with a 2nd that I could not play around).
Game 2 was the most entertaining story from the tournament. We were both playing a little loose at this point as we were out of contention for anything serious. On the 8th turn, Gabe tapped out to max level his Figure of Destiny and hit me in the air, bringing me to 7 and leaving him with only a level 2 Student of Warfare and a Knight of the White Orchid on defense against my Doran, Treefolk Harbinger, Putrid Leech, 2 Tarmogoyfs, Loam Lion and Treetop Village. He looked at the board after his attack and asked, “Did I just kill myself?” I untapped and drew a blank. I animated the Treetop and sent the team. He double blocked Doran with his first strikers and I pumped the Leech. He’d had a Relic of Progenitus for most of the game controlling the graveyard sizes and he used it on himself, removing his instant and leaving both of us with only lands. We added up the damage and I was only dealing 11 after the Doran died, leaving him at 2. We agreed and scooped up the cards, chatting for a bit as I desideboarded.
About 30 seconds into this, the light of realization hit me. “Wait, you first striked down my Doran, right? So my two Tarmogoyfs become 2/3 and you take 13, don’t you?” “Oh, awkward.” We both agreed on this state and we called a judge over to make what I imagine is a pretty unique ruling. “So, we agreed that my combat step did 11 damage to him. I was dead on the swing back so I picked up my cards. We then realized he had actually died in the combat. What happens?” Gabe was the pinnacle of sportsmanship throughout this. Had he attempted to argue at all with the outcome I am certain I would have lost the game, but he completely agreed with these events and said that he should be dead. The judge ruled that if we both agreed with this, then we should play game 3. In an anticlimactic end, he had a good draw of creatures and spells and I couldn’t find a removal spell to disrupt him so I managed to lose all 3 games to him.
After this round, I took a look at the standings and I was pretty sure that I could still top 100. I played a very standard match against R/G Scapeshift in round 15. In each game, he had 2-3 turns to draw a Scapeshift to kill me. Thankfully he missed in games 1 and 3 so I was able to take the match.
In the last round I played against a very unorthodox Naya Scapeshift deck featuring Steppe Lynx, Plated Geopede, Knight of the Reliquary and Scapeshift. He said his matchup against Doran was terrible and I was able to coast to a fairly easy 2-0.
I had to sweat the final standings a bit but when they were finally posted I found myself in 94th and safe with my extra point. This was good enough to give me level 4 in time for GP Portland the following weekend, which was important as the last 3 tournaments managed to take my rating from 2200 down to 1980 and flush my 3rd bye down the toilet. The rest of the time in Amsterdam was a lot of fun and before I knew it I was on a flight back to the real world. I didn’t have much time to rest though as GP Portland was only a few days away.