Can’t Win ‘Em All

Playing round 8 of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation for fun—not exactly where I was hoping to be.

So where did it all go wrong?

When the new set came out on Magic Online, I decided to focus on Draft at first. That’s what most players do—it makes the most sense. Jam as many Drafts as you can, wait for the first few Constructed results and 5-0 deck lists, then start testing Standard once you have a sense of the metagame.

The first rare I opened in my first Draft was The Scarab God—I’ve seen worse. Unfortunately, I ended up with some schizophrenic U/B deck and couldn’t get past the semis. I kept struggling for another Draft or two, but then I got the hang of it.

Still, I was getting stuck now and then drafting awkward decks, trying to make a color combination do what it’s not designed to do, and it became one of my priorities not to get trapped in those bad archetypes. I was also struggling with the ramp archetype, as I wasn’t getting the payoff cards and I’d end up with a bunch of fixing, but nothing busted to cast.

I also wasn’t sure how I felt about the aggressive, low-curve decks in the format, as Aven of Enduring Hope is such a brick wall at common. I ended up raking in 10 or so trophies out of about 30 Drafts, which is solid but not stellar, and felt mostly good about Limited going into the PT—not as good as I had felt going into some of the last few PTs, but still all right. As usual, being able to talk at lengths about the format with the rest of The Pantheon was a huge help, and I also got to rail bird quite a few Drafts after arriving in Japan, though I do wish I had played a few myself to shake off the rust.

As for Constructed, I had been crushing with U/W Control pre-Hour of Devastation, but figured there would be little point in playing white over red with Abrade and Hour of Devastation now legal. I set it aside and tried a bunch of different decks, but I couldn’t find anything I liked. U/R Control felt bad every time I gave it a try, the G/B Cryptolith Rite deck was okay but clunky and underpowered, so I finally gave U/W its first shot in the new format and the deck still felt great.

I had one problem though: the Mono-Red matchup. I didn’t even realize how bad it was until I got to Japan and started testing in real life. I knew I was an underdog game 1 from playing online, but figured I could still win a third or so of the time and have a much better win rate after sideboard. In my first set playing against Pikula, I went 1-5 pre-board and 2-4 post-board.

The plan was to take out the sweepers and bring in 4 Spell Quellers as well as Archangel Avacyn and a couple of extra Blessed Alliance—all cards that have good use in other matchups, as well as being dedicated anti-red cards. I was trying all the good, cheap sideboard cards (Authority of the Consuls, Sacred Cat, God-Pharaoh’s Faithful) but they weren’t getting the job done. I started going a bit bigger with Regal Caracal and my results got a bit better. It wasn’t until the very last day before the PT that I figured out the card I was missing: Walking Ballista.

Who would have thought a 4-mana, sorcery-speed Dual Shot could be that good? My red opponents were always getting a ton of value out of their Bomat Couriers, and Ballista kept the pesky artifact in check. It was good on turn 2 and turn 4, and it was also nice to have a late-game finisher as I was boarding out some of the Gearhulks to make my deck cheaper.

When I woke up on Thursday, I was still on the fence between U/W and Red. I thought Mono-Red was our best deck even though a bunch of my teammates were starting to get scared, but I felt really comfortable with U/W, and after going on a winning streak versus Red and hearing that a bunch of players were playing decks like Zombies and B/G Energy in an attempt to beat Red, I decided to lock it in, feeling better about my choice than I had in days.

I didn’t get into Japan until the Tuesday before the PT, and with so little time to adjust, my number one goal was to defeat the jet lag and be in the best shape possible on Friday morning. Unfortunately, I do really stupid things sometimes, and decided to sleep with the air conditioning unit blowing directly on my face during my first night in Japan. All I had to do was sleep with my head on the opposite side of the mattress and I probably would have been fine. I got sick, and I’m guessing it had a direct impact on my Day 1 Draft performance.

Day 1 Draft

I woke up on Friday morning not feeling like complete crap, but I knew it wouldn’t last. I went to breakfast with Chris, then headed to the site. My pod didn’t look especially tough, and I couldn’t have asked for better first picks, as after opening and taking God-Pharaoh’s Gift over Burning-Fist Minotaur, I somehow got passed a second-pick Champion of Wits (I don’t think I would take any uncommon over it) and a third-pick Ominous Sphinx. The rest of the pack wasn’t so exciting, but I managed to pick up a bunch of Lurching Rotbeasts, which went nicely with the Gift.

I first picked Sunset Pyramid over a cycling land in the second pack and got passed a booster with Hour of Devastation in it. The pack also had a Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs and I felt like I had a really close pick. I decided to eventually go with the colorless card as I hadn’t seen much red at all in pack 1 and I had passed Burning-Fist Minotaur to my left in pack 1, so surely one of my two neighbors were red (it’s possible the player who opened the pack was red himself, but just didn’t want to pick the sweeper if he had an aggressive deck).

Being U/B also made more sense to me with a Gift in my deck. I then got passed not one but two Hour of Eternity (not sure taking the second one was right, but I can’t remember what else was in the pack) as well as Abandoned Sarcophagus. I didn’t get many playables in the last pack, save a few quality picks: Final Reward, Edifice of Authority, and Vizier of Tumbling Sands.

Here is what I registered:


In hindsight, I think I should have gone something like -1 Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs -1 Unburden –1 Ancient Crab -1 Razaketh’s Rite +2 Strategic Planning +1 Abandoned Sarcophagus +1 Supernatural Stamina but I’m still not entirely sure what the optimal build is.

Round 1

My opponent was from Italy and had drafted B/G. Both games, he had a solid curve and enough tricks and removal to punch through despite his deck not looking especially exciting. Game 1 wasn’t very close and I was behind most of game 2. I thought I might finally turn the corner by eternalizing Champion of Wits, but he was ready with Torment of Venom to shrink it with the trigger on the stack.

Round 2 vs. Ben Lundquist

We quickly got into a board stall as I had Edifice of Authority in play and he had Mirage Mirror. I also had a Sunset Pyramid, and he could make cool plays like copy the Edifice, add a brick counter, then remove it by copying the Sunset Pyramid to draw a card. I think I would have won if I had just set up for my Hour of Eternity, but instead, as if I hadn’t already struggled enough against the Mirror, I played my God-Pharaoh’s Gift. I realized my mistake as soon as it hit play but it was too late and I eventually got decked.

I tightened up and won game 2 in extra turns, but the damage was already done.

Round 3

For some reason, I can’t find my name on the pairing/result sheet on Wizards’ coverage, but my opponent was a friendly guy from England (maybe I just liked him because he said he watched my stream). He was playing W/B Zombies and somehow, for the second match in a row, I got owned by Mirage Mirror. Or to be more precise, I owned myself. He played the artifact early in game 1 and because I had drawn the Gift again, instead of playing out my other cards, I played in a really convoluted way: Keeping Final Reward mana up, hoping he would make his Mirror into a creature I could then get rid to play my 7-mana bomb.

On purpose or not, he never did and I wasn’t able to make up for the lost tempo. I’m convinced I would have won if a) I hadn’t drawn my rare or b) I would have just ignored the Mirror and played out my other cards. A lot of the time, when I make mistakes, they’re stupid ones—not paying attention, as I did against Lundquist and immediately realized I’d messed up. This was a different kind of mistake—poor strategic planning over several turns and it never crossed my mind during the game that I was just butchering it.

I decided to bring in Abandoned Sarcophagus for game 2, drew it early on, and it helped me make sure he could never recover from a slow start. Game 3 was pretty grindy and he eventually got me with Torment of Scarabs. I think Sarcophagus would have done it for me again if I had drawn it at some point, but unfortunately it was the bottom card of my deck.

I had only managed to pick up 1 match point in Draft, and it was going to be an uphill battle. But I had faith in my trusty U/W deck. Here is what my final version looked like:

U/W Control

Round 4

My opponent from Chile was on U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift. Game 1 isn’t very good for U/W Control and I lost despite him missing a few land drops. Things get better after sideboard when you have access to Spell Queller. The card really shines in that matchup as they have no way to interact with it and it gives you a body to block their 1/2s. It also gives you a way to exile Champion of Wits, making sure you don’t get blown out by it later in the game, and it plays around Dispel, which they usually bring in.

I won game 2 pretty easily, but things were looking grim in game 3 after he resolved an Eldrazi Displacer. I boarded out all of my Fumigates and most of my Cast Outs as I don’t like relying on the enchantment to get rid of Gift, since it leaves you very vulnerable to Fragmentize (this could be wrong though—I haven’t played the matchup enough to know). Fortunately, he decided to attack with the Eldrazi when I had 6 mana up and declined to save it when I played a Gearhulk. The game was still close for a while, but I eventually drew enough cards to take over.

Round 5 vs. Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

Guillaume was probably the last player I wanted to face in the entire room. I knew he was playing U/R Control, and even though I didn’t exactly know what was in his deck, I know how Guillaume likes to build his decks and they’re usually well suited for control mirrors.

Game 1 went on forever as we both hit most of our land drops, even more important in this format than it usually is in control mirrors, but he eventually was able to resolve Nicol Bolas on turn 100 even though the game was closer than I thought it would be, and I might even have been able to win if I had played perfectly. I think a small part of me had given up before the match even started, and I didn’t try as hard as I should have. There wasn’t much time left on the clock so I decided to bring in all of my creatures, which isn’t far from optimal sideboarding anyway. He stumbled a tiny bit so I was able to force threats into play thanks to Dispel and quickly win game 2, but in game 3, I took the first mulligan of the match, missed a few land drops, and could not put up a fight.

Round 6

I had to win out if I wanted to make Day 2, and got paired against B/G Energy. Things were looking grim when he cast a turn-2 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner on the play, but he never drew a third land and I was able to take game 1. My draw was clunky in game 2 and I thought I might finally stabilize at 3 life if he didn’t have anything good, but he tapped 6 mana and finished me off with Walking Ballista. I drew much better for the deciding game and was even able to “race” Dreamstealer with Glimmers and Gearhulks.

Round 7

My opponent was on Mardu Tokens and I probably would have won game 1 if I hadn’t bottomed two lands with Glimmer of Genius on turn 4. I already had a fifth untapped land, a Fumigate, and a Torrential Gearhulk in hand, but thought I might need that extra little value despite Gearhulk, something like a second Fumigate or a Blessed Alliance to lock it up. I ended up drawing a Quarantine Field, which would have been great, except for the fact that none of my top 4 cards were an untapped land (I drew Irrigated Farmland for extra rub-ins).

My draw was close to perfect in game 2, and I drew well in game 3 again, but his draw was insane as well, and I had to topdeck Ballista #2 on turn 5 to stay in the game. I actually almost stabilized, but he kept drawing spells, and I ended up losing because I drew the 1 Fumigate I left in after sideboard. I usually board out all the Fumigates when I’m on the play as they get really awkward when you bring in a bunch of Spell Quellers, but I like to keep one when they go first as a safety net, and the potential dead card doesn’t hurt you as much when you’re on the draw. Well it turns out that if Fumigate had been any of my other sideboard cards I would have won the match. I’m not even sure leaving it in was a mistake, but it felt bad to go out that way.

Round 8

I played the last round for fun (also because I forgot to drop) and got to beat Mono-Red in tw0 quick games, even winning game 2 on the mull to 5.

Despite how poorly my tournament went, it wasn’t all bad as pretty much all of my teammates got enough points to reach their end-of-the-year goals. I had too much of headache to go to the Saito party on Saturday night, but was feeling better on Sunday to hang out and draft with Jelger and co.

I’m not exactly sure what my plans are for next year. Hopefully I can keep building up my stream and play Magic full-time. I also started looking for a “casual” team for the Team Series—people who can potentially go to 3 or 4 PTs but don’t have the highest of expectations, since I’m not sure I can commit to all 4 PTs yet myself. I will definitely be in Albuquerque and I might hit a few GPs too, maybe starting off with Birmingham next week and most likely Metz at the end of the month.

As of the time of writing, I’m trying to figure out what I want to play in Saturday’s Standard MOCS playoff. I’ve played some more U/W Control, but haven’t been doing as well as I would have liked, so I’m going to shelve it for now. I would need a bit more data, but I think you’re an underdog to Red, and Mardu might be even worse, so you don’t want to play the deck as long as those two decks represent a large percentage of the field. If some of you still want to give it a try, here’s my current list:

U/W Control

One solution would be to add red to end up with something like this:

R/U/W Control

I also picked up Willy Edel’s R/G Ramp list and tweaked it a bit, mostly by cutting the Jaddi Offshoots. It’s been showing promise, and this is currently my front-runner for the MOCS:

R/G Ramp

Hopefully I can bring you a complete deck tech next time, and tell you about how awesome the deck is after I win it all on Saturday.

Until then, take care!


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