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Frank Analysis – Five Great Games from Pro Tour Theros

Pro Tour Theros left us with over 20 hours of video coverage with brilliant plays, tense moments, and interesting interactions. However, 20 hours is a lot, so I selected five games from the Swiss rounds in Dublin that I personally enjoyed and/or found interesting enough to highlight. The combined length of these five games is a little over an hour.

In Round 3, Luis Scott-Vargas and Chris Pikula had a great game two. Chris played well, but I was particularly impressed by Luis’s plays. There were two that stood out:

The first interesting play was on Luis’s turn 3. Luis has two Islands and a Swamp in play, along with [card]Shipwreck Singer[/card] and [card]Triton Tactics[/card] in hand. Chris had merely played Mountains on his first, second, and third turns, and hadn’t played a creature yet. To put that in proper perspective: in game one, Chris had a very aggressive deck with a low curve and multiple [card]Magma Jet[/card]s. And it is important to note that Chris had kept his opening hand of seven cards.

The “obvious” play for Luis in this situation is to cast [card]Shipwreck Singer[/card], and to save it with [card]Triton Tactics[/card] in case of a Magma Jet. But Luis doesn’t do that. Chris keeping a hand without an early creature just screams [card]Magma Jet[/card]. And if Chris is holding [card]Magma Jet[/card], then Luis doesn’t want to allow him to scry into a 4-drop. Luis, who didn’t have a 4-drop anyway, just passes the turn, waiting until turn four to cast his creature. I believe this is the correct line of play.

The second interesting play was on Luis’s turn 7. Chris has [card]Stoneshock Giant[/card] enchanted by [card]Dragon Mantle[/card] in play, along with 7 Mountains. Luis has [card]Lash of the Whip[/card] in hand and [card]Shipwreck Singer[/card] in play, along with 7 lands. The “obvious” play for Luis is to attack with the flyer and subsequently cast the removal spell. But Luis doesn’t do that. He saw [card]Titan’s Strength[/card] in game one, so he has to keep it in mind. Moreover, because of the way this game played out (Chris didn’t have a play before turn 4 and waited until his 6th land to cast [card]Stoneshock Giant[/card]), Luis might have a hunch that Chris is sandbagging the pump spell.

To play around it, Luis passes the turn without attacking and casts [card]Lash of the Whip[/card] in Chris’s upkeep. Chris indeed had the Titan’s Strength in response, but Luis planned for that by forcing the Giant to attack into his Shipwreck Singer for the final damage. (It didn’t work out because Chris had a removal spell for the flyer, but still a good plan.)

I might have actually cast the Lash of the Whip in Chris’ draw step. The reason why Luis casts the removal spell in Chris’ upkeep is that he doesn’t want to give Chris a chance to topdeck [card]Titan’s Strength[/card]. However, based on the way the game played out, it seemed quite likely that Chris was already holding it, and then casting the removal spell during Chris’s upkeep only allows Chris to use the scry earlier. Casting it in the draw step (you can’t wait any longer because then Chris just plays the eighth land for monstrosity) serves to delay the scry effect.

In the end, Luis still falls to the Stoneshock Giant, but I enjoyed the game. Of course, what I wrote above is merely my best guess—so Luis, if you’re reading this, feel free to chime in.

Round 8 saw a match between Paul Rietzl and David Caplan. David was playing Mono-Red Aggro, a well-known archetype. Paul was running Orzhov Midrange, a new deck that no one had really seen before. And the conclusion of the first game of their match showcased how important it can be to know the contents of your opponent’s deck.

Before that, let me highlight an interesting sequence in the early turns of the game. Paul started off with [card]Temple of Silence[/card], Plains, and [card]Precinct Captain[/card]. David went [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] into a leashed [card]Gore-House Chainwalker[/card], double-blocked the [card]Precinct Captain[/card], and got blown out by a [card]Doom Blade[/card].

Was this play too risky? Should David have unleashed his Chainwalker or not attempted the double-block? Though being on the receiving side of a 2-for-1 always stings, I believe that David’s play was fine. If Paul spends his Doom Blade there, then he cannot destroy a [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] later and cannot develop his board with another [card]Precinct Captain[/card]. Moreover, if Precinct Captain would hit David, then the Soldier token would probably be able to trade with one of David’s creatures eventually. One way or another, David is in a tough spot, but I like his decision.

Skipping ahead to the end of the game, the situation is like this: David has just attacked Paul down to 4 life with two [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card]. He has [card]Mutavault[/card] as a blocker and [card]Lightning Strike[/card] in hand. Paul, on the other side of the table, has 8 power worth of creatures in play: two [card]Precinct Captain[/card], two Soldier tokens, and a Mutavault. Suppose that you’re David and that you’re on 6 life. What’s the play?

Knowing Paul’s exact deck list, the best play would be to pass the turn and wait until the last possible moment to cast [card]Lightning Strike[/card]. Unfortunately, David did not know what might be in Paul’s deck and might (I imagine) have been scared of [card]Brave the Elements[/card]—a staple in White Weenie. Playing around a topdecked Brave the Elements requires firing off the Lightning Strike main phase, and that’s what David does. Of course, Paul had no Brave the Elements in his deck, but David didn’t know that.

And he was immediately punished for that. Paul draws [card]Godless Shrine[/card], giving him the second black mana for [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card]. He takes 2 to play it untapped, unafraid of [card]Shock[/card] because David could have killed him with that already. Paul then takes out David’s blocker with Hero’s Downfall, and swings in for exactly lethal. Had David held on to his Lightning Strike, he would probably have won that game. Ouch. But it does show the advantage of playing a rogue deck.

In Round 9, Hall of Famers Kai Budde and Rob Dougherty were paired against each other. Their final game was a long one that featured one of the most bizarre counter wars I had ever witnessed in Theros Limited: three [card]Gainsay[/card]s over a simple [card]Benthic Giant[/card]. Can’t let it resolve!

But to get to that insanity, Kai had to stall out the game with [card]Whip of Erebos[/card]. Over the course of many turns, he showed off a couple of cool interactions: [card]Boon of Erebos[/card] (you lose 2 life, but then gain it back due to lifelink) and [card]Thassa’s Bounty[/card] (milling a [card]Shipbreaker Kraken[/card] as food for the Whip) were nice, and I also liked the quadruple-block on Rob’s [card]Sealock Monster[/card]. A triple-block would also have done it, but by blocking with more creatures than necessary, Kai got extra value off of lifelink.

In the end, Kai won in style. Twelve mana, Kraken da Whip.

Round 12 pitted Sam Black against Makihito Mihara in a matchup between blue and green devotion decks. Their second game truly showcased the power of Nykthos, Shrine to Nix.

The game started with both players getting a copy of the legendary land in play. Black used his [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] to steal one from the top of Mihara’s deck, and Mihara promptly drew another copy.

Abusing his Nykthos with [card]Voyaging Satyr[/card], Mihara was then able to casually cast [card]Domri Rade[/card] and [card]Garruk, Caller of Beasts[/card] on turn 4. If I had been in Mihara’s seat, I would probably have used the -3 ability on Garruk to put [card]Arbor Colossus[/card] in play and subsequently use [card]Domri Rade[/card] to make it fight [card]Nightveil Specter[/card]. However, that play would have walked right into Sam’s [card]Rapid Hybridization[/card]. I’m not sure whether Mihara had the soul read on Sam, but his line was certainly better.

In the end, it didn’t matter, because Sam put the stolen Nykthos to good use with an overloaded [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card], undoing all of Mihara’s hard work.

I’ll admit it: I’m in love with [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nix,[/card] and I couldn’t resist another game in which Nykthos enabled a dramatic conclusion. That game was in Round 14, between teammates Kai Budde and Patrick Chapin. Kai was on Mono-Blue Devotion, while Chapin was playing Orzhov Midrange.

After taking a mulligan down to six, Kai chose to keep the following beauty:

[draft]Island
Cloudfin Raptor
Thassa, God of the Sea
Bident of Thassa
Master of Waves
Aetherling[/draft]

“Speculative” is indeed the right way to describe this hand. I don’t like keeping one-landers in general, but I do understand it against Chapin’s deck, which is slow and filled to the brim with discard and removal spells. Against such a deck, you need every big spell you can get your hands on, and you are typically not punished if you miss a land drop or two. Moreover, once Kai gets Thassa out on the battlefield, he can easily scry into the fourth land.

As the game progressed, Kai slowly crawls back after topdecking a few lands, but then falls back in the damage race due to [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card]. In the last turn of the game, I really enjoyed the camaraderie between the two players as they figure out all of Kai’s outs together. Not just the outs in Kai’s deck, but (due to Nykthos and [card]Nightveil Specter[/card]) in Patrick’s deck as well. It culminated in a dramatic reveal which goes to show that even with a lot of money on the line, Magic is still a game, and really is about having fun.

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