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Breaking Through – A Hawk-ward Dilemma

The escape that was the beach house was over and while many good things came from the house, including expanding limited knowledge, some timeless stories, and a better grasp on what it takes to be a professional Magic player, our constructed progress was still lacking a little bit. We had PV meeting us in Paris though and figured he would be a good catalyst to get us on track to finding our 60.

Paris

Unfortunately, the way the Paris hotel system worked out, the hotel that the majority of the crew were staying at was full when I had gone to book even though it was only a day or 2 after the fact. This put me in a different hotel about a 20 minute walk from them which was manageable at least, although certainly not ideal.

I had hoped that when arriving in Paris I would just head over to their hotel and begin getting to work. After changing my flight to maximize time in the beach house though, that hope turned into a dream at best. I was leaving San Diego at 10:35 at night on Saturday. This put me in Charlotte at 6:20am the next day where I would have a 3 hour layover before heading to Philadelphia at 9:30am. I arrived in Philly at 11:15am and then had a 7 hour layover as my flight to Paris didn’t leave until 6:30pm.

Fast forward 7 hours where I am sitting on the plane waiting for it to leave. Instead of the normal chain of events occurring to get us off the ground, we instead were told there was a security threat on board and must deplane. Despite being 6’5” and 300 pounds, the words “Security Threat” when about to board a 7 hour flight across the Atlantic still scare the crap out of you. The entire populous of the plane was put into a secured room where we waited for 30 minutes before about 45 TSA agents showed up. They were told to escort us back through security where we would have to re-screen all of our luggage and ourselves. This whole ordeal took another hour or so while passing civilians stopped and took pictures of the ludicrous sight that was a line of TSA agents corralling an entire plane full of people.

The head count getting off the plane was something like 74 people and the head count getting back on was an unsurprising 73 (The plane was not even half full although my numbers may still be off). This means that someone was either held off of the plane or escaped during the whole ordeal, either of which was pretty trippy. Anyway, we were set to leave about 2 hours later than normal and the time changes along with the travel itself were weighing heavily on me. Sure there was a 7 hour flight to sleep on, but anyone who flies a lot knows that plane sleep is definitely not real sleep.

Long story shorter than it otherwise would be, I arrived in Paris at 8:30am Monday morning. This meant that by all conventional standards I had a full day to work on constructed etc. In reality though, after traveling for over 24 hours and having a 9 hour time difference from where I left, I was much too exhausted to do much of anything, let alone play Magic. Needless to say, I spent most of the day recuperating and sleeping.

Caw-Caw

This meant only 2 days to work on Standard but I wanted to make the most of it. I headed over to the Channelfireball hotel the next morning and waited around until someone from the group made an appearance. After heading up to their room, I was informed about the changes to the Caw-Go deck. They were at 2 Stoneforge Mystics and a single Sword of Feast and Famine but the deck was still pretty far away from its final form as it came to be known. Some of the crew was on the deck but others were still expressing doubts.

After testing some games with some terrible decks I built during my travels (one of which included 4 Dormant Gomozoa) I was pretty dissatisfied with all of our options. The concerns from those not playing Caw-Go were that it was really weak to aggro out among other smaller things. I had to head home early to be at my hotel for when my 2 roommates got into town as otherwise they would not be able to get into the room, so I did that and brewed up a few more lists including a R/G deck that was built to beat Valakut and Aggro while having solid game against control.

I sent the rest of the team the list as well as an email asking for the Caw-Go list updates so I could test it all of the next day. Unfortunately for me, that email never made it through somehow, so I never got the new list. I needed to pick a deck and focus on it all of Wednesday and not having an updated list of Caw-Go made the choice for which deck to focus on pretty easy at the time.

I still wish I had been more proactive in acquiring the updated list as the deck was obviously the stones and my deck was but an average metagame call that would most likely go 3-2 or 4-1 at best. I was happy with how my deck was performing, but I still punted none the less by not jumping on board when I could. I was mostly worried about a lack of games with the deck when we got to the player meeting that night so I didn’t even bother getting the list then. Once again, another bad decision on my part as I could have figured out what the deck was doing pretty quickly had I been more willing to switch over.

Instead, I leaned on a million excuses and just bought up the cards for the R/G deck over the next hour or so. I wasn’t trying to be rebellious in anyway, I just did not feel very confident with the Caw-Go deck and I let that keep me from playing the best deck.

There is something to be said for playing a deck you know as opposed to the best deck, but that isn’t exactly what happened here. If I had not played Caw-Go in favor of a deck I had been working on for weeks and felt very confident in, that would be one thing, but I was sidestepping the best deck for a deck that I had only built 24 hours ago. If I had been vigilant enough, I could have easily gotten in the same number of games with Caw-Go as I did with my R/G deck. I let the fear hinder my chances at success and it came back to haunt me.

My deck ended up going 2-3. I easily could have had a few things go differently and ended up in the 4-1 bracket to be fair, but results are ultimately what count. That said, turn 3 double Primeval Titan from my Valakut opponent who was on the play in game 3 was one of the more comical things I have ever faced in Standard so I pass that laugh on to you.

(In case you wanted to know the specifics: Turn 2 Lotus Cobra, Turn 3 Lotus Cobra, Fetchland, Harrow, Harrow, Primeval Titan, Primeval Titan. Go!)

My exact deck list is mostly irrelevant to this article, but since I know a lot of people come here just for that, I will go ahead and post it anyway. For a full rundown of the deck and any potential changes to it, I will simply point you to the other weekly column I write.

The dilemma was not which deck was better, as clearly the deck that put about 100 people into the top 16 is the hands down winner there, but rather the choice between playing a deck that is being championed by a dozen or so people, but of which you have no experience, or playing a deck that you have personally built and feel fine about, with minimal experience under your belt.

Now obviously this situation is going to change depending on the person or persons involved. For my own personal dilemma though, those persons should have been the tipping point in favor of Caw-Go. We are not talking about random PTQers or even just good Magic players here, we are talking about the best in the World. Obviously Luis and others have made mistakes on deck choices in the past. Paulo has even written about doing so. But I can’t remember a time where there was a unified 12 people all jumping on board a mistake together. The simple fact that 10 or so of the world’s top 50 players were all unified in believing this deck to be the best should have been enough persuasion to get me on board as well, but for some reason it wasn’t.

I honestly can’t describe the reason why I didn’t move over other than calling it the fear. I was willing to trust my half-assed deck over the consensus deck only because I was unwilling to put my faith into others. I have since realized my mistake of course, even noting so on the Magic Show. The most important skill to acquire in Magic has nothing to do with tapping mana properly or sequencing spells, but it is instead the idea of learning to work with others.

We have (and let me not be “Woo” it up with this statement as hopefully it is a generally accepted fact as of right now) one of the best, if not the best team on the Pro Tour right now. Each member brings with them a unique set of skills and knowledge that is thrown into the collective pool and as a result, out comes a better product than any individual could have arrived at on their own. I had always believed this to be true in theory but had never seen it in practice so blatantly before.

Part of the dark side of being a rogue deck builder is that you tend to do most things in a rogue fashion. Being a part of a team had never really been something I had experience with before and in the times that I did, I tended to be the leader of that team. Now, as I surround myself with better and better players, it has become obvious that I need to learn to let some others do the thinking from time to time and just trust their judgment.

Obviously I should still be bringing my specific skill set with me to these groups as I tend to be the one to find the unique card choices or deck ideas and I have quickly realized that there is no shame in that. You don’t have to hit one out of the park every single tournament in order to be recognized as a good deck builder and I knew/know that, yet I didn’t allow myself to fall back into the arms of my waiting teammates.

As I wrote about last week, there is a glass ceiling when you attempt to do everything on your own. I definitely hit that ceiling this weekend and it was easily avoidable. Caw-Go was the deck to play and only my clouded judgment and unwillingness to let go of control for even a single tournament kept me from playing the deck to play.

I have shown signs of a willingness to go with the group before but I am now beginning to see that the root cause of those signs was flawed. At Worlds 2009, I played Zoo only because I thought it was strategically superior in an effort to claim 3 wins. I never trusted the deck or the builders of it at the time. I kept things dry and simple and failed miserably as a result. At Worlds 2010 I played Vampires. Once again a stock and known list championed by some members of the group (other member’s of the group were on U/B control). Looking back on that tournament though, I only played the deck out of desperation.

I had spent so much time focused on Extended and could not come to a good deck for the Standard portion so I turned to what some thought was the best deck. I never once trusted them completely. I only relied on them to carry me in a time of desperation. Trust, in its purest form, can be turned to in times of desperation or contentment just the same. I had been playing these lists that were not of my own but never in a healthy way that demonstrated my willingness to be a part of the bigger picture. It has taken the rise and fall of yet another tournament for me to see that clearly and I can’t help but think that some other people out there have been in the same position.

I know that many of my articles have been on this type of subject as of late but I only write them because I am learning them and trying to convey the messages that I have been experiencing first hand through written word. I understand that most will need to live these lessons to fully appreciate them but I only hope I am doing at least a decent job of bracing the fall. Thanks for reading.

Conley Woods

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