First of all, I’d like to apologize for not replying to the comments in the forums – it was a mix of the PT happening and the internet in this hotel working for everyone except me (obv obv). To address some things people asked me, since probably no one is going to read it now if I reply there:
Truth or Roil
Echoing Truth/Into the Roil: It could be that Echoing Truth is just better than Into the Roil. Into the Roil is better to draw naturally, but Echoing Truth is better when you want to tutor for this effect specifically. I guess the upside of Echoing Truth is just much more important than the upside of Into the Roil, so I believe you guys are correct and Echoing Truth is a better card for a one-slot.
Culling Scales: I don’t like this card much. The plan against Zoo is to win an attrition war with cheap spot removal (and well sometimes the not so cheap Exile Into Darkness), and Culling Scales doesn’t really fit well into that plan, because you just want to kill everything that moves before it has a chance to hit you, I don’t think you can afford to let guys survive just so that you kill them with Culling Scales – it’s kind of the same reason we don’t want Damnation, because you have to end up going Deathmark, Smother, Damnation your one guy away. It’s also very poor with Chrome Mox, AND they board in artifact removal against you anyway, so you don’t really want them to have the ability to stop your creature killing. I admit I have not played those, but they don’t look good.
So, onto my San Diego report!
Preparation for San Diego began almost as soon as the set was released – it didn’t take long for the California people to assemble a mailing list and we started discussing standard. Mailing lists are not fantastic testing tools, and really pale in comparison to a dedicated group of people working together in real life, but they are good enough to give everyone a grasp of what is happening, and to build a gauntlet.
When I got to Oakland we started building and testing the biggest varieties of decks. At first, our testing was really erratic and unfocused, including all sorts of Mono Greens, Polymorph/Progenitus, Warp World, BG Eldrazi Monument, etc. Soon enough we narrowed it to Grixis and Jund. No one really wanted to play Jund, and everyone really wanted to play Grixis, simply because we like those cards and this style of deck better. It was only after Oakland, though, that we got really structured, and were then able to figure out a few things.
The day after the GP we gathered at a local store, and then we actually built good versions of every deck and tested the same match over and over, taking notes and discussing why we were losing the games. It took us about 10 minutes to figure out that Vampires with Mind Sludge has a much bigger win percentage against both Jund and blue control decks than Vampires without Sludge (MUCH bigger), and an equal number of minutes to figure out that none of us wanted to play two mana two/twos in this Pro Tour, no matter their creature type (unless it’s creature-Leech). At five they closed the store, and then LSV graciously offered his mother’s place for us to test, us being close to 16 people. Once we got there, we ordered a bunch of pizzas and then Gabe had the idea that we should hold a bunch of tournaments to figure out what was good in random situations. I was going to play Jund, but we had two people with that already, so I decided to use the opportunity t test our BG Eldrazi Green deck that was smashing Grixis.
I believe our tournament was composed of:
Mono Green Eldrazi
Another different build of GW Eldrazi
Round one I got paired against Mono-Green, and got destroyed. Round two I got paired against GW, and got destroyed even though my opponent mulliganed to five. At this point I had had enough, and decided to mulligan my deck by switching to Jund mid-tournament. Round three I got paired against Jund!
Now that was a bit useless, since we wanted to test how decks fared against each other and we were playing 75 card mirrors, so I went to the other 0-2 table, which had LSV with Grixis versus Matt Nass with Time Sieve. Matt is delighted he is going to finally win a match, and then I show up outside and ask “so does anyone want to change decks with me, so we don’t play Jund Mirror?” LSV snap-hands me his deck and Matt starts complaining that this is not fair and he wants to play against Grixis. His complaints are ignored and he is promptly smashed by Jund, as am I.
We finish this tournament and decide to start a new one, and this time I have a new plan: Naya Land Destruction. The idea from the deck came from Gabe Walls, who wanted to play Lavaball Trap, and then we brainstormed a bit on it and it didn’t seem that bad, so I decided to try it. For reference, this is what I was playing:
There were 5 manlands in the deck.
We didn’t have any of the cards there, so I just proxied all of it, though I had to re-proxy it every other game, because the Sharpie I was using just refused to stay on the cards, preferring to move to my hands whenever I shuffled them.
The tournament started and this looked promising, with me beating Jund and then Matt Nass, who had changed to Mono-White Allies. I lost the final match to UWR control, but the games were very close and could have gone either way, so this actually looked promising. We decide to stop playing tournaments and start playing random games, and I beat Vampires pretty easily.
At some point, Gabe walks from the kitchen (where else) and announces that he is playing Naya. I don’t really pay much attention to the statement, because he has said the same about 5 or 6 different decks during the weekend, but he and Tom Ross keep talking about it. Eventually they recruit Brad Nelson to their cause, and we just agree to battle at Superstars in San Jose the following day. As we are leaving, I look at my hands that look like they could belong to someone who worked in a coal mine the entire day, and complain to Luis that his Sharpie is the worst I’ve ever seen.
Luis: That is because this is not a Sharpie; it is a marker to write on white boards
Gabe: PV is just so foreign sometimes
The next day we get to Superstars and I build my Naya LD deck with real cards and then start battling. I do slightly better than splitting games with Boros, but then I get to play Jund and I figure out I just can’t beat a Putrid Leech. After losing something like 14-4, I give up and decide to watch the other matches. As I approach Gabe’s table, he claims that he is 10-0 against Jund and that the match is unloseable. I decide to sit and play him myself, you know, “if you want things well done do them yourself”. Ready to teach him a lesson, I promptly go 2-8, with the two games I won being him mulliganing to five and being stuck without green mana. Though I think I was kind of unlucky in our matches, I realize that it is favorable for Naya – not 18-2 favorable, but still a good match for them, which I don’t think can be said for many decks against Jund.
At this point I am getting a little interested in the deck. I play a bunch of games with LD against Naya and smash it because of [card]Day of Judgment[/card], but I know that this particular match doesn’t really matter. Then Luis played with Grixis against the deck and said the match was really bad, and that was when it really captivated me. I still don’t like the deck – it looks far too underpowered – but I had three strong reasons to think that it was good. First, some good players wanted to play it – mainly Gabe, who I learned to respect a lot in this trip. Second, I lost to it with Jund. Third, Luis lost to it with Grixis.
Now, this is not because I think I play Jund and Luis plays Grixis better than anyone else in the planet, though to be honest we probably pilot those two decks better than the average competition. The defining factor is that both of us actively wanted our decks to win, and they still weren’t. A lot of the times in playtest people are biased for the deck they created or want to play, and sometimes when you give them a deck they don’t really like then they are not going to play their best. Both he and I, apart from being good players, wanted those decks to win with all our hearts, because we wanted to play those decks in the tournament! If we had switched, for example giving Grixis to me, I would probably not have cared enough about the outcome of the match, but since it was Jund that I was playing I had no excuse – I was losing because the matchup was bad, and the same for him.
Speaking of Grixis, it was the deck Luis played the most from the beginning, since he likes blue cards and all that. When he said the deck wasn’t good enough, I simply believed him, because I knew that if there was a way to justify playing Grixis in this tournament then he would be playing it. I think both him and I were really scared of letting our desire to play those new cards (Jace especially) cloud our judgment in the decks, and I am glad we were able to set this aside and choose what we believed was the best deck for the tournament.
We decided to try a different version of Jund – mine had Trace of Abundance and Abyssal Persecutors and not as many removal spells. Once we changed to four Bituminous Blasts, four Maelstrom Pulses and three Terminates, as well as more lands, it started winning a lot more, but it was still not beating Naya more than 35-40% of the time, and this was likely the worst case scenario, so I was fine with it.
After we were pretty much set on the deck, we argued a bit about the last slots and how to sideboard. We also played Werewolf in the meantime, and I was killed round one by people I didn’t even know with the explanation “I’ll vote for the Brazilian”. Then we went back and went to sleep, and I had a bunch of mixed feelings – I was happy that I had found a deck that was good, but I still couldn’t help hating the deck. This is usually not a good combination, but as I hated everything else as well, I guess I just had to go with the lesser of two evils.
The next day we woke up and rode to the airport. After connecting in LA, I arrived in San Diego and met the crew, who said they had been playing post boarded games against RUW and that it had been fine, which was relieving for me because I was really afraid of mass removal (I mean, if I could destroy the deck with 4 Day of Judgment and 56 LD cards, who knew what would happen when 4 DOJ paired 56 good cards? Turns out the LD cards are actually good against it, though)
We went to the venue and I couldn’t help but being impressed again by how majestic it is – it is just so”¦ big! Unfortunately the party did not match this impression – we got there about 30 minutes after it was scheduled to start (and it would theoretically go on for another 3 and a half hours) and there was no food left. Seems like the first Pro Tour of the season is doomed to leave a terrible impression on me in those aspects – last year Kyoto simply didn’t have anything, though they redeemed themselves in the following ones.
Anyway, 2000 words later, this is the list we played:
Some people had one more Baneslayer Angel in the board, for one Dauntless Escort.
I’ve read in Luis’s forums that people think this is a midrange deck – make no mistake, this deck is, above all, an aggressive deck, though its aggressiveness is not based on the fact that it plays a big guy turn one and then burns the opponent, but on the fact that you keep attacking them with threats until they finally succumb. Cards such as Bloodbraid Elf, Ranger of Eos, manlands and the Behemoth Sledge chain make it harder your opponents to control the game, which means you can give them a little more time and don’t have to kill them immediately, but ultimately you still want to prevent them from gaining control – you simply have a lot of tools to do that, and way more time than the average aggressive decks. In the end, it all comes down to terminology, but I would put this deck in the same role as, say, BW tokens, and for me that is aggressive and not midrange.
Some explanation on individual cards:
The lands: The day before the Pro Tour, we were at The Spaghetti Factory and Brad and Gabe were talking about manlands over other lands, and then Gabe gave a really good explanation that I think is a good guide about how the deck functions. I believe Gabe said something like that (obviously not the words, but the idea):
“If you remove the manlands for lands that enable a faster start then sure, you are going to have a faster start, but you don’t need that, and that is not going to make you win many more games. Attacking with your Wild Nacatl as a 3/3 one turn earlier is very likely not going to make a big difference, because, from the way the deck is built, you don’t need to speed race them, and you generally do not have the ability to do so. By removing those manlands for ones that come into play untapped, then you are harming your ability to win when you do NOT have those fast draws – which will still be way less common than your not-so-fast draws. In the end, you are giving yourself better odds at something that you simply wouldn’t need to do if you hadn’t been cutting those cards from your deck.”
Awkward Deck is Awkward
Basically, the deck is capable of fast starts, but most of the games you don’t win because of those, and when you do you would receive a lot less help from a land that comes into play untapped than you would by having a manland when those fast starts don’t happen!
Scute Mob over Dragonmaster Outcast: Scute Mob is essentially two turns faster than this guy, which is enough for him to get the nod. By the turn you get your sixth land into play, Mob is already attacking as a 5/5. Next turn the Outcast is going to make a 5/5 that won’t be able to attack, and this guy will be attacking as a 9/9! 5 is also a lot easier than 6, and though in some matches the Dragon guy will win the game where Scute Mob won’ t, most of the time Scute Mob will get the job done if he survives just the same.
2 Oblivion Ring, 1 Path to Exile: We wanted three removal spells that killed big creatures. In the beginning, we had 2 Path to Exile 1 Oblivion Ring, but eventually we switched the numbers because Jund having a bad mana is one of the reasons you beat them, and Path to Exileing their Sprouting Thrinax on turn three doesn’t help that cause. It is also much better to cascade into than Path to Exile, as it has applications against decks like the ones with planeswalkers and the Howling Mine decks.
3 Lightning Bolt: well, this is the product of Tom Ross’s twisted mind, and it turned out to be good. I remember challenging the number of Lightning Bolts in the Jund decks, but Bolt is much better there than it is here, since that deck makes better use of both the curve and the 3 damage to a player. In this deck, you are not really in a hurry to kill them, though it is nice to have some cards that do it. You are also not in a big hurry to kill a creature, so you will rarely be desperate for a one mana removal spell, as you have your own one mana guys to block and to accelerate into other guys. There are some decks where I wish I had four against, like Vampires and Mono Red, but that is compensated by the fact that you want zero against the control decks.
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant: This was our latest addition (latest being as the seatings for the players’ meeting were being posted). We had an Dauntless Escort in there before, but we figured that this would give us some Wrath protection just as well and would give back the “I can topdeck this card to win a game when no other card would” feeling that we had when we still had a Naya Charm in the deck.
1 sideboard Goblin Guide: The reason for the Goblin Guide was that when we were playing against RUW they would usually play a planeswalker and leave it with one or two counters (Jace bouncing, Ajani Vengeant killing) and then we would want to Ranger of Eos for a hasted guy to be able to kill it. He gets the nod over Bushwhacker because he fits the curve right after the Planeswalker is played. I know that he is a very specific card, and there are many cards you’d prefer drawing over him in the matches where he is good, but by adding him you effectively add 5 of a card to your deck, and what he does is good enough.
1 Baneslayer Angel: No explanation for this one, just mise.
Game one was very weird. I have a Knight of the Reliquary that I am not tapping, because he might have Path to Exile for it and if it stays alive I can’t really lose (unless he has, well, two Path to Exiles) and I already have all the manlands in my deck in play. At some point I draw the Sejiri Steppe, which makes it all a bit awkward. I then use my Knight at the end of his turn and grow it to enough to kill him/enough to kill him, and he doesn’t Path to Exile it. I figure that if he had the Path to Exile he would have used it, so I play my Steppe to try to give it pro blue to go through his Wall of Denial, and he Path to Exiles it in response. Frown. After that we play draw-go for a long time, and it seems I have drawn every land in my deck. I have a turn where he taps out and I can attack him to one and Lightning Bolt him if I draw a land, but I draw Arid Mesa and don’t have any Mountains or Plains left in my deck to search for, despite making sure I got Forests from his Path to Exiles. I have to be content with having him dead in my hand, and then I simply don’t wait for the Bolt, as it is very likely he has something akin to Negate. I start drawing spells and sculpt a turn where I can go eot double Bolt, then on my turn Ajani Vengeant and attack with two more guys than he has blockers, but he just scoops to the first Bolt.
The sideboard is made eschewing some aggressiveness for resilience – you have less explosive starts, but at the same time you are way less vulnerable to mass removal.
Game two I mulliganed into Raging Ravine, Sejiri Steppe, Mountain, Noble Hierarch, Knight of the Reliquary, Ranger of Eos. I draw a blank and lead with Ravine, which gets Spreading Seased. My Steppe also gets Spreading Seased, and the one spell I can cast (Ranger of Eos) is not enough to beat his Sphinx of Jwar Isle.
After board I take out the one Path to Exile and the Behemoth Sledge for two Wild Nacatls back, because I am on the play and I think it is likely that he doesn’t have Baneslayer Angel – despite me not doing anything it took him a long time to kill me, and I didn’t get to see any Angels or something that told me he had Angels. Even if he did, he now has less time to play them, since I am on the play, and I still have three Oblivion Rings.
Game three he only has one blue source, which I Tectonic Edge soon enough. He is able to put up a fight with his RW mana, with Earthquake and Ajani Vengeant, but I resolve Manabarbs and then when he taps some mana I kill his Ajani Vengeant, and then he can’t really recover.
Round 2: GW
Game one in this match is sometimes tough, because they are capable of much more explosive starts and Emeria Angel is not easy to deal with. Luckily for me, he was stuck on four lands, and then I manage to grow my Knight big enough so that the Seijiri Steppe that I drew kills him. I think I drew Seijiri Steppe in over half my games during this tournament, and this one was the only one I was glad I did.
After sideboard the games become much better, because Sparkmage is just a house against them, collared or not. Game two is a very drawn out game, with both of us having Baneslayer Angels and me a very big Scute Mob that was Behemoth Sledged. I had a very strong board position, and my opponent died with six lands and Martial Coup in his hand, but I doubt he would have won even if he had found his seventh land, as I had a bunch of manlands and relevant spells in hand that I was holding.
Round 3: Vampires
Both those games were pretty much the same, and they were both really easy. In both I had a fast start and a Behemoth Sledge, and my opponent was kind of flooded. I make sure I play around Tendrils of Corruption with my Knight of the Reliquary game two by simply not attacking with it, but in the end he just doesn’t have anything.
We didn’t really test much against Vampires post board, but we didn’t feel like we needed something very specific. It might be that Scattershot Archer is a good addition, with Basilisk Collar and all, but we simply didn’t think of that.
Ajani Vengeant is not a bad card against them – it deals with Vampire Nighthawk and sometimes with Vampire Nocturnus, which is by far the most problematic card in this match, but I have no idea what else to take out. At first I thought it was Malakir Bloodwitch, but then Josh and Web tested the match a lot and they said it was Nocturnus, and when I played that is how I felt too – generally if you manage to kill Nocturnus they can’t really win, as your guys are much bigger and better, so try to save your removal for that one.
Round 4: Howling Mine
Game one I start with Wild Nacatl + Noble Hierarch into Ajani Vengeant, and that is enough to put some pressure on him. When he gets to four lands, he plays Font of Mythos and passes, and I have three cards to find a fetchland, a Bolt, a Bloodbraid Elf or a Behemoth Sledge + a land. I draw a Bloodbraid and he dies before he can untap with his Font.
I boarded in Dauntless Escorts because they are 3/3s for 3, and simply fit the curve better than Ranger of Eos, and you generally don’t care about the extra cards anyway – when you lose, it is not for the lack of creatures. I didn’t think he had Wraths, but if he did that was a plus.
Game two was very frustrating, in the way that every game I lose to this deck is frustrating. I had a hand with Noble Hierarch, Oblivion Ring, Forest and Stirring Wildwood. He started with Howling Mine, and I couldn’t draw an untapped land, so I just passed on my turn two. Then on turn three I finally Oblivion Ring his Mine, but he has a Font of Mythos. Perhaps I should have just held the Ring in this situation, and played a guy instead – this way I am always two turns behind him.
On my turn I draw three cards and find nothing that isn’t a creature, and he Angelsongs.
On his next turn he draws a bunch of cards, plays another Howling Mine and passes. I then draw four cards, not seeing either a Manabarbs or a Ring, and he has another Angelsong to kill me next turn. As I said, it’s always frustrating to lose to this deck, because you draw so many cards that it always looks like you were super unlucky not to have drawn what you need.
Game two I keep Noble Hierarch, Dauntless Escort, Dauntless Escort, Ranger of Eos, 3 lands on the play, after some consideration. This hand doesn’t have anything that is super good against him, but it has a curve and a way to apply pressure, and it has Noble Hierarch, which is the card I want in my opening hand against his deck, since everything else I can draw into, except for the Noble Hierarch turn one. I keep and he goes Borderpost, land, land, land, scoop. Awkward – I wonder what he kept? Probably a hand with Font of Mythos and a bunch of Time Warps
Round 5: Naya
Aah, my worst matchups”¦ well, not the worst, but the one I dislike to play the most – mirror. For some reason it always feels like it is outside my control.
Game one he is on the play and keeps, and I see a hand of no lands, and then mulligan into 5 Lands + Scute Mob. This hand is just not going to do it, and I mulligan again into a much better hand of two lands, Noble Hierarch, Ranger of Eos, something else. My opponent leads with Mountain into Plains into Edge + Stoneforge Mystic into Mountain + Ranger of Eos, and then he dies. Now, why on earth did he keep this hand? From his plays, I can assume it was 4 non Forests, Ranger of Eos and two green cards, with the number of green cards and non Forests being variable. Now, this hand cannot cast a single spell! Even the one spell you can cast, Ranger of Eos, is only on turn four, and then does nothing if you don’t draw a Forest – you simply can’t keep this hand. Sometimes people seem like they are afraid to mulligan – don’t be.
Game two I have a very good opening hand, with Noble Hierarch and Cunninng Sparkmage, but so does he and since he is on the play that puts me too far behind. I have to spend my turn three to kill his Sparkmage with mine, and by then he already has a bunch of creatures and I have nothing.
Game three is somewhat disappointing, because I felt from the beginning that I couldn’t win, but then opportunities kept showing up only for me to not draw what I needed. At some point, my opponent tapped his 10/10 Knight of the Reliquary for “mana” to play a Bloodbraid Elf that he didn’t really have to. When this happens, I can draw into either Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring or Cunning Sparkmage to punish him for it (I have Basilisk Collar out), and I hit Bloodbraid Elf – into Birds of Paradise. It seems that every turn that passes I draw a blank and he draws a good spell. One turn I draw a Sparkmage and he has no responses, so I pass (his Knight is untapped then). On his turn, he draws Bloodbraid and cascades into Bolt, so I shoot his Knight but he has the Steppe in his deck still. In the end he just overwhelms me with bigger creatures and Behemoth Sledge, and I can’t really win.
This match was pretty frustrating, because I felt like I should have won – I really think I played well given the tools I was given, and my opponent gave me more chances than he should have by keeping a hand that doesn’t do anything and then giving me the opportunity to topdeck something to turn the game around, but I couldn’t capitalize on it. Still, fair enough, you can’t win them all – 4-1 was still a pretty decent record, and though I hate mirrors it was good that I lost to one of them, because that made me feel better about my chances in the next 5 rounds of standard. At this point, our deck was performing exceedingly well, with multiple 5-0s and 4-1s, so I was glad about my choice. I have to say I hate mirror matches even more now, though.
I am taking off to Madrid now, and I will continue the report with the 6 rounds of Draft plus the next 5 rounds of Standard next week!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this,