Careful Consideration – Tales from Austin

I have a confession.

I’m a Texas-ist.

It’s a product of my upbringing. I hated all things related to Texas, except for the people themselves. I hated their stupid Lone Star history, and how they were so proud of being their country, I hated the Dallas Cowboys and their overbearing owner, the “everything’s bigger” mindset (compensate much?), and generally tried to avoid Texas altogether. When I befriended any Texan, I congratulated them for having the good sense to move out of the state that seemed to be mired in a culture of obnoxiousness.

So when I ventured to Austin, I wasn’t expecting much. Maybe some good Tex-Mex food, but that’s about it. But I gave myself a couple of extra days to stay in Austin due to some complications with scheduling around Monday Night Football[1], giving me some time to explore the city.

After it was all said and done, I would go back.

The LCQ (Thursday)

I was feeling a pretty severe Magic burnout heading into Austin, and I paid for it dearly. I had a good idea of what to play in Extended, but Standard testing was a little hard to come by, and I wasn’t motivated enough to spend the hours to test for the Last Chance Qualifier. All LCQs for the Pro Tours are Standard for some strange reason, and with Zendikar not being out on Magic Online, I had to go the extra mile to try to figure out the new format. I did some testing, but waited for the Philadelphia 5K results to really get things cranked up, but found myself with a scramble for time before I left for Austin.

I did spend a good portion of Wednesday night and then Thursday testing, thinking that Jund would be the most popular deck, followed by Boros Bushwacker, Red Deck Wins, and Vampires. Gavin Verhey and Michael Bennett had presented me a Bant list that seemed promising, but had some holes in it. It had a mostly solid Jund matchup, but sometimes Jund would get draws that would just beat the Bant deck’s. After some tuning, the holes were starting to get patched, but there just wasn’t enough time to figure everything out. Heading into the LCQ, I played the following:



Because not all of the card choices may seem to make sense, let me do a quick rundown:

Deft Duelist
Is very good against Goblin Guide and is extremely good at stopping Ball Lightning decks. Getting two on the board serves for a pretty sweet wall against most creatures, and it also blocks Bloodbraid Elf.

Vedalken Outlander
Some debate as to whether or not this should be the Vedalken Outlander or Valeron Outlander existed. I actually misread the decklist when it was sent to me when it was initially the Valeron version, and put in the Vedalken ones instead. It turned out to be a little better, as it didn’t die to Lightning Bolt, still blocks Sprouting Thrinax, and you would rather have the Jund player use their Maelstrom Pulses on your protection bears than on other things like Jenara, a planeswalker, or Baneslayer Angel. This can moved to the sideboard if the field isn’t ridiculously Jund-heavy. (Can you imagine Paladin en-Vec in today’s Standard format? He was so bad for so long in Standard, and right as he rotated out, he became insane. Sorry, Paladin. You just have a poor sense of timing.)

Mycoid Shepherd
The weakest card in the maindeck and I wouldn’t run it again. I want something stronger, like possibly Knight of the Reliquary. I tried Rafiq and Finest Hour, and they were okay but not exciting. Mycoid Shepherd just doesn’t do anything particularly exciting.

Jenara, Asura of War
The curve of the deck tops out at five, but often there’s a lot of land hanging around at the end of the game with really nothing to do with it. I liked having this as a mana sink while also being a finisher, although she died virtually every time she hit the table.

Ajani Goldmane
Often what would happen in the Jund matchup is that there would be a stall where neither side could profitably attack. Ajani really helped this, making Deft Duelists 3/2s and sometimes even 4/3s, and putting Rhox War Monk out of range to be killed by a lone Putrid Leech was also very useful.

Elspeth, Knight Errant
This was a concession to control, but was also good in the Jund matchup. She comes down out of Lightning Bolt range and has to eat a Maelstrom Pulse most of the time. If you can give a lifelink creature +3/+3 and flying and attack even once, it’s pretty tough to lose those games.

Hindering Light
It’s a great counter to Blightning, and although it doesn’t counter planeswalkers and Jund Charm/Pyroclasm, it does fill the role Negate would while also cantripping. Maybe this should be Negate, but the “draw a card” aspect was extremely nice.

In the sideboard, Mind Control was the best answer available for Malakir Bloodwitch that was suggested. I expected a lot more Vampires, hence the Mind Controls and Great Sable Stags (although Mind Control can also come in against opposing Baneslayer Angels). Day of Judgment was another way to deal with Bloodwitch and Jund decks, as the post-board plan against Jund was to Purge/Path away their Sprouting Thrinaxes and try to run them out of cards, then Wrath and play a Baneslayer Angel. I don’t know if that plan is the best one, but if that plan is the plan you want to go with, then the board seemed appropriate.

The weaknesses of the deck were an inability to deal with multiple Sprouting Thinaxes game one if they Blightninged away your Paths or if you never drew one, and a lack of card advantage. Jace is not really the card I want to play here, but he might fit into a more controllish build. Sphinx of Jwar Isle is a better finisher than Jenara, and I would probably move the Celestial Purges to the maindeck right now, since it’s live in almost every matchup. If you don’t want to have a card that’s dead against certain decks, then Bant Charm serves the same function at one mana more, and may even counter a Lightning Bolt or an Essence Scatter from time to time while also dealing with Sprouting Thrinax.

I do like the deck and I find the core of it to be very very solid, and I would play it again without a doubt with these changes.

The weaknesses did come up during the LCQ, and although I beat two Jund decks (and a Jund-esque deck with white splashes for Baneslayer Angel and Ajani Vengeant), I also lost to two Jund decks where I was either out-Thrinaxed game one (and mulliganed to oblivion game two), or was just out card-advantaged when they were playing cascade spells and I was just playing one card at a time. I have nobody but myself to blame, because I think that if I had tested or put more time into the format, I would have been able to shore up the weaknesses and would have had a much stronger deck, instead of pushing through to a 4-2 record.

With Zendikar out online, I plan on Banting it up and fighting in the Standard queues pretty soon. There’s room for improvement, but once the decklist is optimized, I think it has a solid approach to attacking the metagame.

Sealed PTQ (Friday)

The PTQ started at 10am, and I set my alarm for 9. I woke up naturally, before my alarm went off, and realized it was a little too sunny for it to be 9am. I checked my alarm and yes, I did indeed set it for 9pm. It was nearly 3pm. Oops.

With this newfound freedom on my hands, I found some restaurant/bar that served quality Tex-Mex cuisine, and I dined in some of the best fajitas I’ve ever had. I had a spirited discussion with some locals about football[2], got a haircut, and wandered over to the convention hall where I caught up with a dozen or so people in the PT, caught some bad beat stories, cheered the success of others, did a side draft, played in an FNM, and got a decklist for the Extended PTQ the next day.

Extended PTQ (Saturday)

I woke up on time this time and had Conley Woods’s deck in my hand to start out the morning. Conley had given me his decklist by handing me his physical deck, which is an interesting way of giving someone a decklist. Since day 2 of the Pro Tour started with a draft, he didn’t need it right away. I made a list of cards I was missing, hit the dealers, and”¦didn’t get all the cards I needed for the deck.

I could find everything I needed except for a set of maindeck Ghostly Prisons, which no dealers had. So I bit the bullet and played three Day of Judgments and an extra Wrath of God, giving me the following list:

Sorin Martkov

I entertained the idea of playing a Bant aggro deck or Kibler’s winning deck, but the dealers were out of [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card]. So I sucked it up and played the Martyr deck, although I really wasn’t happy about getting clogged at the four drop spot with the seven maindeck Wraths.

Sleeved up and ready to go, so here we went!

Round 1 vs UGw Time Warp combo
Game one I kept a very aggro-hating hand with some Helices, a couple of Wraths, and a Path. My opponent played a Rites of Flourishing, which told me I probably wouldn’t need the cards in my hand. This was a very long, drawn out game with him chaining Time Warps with Mirror Sheen to take a bunch of extra turns, but when I double [card]Castigate[/card]d away his Rude Awakenings, I figured he didn’t have a real win condition.

Later in the game when I was Emeria-ing back two Martyrs a turn, I could gain enough life that even if he attacked for a couple of hundred, I would still survive the attack. He had taken so many turns that it looked like he was going to deck, but with about eight minutes left on the clock, he played Primal Command to shuffle his graveyard into his library, and I was still searching for a win condition (no Ajanis, Sorins, or Kagamaros had shown up). He played Jace, chained a Time Warp, and I did the math and realize he would just mill me out. So with five minutes left in the round, I scooped.

-4 Wrath of God
-3 Day of Judgment
-1 Phyrexian Arena

+3 Kami of False Hope
+1 Oblivion Ring
+1 Ranger of Eos
+3 Extirpate

My plan was to go beatdown and try to do twenty points of damage in five minutes. It’s not a great plan, but it’s a plan.

Game two he mulliganed, and I had a hand with a Kami and a Martyr. Both came down and started attacking, and he kept taking damage off his fetchlands. He ended up manascrewed and couldn’t play the spells in his hand, and I was able to transform into the aggro deck with a dazzling array of attacking with 1/1, a couple of blasts from [card]Lightning Helix[/card], and [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card] doing his best Lightning Helix impression, doing lethal damage in turn two of extra turns.

Who says Martyr can’t be an aggro deck?


Round 2 vs Bant Aggro
My opponent played a turn two Umezawa’s Jitte, and I did a mental fist pump. Damage via attacking? That’s adorable. He played a Tarmogoyf which died to a Path, then a Meddling Mage which died to a Helix, then didn’t do much until I had seven plains and Emeria in play, at which point Martyr came back every turn, and he scooped.

-4 Castigate

+1 Ranger of Eos
+1 Oblivion Ring
+2 Kami of False Hope

Game two didn’t go much better, as I kept Wrathing away his board and killing his creatures, and I don’t think he ever got to attack me. He said something about his deck “not being a good hangover deck” and with both of us at a healthy life total, he conceded in frustration.


Round 3 vs Bant control
My opponent was wearing a Steelers jersey, I was wearing a Broncos shirt, there was some banter about football, and then we shuffled up and played.

Martyr’s really not a very interesting deck to play, or read about. We played draw go for a while, some Castigates got countered, some Vendilion Cliques tried to apply pressure but died to Paths or Lightning Helices, and Emeria, the Sky Ruin was able to bring back Martyr every turn to gain a bunch of life, and I had the late game locked down, and I was Mistveil Plains-ing Lightning Helixes back into my deck to be drawn later as threats. He eventually conceded when he realized he had no realistic chance to win the game.

-2 Wrath of God
-1 Day of Judgment

+3 Sacred Mesa

There were only about fifteen minutes left in the match. My opponent asked a judge to watch for slow play, which was a legit move. I had no intentions of running the slow play cheat, and we ran at a brisk pace. But the control decks with a Vendilion Clique late game just don’t have a very good game against Martyr, and I was able to play enough board control and take over with Kagemaro to pull this one out.


Round 4 vs Kithkin
I kept a hand of Oblivion Ring, Day of Judgment, Phyrexian Arena, and four lands. He opened with a Wizened Cenn into Figure of Destiny. I Oblivion Ringed a creature, played an Arena, he played Spectral Procession, I played Day of Judgment, and he played another Day of Judgment, followed by an Honor of the Pure.

I drew a Ranger of Eos to get a couple of Martyrs, but I was treading water, as I was drawing nothing but lands and Arenas. Martyr and Ranger stalled a little, but his ever-increasing board was putting more and more pressure, and I died with a hand full of fetch lands and the other three Arenas. Gross.

-4 Castigate

+1 Ranger of Eos
+1 Oblivion Ring
+2 Kami of False Hope

I opened with a hand of:
Arid Mesa
Mistveil Plains
Wrath of God
Day of Judgment
Day of Judgment
Oblivion Ring

I kept the hand. The game played out almost the same way. He played Wizened Cenn into Figure, I Oblivion Ringed, he played Spectral Procession, and I drew Ranger, Ranger, Ajani Vengeant, Wrath of God, and Ajani Vengeant. I couldn’t play any of the spells in my hand, and the turn before I died when I needed a land to play Wrath”¦I drew Mistveil Plains.


I was pretty mad at Day of Judgment, as I wasn’t happy having it in my deck to begin with, and had I had the Ghostly Prisons instead, I think I definitely win game two and I probably win game one as well. This was a terrific matchup and I lost due to card availability. Grr.


Round 5 vs Bant Aggro
I mulliganed into a three land hand on the draw with Castigate, Day of Judgment, Day of Judgment. I got stuck on three lands while getting beaten down by a Tarmogoyf, and Vendilion Clique plus Jitte did me in.

Seriously, Day of Judgment. I want to set you on fire.

-4 Castigate

+1 Ranger of Eos
+1 Oblivion Ring
+2 Kami of False Hope

Game two went better, as I was able to Wrath and Path and Helix away everything he had in existence, but it took a long time for me to draw a Kagemaro or a win condition to punch through. I finally did with ten minutes left.

Game three we were both at a healthy life total when time was called, and a judge was sitting next to us. I told my opponent that a draw knocked us both out and that one should concede to the other. I wasn’t really in the mood to concede so I thought maybe I could convince him, but the judge snapped at us and said, “You’ve made your deal, so play on.”

No deal was made, and I was really miffed by this. I should have called over the head judge and appealed, but we played. When it was turn five and I was thinking whether or not to attack, I brought up the whole “two draws knocks us both out” and the judge grabbed the slip and said, “The match is over. It’s a draw.” So”¦.I guess it was a draw?


Round 6 vs next level Blue with Tron
My opponent played Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Power Plant, and then Expedition Map, getting Urza’s Tower. He played some blue lands, and a few turns later he had me in Mindslaver lock.

-4 Wrath of God
-3 Day of Judgment

+4 Ghost Quarter
+3 Extirpate

-1 Martyr of Sands
+1 Sacred Mesa

I’m pretty sure I misboarded here. I was tilting at this point, and was trying to play quickly, and the three minute time for boarding was up so I didn’t finish what I wanted to do.

Game two was just embarrassing. He had Pithing Needle naming Ghost Quarter, and he Mindslavered me the turn I was going to draw the Oblivion Ring to deal with it. He failed to see the play of playing the O-Ring to get the Needle and using the Ghost Quarters to blow up my Emerias and Mistveil Plains. He also forgot to counter a Castigate with one of the two Spell Snares in his hand. He Castigated himself when he was Mindslavering me, getting rid of the Chrome Mox that would have put me in Mindslaver lock. The next turn Mindslaver got Extirpated, but some poor choices by Extirpate targets left me in a position where I needed to topdeck Ajani to win the game, but I should have never been in that position to begin with. I played very ver poorly in this game and thinking about it makes me angry.

I was playing quickly and not playing well. I can slow down and play better, but my matches then tend to go to time. It’s a frustrating dilemma.

I dropped from the PTQ.

2-2-2, very frustrated.

I talked to some people about the dilemma and I think the answer is just to play a lot more Magic. Charles Dupont, Grand Prix: Seattle top 4 competitor, has a solution: Just play in 1000 drafts. While that may seem like a little high, he’s probably not far off. He says that playing that much Magic builds mental shortcuts so that you can see situations that are similar to situations you’ve already seen over and over again, allowing you to make the correct decision quickly and let your brain spend time on more complex decisions that haven’t come up. It’s not a bad way to go.

Afterwards, I talked to various people, played a lot of Catchphrase, and wandered into the bar district, where the city of Austin was going bonkers over that day’s win between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma in college football. I had never seen anything like that scene. I’ve seen some college parties, but nothing like this. Austin looked like a war zone. Like a happy, drunk, slutty war zone. It was truly unlike anything else I’ve experienced.

I thought about playing in the Grand Prix Trial on Sunday, but I still couldn’t find Ghostly Prisons and I didn’t really want to spend money to fill out a deck, especially when the cards I needed were inflated by the dealer, and were cards I owned but didn’t bring (like Grove of the Burnwillows, selling for $15 – I have a set at home, but who thinks to bring that card)? I slept in, played some side events, played some more Catchphrase, and that was that.

Overall, I’m glad I went, but I’m disappointed in the way things went. I definitely didn’t play my best Magic on the weekend, and I found myself frustrated a lot. I was burnt out heading into Austin, but one thing that came out of it was a renewed passion for the game, as I realized just how far I have to go to get to excellence. A thousand drafts, eh? Well, I guess I better get cracking.

Yours draftingly,

zaiemb at gmail dot com
zbeg on Twitter

[1] I’m a little weird and didn’t want to miss the Denver Broncos game by flying on Monday and risking flight delays. I haven’t missed a Broncos game in twenty years, and I wasn’t going to let irresponsible scheduling and flight issues change that. I realize that’s obsessive, but I am who I am.

[2] Topic: Would the Tennessee Titans be 5-0 with Vince Young as the starting quarterback instead of Kerry Collins? I realize Vince Young went to school in Austin, but this is a little ridiculous, don’t you think?

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