My name is William Cavaglieri and I’m a gamer from Italy (I guess that’s what I am, since I work in testing for a videogame company). As a Magic player, I’m a Constructed “specialist” with the unfortunate habit to skip PTs and GPs. In the last 2 years I collected 47 PT points – if I played all the European GPs and the Pro Tours, my average would be 34.6 points per season. 😀 Not that bad for Italy’s standards, a country that has 200 people on average at ptqs (we once had one with 380 bigger than a UK GP), yet it couldn’t win a single Pro Tour or Worlds in the history of the game – a feat that Portugal, Switzerland, and China, just to name a few, were able to accomplish before us.
Anyway, after years of being a normal Magic player (“Constructed is boring, let’s draft”), I moved to the odd side and now I enjoy more developing a deck than opening a pack. Don’t ask me how is that possible, it just happened.
Today I would like to talk about my preparation for PT San Diego and the deck I played.
I was sure I wasn’t going to attend PT San Diego due to work, so I didn’t bother to test. Of course, I found myself with an unexpected week off 12 days before departure. Handling this situation required various sets of skills:
1) Learning how to draft the new format, with only one real ZZW draft possible.
2) Finding a good deck. Consider I never touch a deck without a good sideboard and a clear plan with it.
3) Accommodate a bunch of commitments (“Darling, by the way, I’m going to California for a week”).
After some negotiations, point 3) was solved by skipping the trip to Las Vegas and pulling the “4 days there, 3 days traveling” stunt (such is life). For point 1), I did some fake drafts on draft.bestiaire.org/ to get familiar with the cards, bugged a bunch of friends with questions, and read everything available (thanks LSV for being the Gary Wise of our days; commenting every single card can be quite a pain, but it was very useful for me).
Now, about point 2). The first thing to do was to see how was the format pre-Worldwake, and predict the trends. After tracking numbers from every source available (including MTGO daily events decklists or Magic-League metagame breakdowns) I realized that:
– Jund was still the elephant in the room, but not as much as before, percentage wise.
– People liked mid-range White, more with Cobra and various splashes than anything else.
– Aggressive decks like monored and Boros were less and less popular.
– Control was decently represented, but underperforming. That didn’t surprise me, since a good 20% of Magic Spikes would play control all the times if they could.
Trends which were kinda easy to figure out:
– OMG-OMG-JACE! (its most appealing quality for a Magic Pro? It’s Blue).
– Vampires had a couple of nice, obvious additions. The typical deck for those who didn’t do their homework.
– Kor Firewalker was too scary to expect a lot of Red aggro.
– Knight of the Reliquary was on his way to reach the “stupid-good” level.
I therefore came to these conclusions:
– Day of Judgment was positioned better than before, even with the manlands around. Vampires, GW, White Weenie”¦ Even Jund seemed more vulnerable, with Great Sable Stag and Siege-Gang Commander gaining momentum.
– Playing a bunch of small men like at Worlds didn’t seem well positioned. Not only I expected Jund to be ready with some sort of mass removal, but Jace made control (aka “kill them all”) appealing all by itself. Better luck next time, Conqueror’s Pledge.
– While most spells looked like small upgrades or variants of previous options, there was nothing that could upgrade a deck like the new manlands or the new Wasteland. This made me dislike Alara Shards mana bases even more: they already had a high count of comes-into-play tapped lands, and the manlands just pressed for more. What I’m trying to say is that Shards decks either cross their fingers (Jund, Grixis) or flood with mana guys (Bant, Cobra decks in general). I think Simon Gertzen’s move to 27 lands and 2 Rampant Growth in Jund was smart, and the right direction to take for most of these decks.
With little time and the need to play something I was familiar with, building my deck was easy:
The list is kinda obvious, and I’m sure a bunch of teams had something similar. I think people dismissed it too easily because they don’t test much post sideboard. For example, Vampires improves drastically with the transformational sideboard, as well as Control. For the same reason, I think Cobra decks are slightly overrated, as the acceleration is often less relevant after Game 1, and then you pay for the lower threat density (don’t be scared to sideboard those Cobra out sometimes). It’s also easy to fall into traps like Honor of the Pure or Marshal’s Anthem – cards that aren’t bad at all, but sometimes it’s not the right moment, and only a bunch of testing can let you realize that. When pressed for time, it’s better to fine-tune something than randomly try deck after deck. For example, Bant is not the best color combination out there, but if you perfect it like Zvi did, then you’ll end up with better results.
The deck performed quite well in the end: Aras Senyuz went 9-1, Nico Bohny 6-4 and me 3-1-1 (with the draw being a win with one extra turn ouch). Nico Bohny, not being exactly faithful to the Swiss stereotype, got the decklist 5 minutes before the player seating and finished building it after pairings where up”¦
Nico said he lost 3 very close matches against Jund where he mulliganed a lot, something that shouldn’t happen often with an almost monocolor deck.
Note the deck could have been set more against control. The scariest combination you can play against is a deck with a bunch of Wrath effects (Grixis, on the other hand, is quite easy). But before San Diego, after some talks with various friends and testing, it was clear that a good control list wasn’t obvious at all, so in the end I didn’t expect too many of them (a further proof is that even LSV couldn’t build a good one in time). Now that Chapin solved the puzzle, it’s time to adapt. A last minute cut that I missed in the end was Day of Judgment, which is kinda silly, if you think of the natural combo with Dauntless Escort. I was too enamored of my sideboard to make space. But now I realized 4 Devout Lightcaster is sooo 2009 and no respectable Jund player will get caught off guard by it, some of the sideboard cards should move to the main, so now I think you have more space to toy around.
If GP Bruxelles was tomorrow I would play this version:
Cutting Brave the Elements might be a mistake. With 2 copies your opponent can rarely afford to play around it, making it a blowout from time to time. The higher curve and the lack of Path to Exile scare me a bit, but you’ve a lot of incidental hate against Red and the other aggressive decks are soft to Day of Judgment. Sure, the games were you’ll be mana screwed you will wish to have a Path to stay alive – but if it’s a Putrid Leech who is beating you down, I doubt Pathing it will win you many games.
About sideboard plans and matchups:
After sideboard your spells are all superior, so just play to stay alive and go long. Pre-sideboard is not so automatic, and it’s reasonable to race early, as it’s a good way to force them on defense with their Malakir Bloodwitch. Always keep a removal for Vampire Nocturnus and always play around Malakir Bloodwitch – for example, be wise with your Day of Judgment and don’t expose your Wall of Reverence to Gatekeeper of Malakir or Urge to Feed. I’m aware that after sideboard you only have Knight of the White Orchid for the early turns, but it worked fine for me. Against super-aggressive versions it’s ok to keep some Kor Firewalkers just to have some early blockers, but usually it’s not necessary.
There are some Jund builds where you are clearly favored if you go long, or that are vulnerable to Day of Judgment. Keep an eye on it as you might want to sideboard as against Vampires. Unfortunately it’s always hard to predict how the games will develop against Jund, as they have so many options and cascade exacerbates this.
Before the Pro Tour I felt for the first time to have a deck with a 60% matchup against Jund (something that a lot of people claimed before, but for once I believed it). But if I look at the winner’s sideboard, with 4 Deathmarks and 3 Master of the Wild Hunt, I don’t feel so sure of it anymore. Once again Jund has the tools to beat everything it wants to, yet I feel it’s still a positive matchup overall (our score against Jund during the Pro Tour was 6-3 I think).
Vs UW control
-6 between Kor Firewalker and Baneslayer Angel
Martial Coup might not seem so exciting, but it’s nice insurance to a number of situations, and a bunch of token are rarely horrible. It’s odd to fight Control with a 7 mana spell, but it worked, strangely. I guess the scarcity of good counterspells makes for a strange world, sometimes. Both Kor Firewalker and Baneslayer are mediocre: one doesn’t put enough pressure, and the other is slow as hell and a juicy Mind Control target.
Vs Boss Naya , Cobra.Deck and White Weenie variants, Eldrazi Green
Elspeth is not that bad against these decks, even if just to kill theirs, but you need to lower the curve somehow. It might be better to remove some Emeria Angels – still, removal is not that abundant in this matchup, which means going nuts with Knight of the Reliquary is a real possibility for once. [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] is clearly out of place together with the Walls and the Wraths, but still OK I think – again, the scarcity of removal make them better than usual. Plus, when you sideboard into control you are sometimes soft against Planeswalkers, so it’s good to have a guy to pressure them sometimes. Anyway, in case you started playing Standard today, kill Knight of the Reliquary on sight.
vs various Combo decks
Your only disruption is Oblivion Ring, which means it’s worth to mulligan into aggressive hands as these are not exactly good matchups. Especially against decks based on Howling Mine, I don’t mind to go to 5 or 4 cards. As a rule of thumb I don’t keep unless I’ve a reasonable shot to kill on turn 5 or unless I’m holding an Oblivion Ring.
As you can imagine, this is your easiest matchup. Steppe Lynx is your worst card, but if you can kill them a turn or two earlier it still means less draw steps for them to find burn, and you already have enough expensive cards to put in. Don’t be afraid to chump block often and early, as you’ve plenty of power for the late game and saving life is like drawing a card against a deck full of burn to the face.
vs Boros and Koros (GerryT’s version)
Day of Judgment is nothing impressive against Boros, but it’s a good insurance for those games were they draw a lot of late game cards (so, 2 or more Ranger of Eos). Note that it’s correct to cut Steppe Lynx, since they have more cheap removal and they almost always pack Cunning Sparkmage nowadays.
I would like to close the article with an old little story that you might never heard of, just for fun. I might be wrong on a few, very small details, but the story is true. As I’ve a bunch of them, if you enjoy it please let me know and I’ll have more for next time.
Also, let me know if you liked the article, as feedback is very welcome. 🙂
“PT Yokohama 2003. A well known pro has to win his last match to top 64 and stay on the gravy train. He plays against an unknown local. After a hard-fought, tense battle things look desperate for him in game 3, to the point that he has to start to chump block… And again… And again… and on the last possible turn… There it is: Searing Flesh for the win!
Our pro jumps from his chair, scream out loud his joy, slam the card on the table and starts a little dance. Wow!
And then he realizes. We’re in Japan. Against a Japanese player. With a Japanese crowd watching.
A game loss for unsportsmanlike conduct follows soon after. Doh!*”
* The legend says that his bum was involved in the previous celebrations, by the way…