Stark Reality – Valakut in All Formats (A GP Report, *2nd*)

It was going to be tough to continue my streak of GP results now that 2010 had passed. This was not because 2011 is tougher then 2010, but obviously because that meant Limited season was over and now we would have to play Constructed again. I decided towards the end of last year that I was going to test for Constructed tournaments this year because now that every Pro Tour is mixed, if you want to succeed on the Pro Tour you pretty much have to play Constructed. While I still am not planning on practicing a ton for every single Grand Prix, I decided I would put in the work for Atlanta. I actually wanted to put in the work because I really liked the R/G Scapeshift Valakut list Pat Cox, Nassif, Juza and I ran at worlds. We all performed fairly mediocre there but I think it was due to not knowing how to play the deck and the list being a little suboptimal since we had just made it.

I didn’t think it was far off at Worlds but some of the cards didn’t feel too spectacular. We played 3 Cultivate 2 Harrow, which I feel is way too much slow ramp. What I actually learned at Worlds was that even though it looks like the Type 2 deck, Extended Valakut is nothing like it. Cultivate is an all star in Type 2 because it propels you to a million mana to play Avenger, Titan, and to always have more Mountains to be able to keep using your Valakuts on them.

In Extended, it’s very rare you need lands past 7, since you never really start bolting them out and your goal is to combo kill them with Omens and fetches, or Scapeshift, as fast as possible. I cut it down to 2 Cultivate 1 Harrow and was extremely happy with that. If you play against a field where you expect less blue decks you could raise it to 2 Harrow and that would probably be even better. I would never, and I mean never, play a third Cultivate in this deck. We also ran a Primal Command at Worlds and a lot of people are running multiples of them now. This is a big mistake. This is a Scapeshift deck, not a Titan deck. Titan is one of many backup plans that are sometimes fast enough and sometimes good enough. Scapeshift is pretty much always fast enough and always good enough. By running Oracle you gain selection and therefore it helps you draw Scapeshifts, while Primal Command can only search for Titan, and just isn’t good enough. That led me to my current list.

Ben Stark (RG Valakut)
Grand Prix Atlanta 2011 Top 8

All the cards in the sideboard were awesome. How many of each you want just depends on what you expect the field to look like in the tournaments you’re playing in.

Combust is for Faeries and Mythic
Great Stable Stag is for Faeries and Control
Koth is for Control
Nature’s Claim is for Omen decks and the Tempered Steel decks
Obstinate Baloth is for Naya, Mono red, Jund
Volcanic Fallout is for Hierarch decks and Faeries.

My trip started out on Tuesday morning. I decided to go a few days early to meet my beautiful girlfriend Michelle in the city of Atlanta to hang out for a few days before the tourney. It’s pretty funny, because she loves travelling and I hate it. Luckily I would be willing to go to the ends of the earth for a Magic tournament so Magic tournaments get me to travel. During the tournament I generally want nothing more than to play Magic all day everyday so we have kind of developed a plan of her usually coming before or after a tourney. We checked out Atlanta a little, went to an underground mall and had dinner with her aunt who lived there; a couple of nice peaceful days. On Thursday, Kitt and Megan arrived, and at Michelle’s suggestion we went ice skating. The last time I went ice skating was when I was a little kid and my sister used to have her birthday party at this ice skating ring sometimes. The next time I will go ice skating hopefully I will be a very old man. I am only kidding; it was fun despite how terrible at it I was.

Friday started off with a little Fogo for lunch which I owed Michelle because we bet on a football game a while ago, then to the site to get cards and register. They asked me if I wanted to do a little spell slinging (gun slinging). I figured since it was Phoenix Games running it and so close to home I would go ahead and do it. I definitely ended up enjoying it and I got to sign a few playmats, play some fun matches, and talk to some more casual players who wanted to ask a few questions. Additionally, Craig Wescoe sat down and played me a match or two to test out his RUG deck for the tourney. I was playing my Valkut deck, the same one I would use in the tourney. I figured the deck isn’t exactly a secret and the practice was worth more then maybe someone knowing what I was playing going into a match. Anyways, who cares? I didn’t feel like playing a different Extended deck from the one I really liked.

Saturday morning after some Chik-Fil-a for breakfast we turned in the deck lists and I went back to the room to fire off an 8-man Extended queue and a draft on MTGO. I won the Extended queue and lost the draft. I guess that’s a good sign right?

Round 4 – Jon Lum

Jon is a fairly solid PTQ regular in Florida PTQs and definitely knows what he’s doing with the spells. Luckily for me though, he was playing Naya, which is virtual bye for the Scapeshift deck. They can’t really disrupt you save some Qasali Pridemages, and with Bolts and Baloths you aren’t going to die before you can kill them.

2-0, 4-0

Round 5 – Zev Chason, Mono red

Mono red is definitely a good matchup for Scapeshift also, but since they are even faster then Naya and have burn you usually will win at 2 life. There is no room to stumble or have a bad draw, but as long as you draw normally I feel like 2 isn’t 0 and I should win the match.

Game 1 I won at a low life total after winning the die roll. Game 2 he started getting me low but I had a Baloth, after which he Quenchable Fired me down to 5 life. I couldn’t kill him until my next turn, and if I went down to two I was pretty sure I was going to get burned out because he had a card or two left in his hand. I then realized that Prismatic Omen turns my lands into Islands, so I could pay for Quenchable Fire and stay at 5! He only had a Burst Lightning and I was able to kill him on the following turn.

2-0, 5-0

Round 6 – Jonathan Benson, Mythic

The DCI Reporter kept feeding me good matchups! He took a lot of mulligans and I had the Bolts, so I easily outraced him. I don’t think I drew Combust, since I was really looking forward to Combusting a Sovereigns but he had poor draws and I won pretty easily anyway.

2-0, 6-0

Round 7 – Jason Ford, UG Scapeshift

I think this matchup is really close as I played against it four times, counting the finals, and it went 2-2 and all four matches went to three games, with most of the 12 games being really tight. While they have counters, you have better ramp, and don’t need Omen in play to win the game. It ends up being one of those tough matchups that are all about timing your spells and playing around things. We had 3 interesting games, and he Cliqued me a little too soon in game 3 so I was able to sneak out a victory.

2-1, 7-0

Round 8 – PT Champ Chris “the Doctor” Lachmann, RG Scapeshift

Chris just got done beating Magic Superstar Brian Kibler, who was running a G/W special featuring Squadron Hawk and Knight of the Reliquary. While Brian is undoubtedly one of the best players in the game, I wish he would have beaten Chris somehow because his deck seems like it would have been quite an easy matchup compared to playing pretty much the stone mirror. As it was, I think I won the die roll and killed him game 1 a turn before he could kill me, followed by a mulligan and a terrible draw on his part game two.

2-0, 8-0

Round 9 – Mathias Hunt, UG Scapeshift

Again, this match went to three close games. In both games two and three I had a Nature’s Claim in hand but he had drawn 2 copies of Omen so I couldn’t stop him from killing me. Also, in game 3, I both got kind of unlucky and made the only play mistake I can distinctly remember in this tourney. I had an Oracle out and needed to hit a land for the win. I Explored and it wasn’t there, and then I sacrificed Verdant Catacombs and it still wasn’t there. I then I forgot I had a Terramorphic in play, and failed to sacrifice it. I wasn’t completely focused on having to win that turn because I had a Nature’s Claim in my hand, but he was tapped out and if I hit the land he was dead. It was a pretty bad mistake and I’ll never know if it would have been there, since he untapped, played a second Omen so I couldn’t stop him with Claim, and cast Scapeshift for the win.

1-2, 8-1

So, after 3 good matchups, I played 3 mirror matchups. Well, I guess I was lucky to dodge Faeries and Control, which were supposed to be the bad matchups for my deck. I was happy to be heading into Day 2 at 8-1, and excited to see what the second day would bring.

Round 10 – PT Champ Charles Gindy, Jund

Jund is a favorable matchup but nowhere near as good as Naya because they have Thoughtseize and Blightning to disrupt you. Gindy usually stomps me and this time would be no different. My draws weren’t very good and he just crushed me.

0-2, 8-2

Round 11 – Orrin Beasley, Mythic

I know Orrin through Pat Cox; he is a nice guy and good player. I knew he was playing Mythic so I wasn’t unhappy to be playing him, though I would rather play worse players and people I don’t know. Game 1 he mulliganed to 5 and I won easily. Game 2 it was my turn to mulligan to 5 but his draw wasn’t the best and after I Bolted a thing or two he ended up with only a Pridemage out when he cast his Sovereigns. I cast Fallout and then got to untap still at 18. I topdecked Primeval Titan, which wasn’t bad. If it had been Scapeshift he would have been dead, and if it had been nothing, I would have been dead. I cast the Titan and got a couple Valakuts. He attacked and got Conscription, but that only dealt 15 damage which put me at 3. I untapped and dealt him lethal with the Titan.

2-0, 9-2

Round 12 – Tom “the Boss” Ross, RG Scapeshift

This was basically another stone mirror. We briefly discussed drawing but realized that some x-2-1’s could miss Top 8 and a draw would put us into the draw bracket which has slower decks on average. Our deck was great against fast decks and not great against slow decks, so we end up just doing a 10 percent split and playing it out. Games 1 and 2 we took turns doing what the deck does, and whoever played first killed a turn before the other person could. Game 3 he whiffed, needing a land or Rampant Growth to kill me with Scapeshift, but drew and played a Titan instead. I untapped, hit the land I needed to lethal him, and won.

2-1, 10-2

Round 13 – Timothy Gruneich, UG Scapeshift

We play the usual 3 tight games and he is unable to locate the combo before I can find Nature’s Claim in game 3. I had Oracle and a bunch of fetches out so I was looking for Scapeshift, but found the Claim instead. He knew I had it so he just had to sit back and then I was able to kill him with Omen.

2-1, 11-2

Round 14 – Colby Gerrish, UW Polymorph

I knew what he was playing because Owen had played him the round 4 before. Game 1 I just turn 4’ed him on the play, which was faster than his deck could even cast Polymorph. Then we got a midround deck check. I recorded 3 Terramorphic Expanse and 3 Evolving Wilds but actually played 4 and 2 so I received a game loss. I know this is the normal penalty but I think they need some kind of exception in the rules for when it’s something like the exact same card like this and it’s clear no one is gaining any real advantage.

For game 3 a judge told us we couldn’t change how we sideboarded and I get to choose to play first. I drew a removal spell for when he tried to Polymorph and won pretty easily. He explained that he had a better plan for when on the draw with Baneslayers and Sun Titans, but never got to try it. I think his plan was good overall but since I had Combusts and Valakuts I don’t really think that would have worked.

2-0 (sort of), 12-2

Round 15 – Craig Wescoe, RUG

Score! Wescoe was x-1-1 with the best breakers and a friend of mine, so I sat down expecting to get scooped into Top 8. He explained that he isn’t definitely in with loss; it was like 50/50 depending on the outcome of some other matches. These Grands Prix are out of control! That meant the x-2-1 with the best breakers could not make Top 8; it wasn’t like one person missed.

Anyways, we were forced to play it out and I drew really well both games and won pretty quickly. The matches didn’t go the way he needed and he ended up in 9th place, something I can relate to since at the very last GP in Nashville I went x-2-1 into 9th place. I did think it was funny that we had played when I was spell slinging Friday night and now here we were playing the same decks with Top 8 on the line.

2-0, 13-2

You might have noticed that I 2-0d every single round where I wasn’t playing some form of the mirror, except my loss to Gindy. That’s how good this deck is.

Well, the Top 8 matches were covered on video and by BDM who is by far the best coverage reporter in the history of the game, so there is no real need for play by plays, but I’ll provide a quick summary.

I beat Owen 2-1 by top decking a Titan in game 3, had pretty much stone nut draw against Christian in the semis, killing him turn 5 on the play and turn 4 on the draw, and then played my usual 3 game match with UG Scapeshift against Ford in the finals. On the last turn of game 3 he found his Omen off a Halimar Depths leaving me in a spot where I only had a few outs…


He said he had a Dispel, which cuts out the instants (Bolt, Harrow and Claim) but still leaves me all the rest of those cards. I drew Cultivate, the card I hate the most. Because it cost 1 more mana, I was unable to cast it and sac the Terramorphic I had out, leaving me 3 points short. So close to my first premier title, but I came up empty. Always a bridesmaid and never the bride for me I guess. Still, 8 Pro Points is a great start to the year and I was glad my hard work (playing Constructed Magic) paid off. If I had done poorly in this tournament I am sure it would have left me unmotivated to play more Constructed, but with this great result I feel like it was worth it and I plan to do more work for the Constructed portions of tournaments. I am also starting to feel a little like the old me. I basically have cashed 5 straight tourneys now, since I would have cashed worlds if not for scooping to a couple people deep in day 3. My past 4 GPs are 2nd, 4th, 9th, and 10th. Hopefully I can continue playing and running good in Paris and Denver next month!


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