PART ONE OF TWO
I went to Kyoto with what I considered a solid if unexciting Standard deck in BW Tokens. No deck in Standard really is exciting, so BW is something I am happy enough playing if need be. This Pro Tour started somewhat inauspiciously for me, as not only was I feeling quite sick the night before the tournament, but I also pretty much had a subpar record in most of our practice drafts. Still, losing matches before a PT doesn’t always translate into losing at the PT, which turned out to be the case (mostly) for me. My team – Gerry Thompson, Web, Josh and I – got our deck (we all settled on the same list) fully figured out while in Japan, after some hanging out with Kamui Kaye and Nick Lynn from Northern California. Incidentally, Kamui started 6-0 and Nick finished top 16, so things went alright for them too.
The final list we ended up playing:
The sideboard was pretty good, although it had a few miser’s slots in it. Path to Exile was very good in the board, although I am glad I didn’t main-deck it. Head Games and Elspeth helped quite a bit in the Five-color Control matchup, although not quite enough as it turns out. Wrath of God is a good way to deal with green and the mirror, and Forge-Tender clearly drives the nail firmly into red’s coffin if you encounter any sort of red aggro deck.
Round 1 vs. Lucas Ramirez (RW)
Game 1: I lose the die roll, which is pretty big in the white mirror. He leads with a Windbrisk Heights into a Mind Stone, which is a bad sign with me on the draw. I do have the turn two Bitterblossom, but his turn three Ajani Vengeant locks down my Windbrisk Heights, leaving me with just two Fetid Heaths as other lands. I soon die, unable to cast my spells.
Sideboarding: Our plan for RW was pretty simple: just swap out a Tidehollow Sculler for the fourth Ajani Goldmane. Ajani is the nuts against them, and you are playing a with a deck in BW that basically looks sideboarded against RW.
Game 2: I kick this one off with a mulligan to five, which doesn’t bode well for my hopes to finish high at this Pro Tour. I keep a hand of:
Luckily, I peel the Fetid Heath on turn two to Sculler his Celestial Purge (leaving him with Balefire Liege and Mind Stone). I curve out with a Finks and an Anthem, and eventually use the Heights to play Spectral Procession. He almost gets out of it by triggering Balefire Liege with multiple R/W spells, but I have too many fliers for him to stop them all.
Game 3: I again mulligan to 5, but when you are essentially Vampiric Tutoring every turn, starting with 5 cards doesn’t matter as much. I have a nice curve of Windbrisk, Sculler, Spectral Procession, and even manage to slow him down by using Terror on one of his Procession tokens (so he couldn’t use his Windbrisk Heights). Much like game two, he almost stabilizes behind Balefire Liege, but I again have exact lethal to take the game.
Round 2 vs. Nico Surinindran (RW)
Game 1: On the draw I mulligan to six, and get thoroughly demolish Mind Stoneed. He has Mind Stone into Ajani into Siege-Gang, and all I can muster is a Kitchen Finks. I refrain from playing a Bitterblossom when the game looks hopeless, since the only cards he has seen thus far are Arcane Sanctum, Terror, and Kitchen Finks.
Sideboarding: Same as last round.
Game 2: Because of what he saw Game 1, my opponent sideboarded assuming I was Esper Lark, which is pretty good for me. I get a fast draw on the play, and he has no Wraths or Fallouts to stop me. If I know the opponent has some number of Volcanic Fallout, I definitely want the Forge-Tenders, but most RW decks don’t have Fallout. I win.
Game 3: We soon fall into a pattern of me playing guys and him Wrathing them, as he boards into both Wrath of God and Volcanic Fallout. Flamekin Harbinger allows him to chain Reveillarks, but bringing back a Figure of Destiny and a Mogg Fanatic really isn’t enough to fight my Ajani-pumped guys. He eventually runs out of Wraths, and I get him.
Round 3 vs Charles Wong (Bant)
Game 1: I lose the die roll, and my opponent has a pretty sick curve. He plays turn one Noble Hierarch into turn two Rhox War Monk, with a turn three Cryptic Command to boot. On his turn four he Primal Commands my Bitterblossom and searches out a Cloudthresher, which promptly ends the game. That draw is pretty tough for me to beat, even on the play, not to mention being on the draw.
Sideboarding: +3 Path to Exile, +2 Wrath of God, -4 Knight of Meadowgrain, –1 Glorious Anthem.
I figured his guys were all bigger than mine, so some spot removal and Wraths should keep things from getting out of hand. Knight is pretty bad at battling through War Monks or Treetop Villages, so he gets the boot.
Game 2: He drops a turn one Birds and a turn two Troll Ascetic, which doesn’t worry me too much. I am able to get ahead on the board via Procession and Windbrisk, and luckily he has no Cloudthresher. One of the problems with the straight Bant deck is that it has few outs once its too far behind on the board, with no sweepers (besides Thresher) and no real way to play a bunch of guys. Cryptic Command is obviously insane, but in games such as this, where my life total was pretty high, he would have needed a bunch of Commands to take it down. I sideboarded back out the Wraths for an Anthem and a Knight, as he appeared to be much lighter on creatures than I had previously thought.
Game 3: After he mulls to six, he leads with yet another turn-one accelerant, a Hierarch this time. On turn two he plays two more Hierarchs and gets in for three, which is an interesting start. I have the turn two Sculler, and see a hand of Celestial Purge, Bant Charm, and Cryptic Command. I take the Purge, and just hope he doesn’t draw any beaters. All he can muster in the next few turns is a Troll Ascetic, and although it gets me to seven, I eventually resolve a Cloudgoat and just get in there.
Round 4 vs Brandon Scheel (Esper Lark)
This was a feature match covered by the Karaoke master Nate Price (who sadly managed to misspell my name in the finals coverage!).
This is one of the tougher matchups, as Lark has both Wrath of God and a bunch of hard-to-deal-with guys such as Sower of Temptation and Stillmoon Cavalier. Both games I had pretty fast draws and he had a bunch of lands, which certainly makes things much easier.
After Standard I prepared myself to draft, which I wasn’t really looking forward to. I did about 12 or so practice drafts before the event, and still hadn’t quite settled on what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be in Esper, but I somewhat expected that to be over-drafted. Still, sending signals goes a long way, and I hoped to open some good Esper stuff.
My first draft table was covered by Wizards of the Coast, which makes it pretty easy to see what I did.
I ended up with a very good five-color Esper deck, complete with card drawing, removal, and a nice finisher in Nicol Bolas himself.
Draft deck #1
Round 5 vs Yuuichi Kishimoto (Bant, splashing red)
Game 1: I keep a fairly slow hand, with an off-color cycler and not quite the right land configuration to really cast my spells. I figure that on the draw I have plenty of outs, especially considering the two Obelisks I have lurking in my deck. He doesn’t do much, playing just a Bant Battlemage by turn three. I play a Grixis Battlemage, which I probably won’t want to block with. However, his pre-combat Rhox War Monk changes my mind, as I have a Fleshbag Marauder just waiting to deal with it. Sure enough, he offers the Battlemage trade and I gladly accept. Fleshbag eats War Monk, and he does not do much for a few turns. I get out a Scornful Aether-Lich and hit him with that and my Tidehollow Strix for a few turns. When he hits eight mana, I keep one guy back in case of Resounding Silence, which he proves to have. He then drops a 6/6 Mycoloth, which ends up staying in play for another eight turns. I thought I was in really good shape, as he is at six life and I have Absorb Vis in the grip, but I draw blank after blank, with most of my good cards still left in the deck. The only saving grace is that he can’t really attack me, and I have a Resounding Silence even if he does. Eventually I do draw a Faerie Mechanist, and that immediately gets me a Tower Gargoyle to go with it. He lives for a bonus turn with Sylvan Bounty, but has no way to kill me before the Gargoyle gets him.
Round 6 vs Shouta Yasooka (Grixis)
Another feature match, this wasn’t a matchup I was looking forward to. Shouta had a super-aggressive Grixis deck, and dealing with guys who unearth isn’t something my deck does too well.
This was a really fast match, with both of us pretty much just attacking every turn. I did keep a pretty sketchy hand Game 2, but it had all the cards I would need to beat Shouta, so the risk was justifiable (or at least that’s what I tell myself when discarding on turn two). In the end, he couldn’t beat Kiss of the Amesha plus Agony Warp, since all his cards were focused on just damaging me, and my cards were too efficient at stopping that sort of nonsense.
Round 7 vs Taichi Fujimoto (Bant)
Game 1: I spend a little too much time fixing my mana this game, as I have to crack some Panoramas and cycle my Absorb Vis. By the time I can cast Stoic Angel, I am already being attacked by Esper Cormorants, Kathari Screecher, and Welkin Guide. He Unsummons my Angel the first time, and when I drop it again I think I may have stabilized at four, which is also the first time I have seen Stoic Angel’s second ability be too relevant. It turns out to be all for naught, as he peels Angelic Benediction to send in the Cormorants for lethal anyways.
Game 2: He again comes out of the gates at a fast clip, with a turn-two Steward of Valeron and turn three Kathari Screecher. Luckily, I drop a Tower Gargolye soon enough. He loads up with fliers, and uses his various bounce spells to get me to five. The crucial turn comes when he bashes with two Stewards of Valeron, an unearthed Kathari Screecher and an Esper Cormorants. I block the Cormorants with my Tower Gargoyle and a Steward with my Strix. I have just Island plus Swamp open, and he goes deep in the tank. I am very certain he has the Resounding Roar, and he ends up going for it. I of course have the Agony Warp for the utter blowout, and kill the soon-to-be pumped Screecher in response while saving my Strix by lowering the power of the Steward it blocked. After that nice little four for one, he is completely out of gas and Tower Gargolye finishes the job.
Game 3: My hand is the nuts this game, with Nicol Bolas, Fleshbag, an Obelisk, Courier’s Capsule, and lands. His first play isn’t until turn three, and Fleshbag deals with it handily. I ramp up mana quickly, even Agony Warping his Screecher (and shrinking his Nacatl’s power) on the way. On turn seven I drop Bolas, immediately taking his Sigiled Paladin. He is left with a Wild Nacatl in play and a Screecher in the graveyard, and I have an untapped Faerie Mechanist ready to block. He drops a Welkin Guide pumping the Nacatl, which promptly eats my Mechanist. I untap, grab the Guide with Nicol Bolas, and simply pass the turn. He Unsummons the Welkin Guide, replays it on Nacatl, and goes for the kill on Nicol Bolas. Since I always have it at this tournament, I cycle Resounding Wave to bounce my planeswalker and his Wild Nacatl, intent on replaying Bolas and continuing to mise his creatures. My opponent sees the writing on the wall and packs them in, allowing me to fully live the dream of winning game three to a 7-0 Day 1 by abusing Nicol Bolas in all his glory.
I have never started so well in a PT, so understandably I was pretty excited at this point. Sadly, my compatriots didn’t fare so well, mostly from the Constructed portion. Web didn’t get a win in Constructed, and dropped before the draft portion began. Gerry dropped after Round 1 of the draft, and Josh managed to 3-0 his draft to make day two at 4-3. Many people asked if our deck was good at this point, since it went 6-10 combined. Since it is a question I have gotten many times and anticipate getting in the future, I might as well talk about it now. Yes, I do think BW is good, and not only because I did well with it at this particular tournament. Gerry and I both did well at Worlds with it, and its matchups are pretty solid across the board. Five-color Control can be a tough matchup, but the sideboard does a pretty good job of helping out. I would add more to the board at this point, but that is a topic for later. Suffice to say that I do like the BW deck, and think variance may have been responsible for everyone else’s dismal showing. That or I stole their luck like some sort of vampire.
We manage to get in a draft against some Floridians, which ends up in our favor. I apparently ran the old lick ‘n stick with Vein Drinker and Vagrant Plowbeasts, since I had them both in just about every game, or at least all the ones I won. After the draft we headed back, and that is where our story concludes for the day. Part two will be up shortly!