For this article, I’m going to do something I haven’t done in a long time—a round-by-round report. I’d like feedback on which type of article you like more: a report per se or a general overview like I’ve done with past tournaments (or even just a deck article). I have no problem doing either, so it’s mostly about what people want to read.
Planning for Worlds started right after GP San Diego, where Shahar and I were roommates and decided we’d team together. Our other friends were already paired up, and we didn’t want enormous teams, so we reached out to Thiago (henceforth known as Bolovo, which is what everybody calls him. Bolovo literally translates to “cakegg” and it’s the name of this thing), and found out he was working with Ondrej and Antonio. We joined them, and for a while there were five of us, but Antonio thought that was too many people and decided to go work by himself. After that, Shahar decided he preferred testing with EFro (and Luis/Josh/Paul, who were helping him) and also left, which made three of us. Three is a weird number (I’d have preferred four to get two matches going), but it worked out well enough, especially considering we were in radically different time zones.
This year’s World Championship was different from the others I’ve played in that it consisted of two completely established formats. It seemed very hard to break anything—every deck that was good already existed, and all that was left was for each person to choose the deck they wanted to play. I played a lot of games against Bolovo and Ondrej, and after every set I couldn’t help concluding that I hadn’t really learned anything. Since the formats were so established, our picture of what beat what in the metagame was never far from reality. Every time I would think “let’s play this matchup to see if this is really true” and, voila, it was true. I already had the information—I just had to make a choice.
The choice was easy for Standard, where I knew very early on that I would want to play Esper. It just made sense to me—it was the deck I was most comfortable with, which is very important when you need to test for four formats, and I thought it was well positioned on top of that.
Mono-Red, its traditionally bad matchup, wasn’t even that bad anymore since the tokens had been the biggest problem, and the new versions of Abzan cut Deathmist Raptor in favor of cards like Nissa, which were much easier to beat. It used to be that Abzan could actually beat you in the long game, since all it took was one Den Protector for them to get back in a game you thought you couldn’t lose, but without Raptor then Den Protector just wasn’t enough—you couldn’t beat them when they were returning three or four cards, but you could certainly beat them just returning one. The fact that people started playing a lot of cards like Dromoka’s Command and Ultimate Price was also very helpful for Esper.
The Modern choice wasn’t nearly as easy. No matter what I tried, I would crush my good matchups, get crushed by my bad matchups, and go slightly even against the BG-based decks. After toying a bit with some interesting decks (Shoal/Griselbrand, a Gifts Build, some Aether Vial/Abbot decks), I realized I didn’t have enough time or resources to develop a new deck, so I had to just choose one that already existed.
Jund seemed like a worse Junk, so that was out. I played Burn once and hated every second of it, so that was also out. Affinity was a good deck but I didn’t want to gamble on sideboard hate, which is what I felt like I would be doing, so that was out too. My choices were thus narrowed down to Abzan (the best of the BG decks), Grixis, or Twin. I left for the tournament without knowing which of those I wanted to play.
Bolovo and Ondrej liked Esper in Standard as well (Ondrej had played it at the last PT and Thiago Top 4’d the WMCQ with it), but we weren’t in agreement when it came to Modern. Or, rather, we were—we all thought every deck was the same. There were about 25 decks that you could play—24 of them equally good, and then Bogles. By the time I left for Seattle, I was locked into Esper but had no idea what to play in Modern.
Due to interviews and some WotC activities, we arrived in Seattle on Monday, three days before the tournament actually started. That gave us some time to talk more and do some in-person testing, as well as some more VMA drafts. At some point, I played against Ari Lax in the BR mirror. I went turn-2 Sickle Ripper, he went turn-2 Sickle Ripper. I then cast a turn three Nameless Inversion, except I misclicked and targeted my own Sickle Ripper instead. I won anyway a couple of turns later. Still had all these, etc.
As time passed, we started to narrow down our Modern choices and eventually just gravitated to the decks we were most comfortable with. Bolovo liked Abzan, and had done well with it in the past. I wouldn’t mind playing Abzan, but I thought Twin was likely to be a better choice. Ondrej liked Merfolk and, despite saying he had no idea what to play for most of the time, we all knew he was going to play it all along—in his words, it was the only Modern deck he had ever played. I have always had many problems with Merfolk, chief among them the fact that it doesn’t actually beat anything, but I was willing to give it a try because Ondrej seemed in love with it and said he had a good version. Playing against it for a couple games with what were supposed to be good matchups (Twin, Grixis) was enough to convince me that, if I didn’t sleeve up fish when I could play Force of Will, Daze, and Wasteland, I certainly wouldn’t when play it when it had 4 Wanderwine Hub and 0 white cards.
By the middle of Wednesday, I settled for Grixis Twin. It seemed to me that the Twin combo was worth having in game 1 because it radically improved bad matchups (e.g. Tron) at the cost of making some even matchups slightly worse, and I thought the black was worth having for game 2, because I like having a cheap clock against other blue decks. Twin is very hard to side against, and I think that if you play straight UR you make things easier for them. I had no interest in making things easier for anyone. Even if people knew my list (as they would at Worlds), they still wouldn’t really know what I would do, and, even if they knew that, it wasn’t clear they would have an optimal sideboard plan.
Once that was settled, I still had to get cards. Bolovo had most of what I needed, since he was going to play Abzan, but I still had to order some cards from CardKingdom, the store Scott Larabee had arranged to deliver cards for us at the hotel. It was all done in secrecy as to not repeat the Jeremy Dezani fiasco from last year, and it felt good to not have to worry about this kind of thing.
Only later did I find out that Ari Lax and his team were actively tracking the important cards from Card Kingdom and knew when they sold out of something, which made them change their decks a little bit for the Modern portion (for example, they knew Etched Champion sold out the day before, so they knew a number of Worlds players were likely on Affinity). I’m not saying what they did was necessarily morally wrong—they saw an edge and took it, it’s definitely not like Dezani—but I wish I could just play Magic and not have to worry about this kind of “extracurricular” strategy. Magic tournaments should be about who can come up with the best decks and play the best games, and not about who can spy the best.
After ordering cards, we decided to do some last-minute Modern Masters 2015 drafting. We turned MTGO on and, to our surprise, Modern Masters drafts weren’t there. We asked about them and found out that they only lasted a week and at that point were already gone. It seems very ill-timed to remove them the day before the World Championship, and I can’t for the life of me understand why you would want to showcase a format and then not allow people to play it, but they must have had their reasons. With that out of the picture, I decided to just go back to my room and try to get to sleep as early as possible.
Day 1 – MM2015 and Modern
I felt confident enough for Modern Masters 2015. I thought the most important thing was to be flexible and go with the flow. I believe this is more important for Modern Masters 2015 than for any other format in recent memory, especially in a table of good players, where it really pays to identify which archetype is open and then move into that. As a result, I knew I would really value flex picks over more powerful cards that were specific to one archetype.
My very first pick challenged my convictions, when I was faced with the choice between Nameless Inversion and Cytoplast Root-Kin. I think Root-Kin is a more powerful card, but I thought Nameless was more versatile. My favorite decks were BW Spirits, RB Bloodlust, and GB or GW tokens, and Nameless can be played in almost all of those, as well as in 5cc. Root-Kin is very good in the graft deck, but that wasn’t a deck I liked much, so I took Nameless Inversion.
Second pick I took Gorehorn Minotaurs out of a somewhat unexciting pack, and then Blinding Souleater third over Long-Forgotten Gohei. Fourth pick I had the choice between Devouring Greed and Grim Affliction. Devouring Greed is good in the Spirits deck, whereas Grim Affliction is good in the RB deck (since you proliferate all the bloodthirst). I like Spirits more, but Spirits is the kind of deck that has to be open to be good, whereas RB is not necessarily so and can easily support two drafters. Since I had already passed a Gohei, it didn’t seem great to go for the Spirits card, so I took Grim Affliction.
I kept taking RB cards until I saw that the Gohei tabled, and I took that. The Devouring Greed then also tabled, and I thought it was very likely I’d end up in BW Spirits. I didn’t have many of the Spirits cards yet, but I knew it had to be super open, and the kind of card you want nobody else wants.
It turned out I was right. I picked up two more Nameless Inversions in the beginning of pack 2—the most important card for the Spirits deck by far—and then the Spirits cards just kept coming. By the end of pack 3, I had 4 Thief of Hope, 4 Nameless Inversion, and 4 Scuttling Death, and a bunch of decent cards to go with them. When I got my last pack (pick 8 of pack 3), I saw a Kami of Ancient Law, and I was thrilled. Then I moved on with the pack and saw Plagued Rusalka. I started wondering which one I’d take, and then I almost laughed when, at the end of the pack, there was a Ghost Council of Orzhova staring back at me. Ghost Council and I go way back, and I played it in my first PT Top 8, in Charleston—it was good to see that it hadn’t forgotten about me.
My deck turned out very, very good. If I could choose, I’d have some more 2-drops and some Waxmane Bakus, but other than that I thought it was basically perfect, or at least as perfect as you can get without having multiple bomb rares. This is what I built (except with Vampire Lacerator over Sickle Ripper):
I was proud of myself. Sure, I got lucky that 4 Thief of Hopes were even opened in the draft (that’s above average for a common), which made my first pick pay off, but I also felt like I positioned myself well to be in any strategy that was underdrafted, which is I think exactly what you want to do in Modern Masters 2015.
My first match was against Owen Turtenwald. Owen and I have played in three Worlds each, and we have been paired round 1 in all three of them. His deck was UBr control, with some counterspells, two Electrolyzes, and two Ulamog’s Crushers for kill conditions. I thought that the match would favor me because the soulshift guys would be great against him and he actually had a bunch of targets for Nameless Inversion (Shadowmage, two Alloy Myr and so on—more than you’d expect out of a control deck), but I could lose if he got a very fast Ulamog’s Crusher, for which I had very few answers.
Game 1 went somewhat long. He missed a land drop early on, but then immediately drew a bounce land to get back in the game. He had no threats of his own, however, and was always on the defensive, so eventually I managed to sneak in enough damage to kill him. Game 2 he led with Alloy Myr and I didn’t have a Nameless Inversion—he then played a turn-4 Dread Drone, threatening a turn-5 Ulamog’s Crusher against my slow draw, but fortunately he ended up passing turn 5 without a land. I had a plan to play Scuttling Death and kill one of the Eldrazi Spawns, but he Remanded it, and that found him the land he needed to play Crusher. I survived for a ton of turns due to multiple soulshifts, but in the end couldn’t deal with it.
Game 3 wasn’t much of a game as he was stuck on lands for several turns.
In round 2 I got paired against Shaun Mclaren, playing BGW tokens. His deck was very good, with two Overwhelming Stampedes, which is basically the best card ever, and a decent number of token makers to go with them. His build matched up particularly well against me as well, since Nameless Inversion is not the best at dealing with Scatter the Seeds.
Game 2 he didn’t do much of anything and I just killed him with some Spirits.
Game 3 was the more interesting game. I led with Lacerator, and he led with Swamp, Forest, Plains. On my turn three, I have the choice between Blinding Souleater or Thief of Hope. I figure that for him to keep this hand he would have to have either a Grim Affliction or a good 4-drop, which in this case meant Wilt-Leaf Liege or Kozilek’s Predator. Against any of those options, I’d rather play the Souleater, so that’s what I played. Then, to my surprise, his turn 4 was land into Sphere of the Suns. I drew another Thief of Hope, and my turn-3 choice ended up costing me at least a point of damage, because he did not have Grim Affliction.
We get to a point where I have two Thief of Hopes in play, as well as a Scuttling Death and another one in hand, along with some more random dudes. At this point I’m dead to Overwhelming Stampede, but not if I have Nameless Inversion (which I don’t, but he doesn’t know that, and he knows I have 4 in my deck).
He makes an attack that makes me think he does not have Overwhelming Stampede (since he’s basically dealing damage he doesn’t need to deal if he has Stampede in return for leaving himself vulnerable), and that actually leaves him dead if I draw Nameless to go with my second Scuttling Death. I don’t, but the game is still looking good for me, until he topdecks Overwhelming Stampede, and now he knows I don’t have Nameless (because that would have killed him), so he goes for it and I die exactly. Frown. Had I played the turn-3 Thief of Hope, then I might have won the game, but I think not playing it was the correct play.
In round 3 I was paired against Sam Black in a matchup that I don’t think I can realistically lose. Sam was a WR equipment deck and all his guys except for one died to Nameless Inversion. He ended up miscounting game 1 to put himself dead on board, but I don’t think anything he does at that point is likely to matter.
Despite the field being very strong and 2-1 not being a bad record, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with it, since I thought my deck was very good. It’s not like Shaun’s deck wasn’t very good either, though, so I couldn’t be that disappointed to have lost to him.
I’ve written about this deck already, and not much has changed, so I’m not going to dwell much on it.
One change I would make going forward is actually to cut a Blood Moon. They’re excellent against Amulet, but that’s what, 5% of the metagame? Even if you don’t have Blood Moon, I think you’re still fine vs. Amulet, so this slot can probably be used for something better. If I were playing two colors, then maybe I would keep Blood Moon and side it in versus some decks like Jund or Junk, but in my experience people will just aggressively search for basics in games 2 and 3 anyway, so you get part of the Blood Moon effect without having to run it. Perhaps 1 Blood Moon is good—I think you do want it against Junk players on the play, but 2 is probably not necessary.
In round 4 I got paired against Mike Sigrist, with Affinity. Game 1 he has a slow draw with all permanents (turned out he was playing four maindeck Galvanic Blast), which gives me plenty of time, but I never find a Splinter Twin and I die. I think I messed up that game by not casting a draw-step Vendilion Clique—I was likely going to cast it to block anyway, and by not casting it, I gave him the chance to play Etched Champion, which he did. Normally people cast spells after attacks, so there’s no reason to draw-phase it and give them more information about whether they want to attack with Nexus and so on, but he had Cranial Plating in play, so obviously he would play whatever it was he was going to play precombat. If I take the Etched Champion, then that probably buys me one or two extra turns to draw Splinter Twin.
Game 3 is more interactive, and we get to a point where I Pyroclasm away his Signal Pest + Ravager, and he has the option of keeping Ravager or Springleaf Drum, which is his only colored source at the time (but if he keeps Drum and no Ravager, he also can’t activate it right that moment, and that gives me a lot of time). He decides to keep Ravager, which I think was correct, but it ends up costing him as he ends the game with two Galvanic Blasts and a Spell Pierce in hand, but still no colored mana. I take a long time to do anything but when the only things he has in play are three Nexi, it doesn’t really matter, and we reach a point where I think I’d beat a colored source anyway.
Round 5 I’m paired against Martin Dang with Living End. Living End is a good matchup for Twin—you can certainly lose, but you’re favored.
I win the die roll in game 1, which is very important because you can just win by going turn 3 upkeep Exarch, turn 4 Twin. Since their whole deck costs 3, the only ways for them to stop your turn-4 win if they are on the draw is by having a Simian Spirit Guide and either an Outburst or a Beast Within. I have the Exarch, but no Twin and no fourth land.
On my turn 4, I have a Remand and a Vendilion Clique, and I have a choice: I can play the Clique main phase, while he is tapped out—this play is bad versus any two cascade spells, and it’s not incredibly good versus only one, as we’re approaching the point where he can just hardcast creatures. I decide to not do that, and I pass the turn.
He plays a land and passes. So, now I can play Clique or not. I think the big problem with this game is that I’m not applying any pressure, and, since I lack a fourth land and the Twin, I’m not going to win anytime soon. I think I have to get the Vendilion Clique out there, as the waiting game is not good for me—he’s just going to draw two cascade spells eventually and overpower my Remand, and I’d rather it happen it when his graveyard has two or three creatures in it than when it has ten. I play the Clique, and target myself, getting rid of Spell Snare. I could target him, but if he has Outburst he can respond anyway, and if he has Demonic Dread, I can fight it with Remand, so I think targeting myself is better. He does have the Outburst, which brings back three dudes, and I can’t find a way to kill him in time and die to those.
Game 3 is the most interesting game. We play draw-go for a while and he eventually suspends Living End with three guys in the graveyard. I think this is not bad for me, as it gives me a window to play a Snapcaster Mage on a Serum Visions, since if he casts a Cascade Spell he can’t kill me before the second Living End resolves, and it’ll undo the first. Then, on his turn, he cycles a Monstrous Carabid and three Street Wraiths, which makes my play kind of awkward because now he has enough power to just kill me in one attack if he Living Ends, but he passes the turn instead. I Remand his Living End and, at the end of my turn, he casts an Outburst. I Cryptic that and bounce my Snapcaster Mage, which is doubly good because a) it plays around Ricochet Trap (it can only redirect single-targeted spells) and b) it stops him from casting Demonic Dread. The fact that I get my Snapcaster Mage back is not bad either.
On his turn, he casts Beast Within on my land, which shows me he does have the Dread, so I Dispel it, and now he can’t cast it because there are no creatures in play. Two turns later, I combo him off.
Round 6 I get paired against Martin Muller, also with Living End. Game 1 I mulligan to 5, and keep a one-lander. On turn two I draw a Steam Vents, and I consider playing it untapped to bluff Remand and hopefully dissuade him from going turn 2 Simian Spirit Guide + Fulminator. The problem with that is that, if he doesn’t do that, then he’s just going to cast a turn-3 Fulminator and that’s going to get me anyway, and he might just jam it into my represented Remand anyway to recast it on turn three. If the 2 life points were literally irrelevant, then I might do it, but 2 life against Living End could actually buy me a turn to combo, since that deck is damage-based, so I chose to not do it. Sure enough, he had the turn 2 Fulminator, and I didn’t draw another land for the rest of the game.
I don’t remember much of game 2, but I just combo’d him out early.
Game 3 was, yet again, the most interesting. We get to a point where I survive through some Living Ends, and he has to kill me with dudes, which is very slow. Unfortunately, I brick a couple times in a row and end up dying to some attacks from a Deadshot Minotaur.
Round 7 I get paired against Shaun Mclaren with his UR deck. I had no idea how the matchup was supposed to go, but I thought I was favored, since his only way to deal with Deceiver Exarch was Roast, and I had two Pyroclasms which were 2-mana Plague Winds and seemed highly unbeatable.
Game 1 I didn’t put up much of a fight, and was overrun by Young Pyromancer.
Game 2 was the opposite—I managed to kill his early guys, and then I dropped a Deceiver Exarch that he couldn’t deal with. When I reached 7 mana, I played Splinter Twin. He Remanded it twice, but the third time it stuck and I killed him. His deck had many counterspells, but most of them were “soft,” so without a clock they didn’t accomplish much.
Game 3 is frustrating. He plays Serum Visions turn one, leaving a card on top. I then Thoughtseize him and his hand is Pyromancer, Snapcaster, and lands. I have a Kolaghan’s Command in my hand, but I’m afraid this might be too slow to deal with the Pyromancer—if he kept a cantrip or something like a Remand, then he’d maybe make too many tokens before I could deal with it, so I took the Pyromancer. He draws and plays Pyromancer. I pass my turn two and he plays Snapcaster/Visions and a Probe, getting two guys. I then play Tasigur and, on his turn, he plays a second Pyromancer, attacks, and Bolts my guy. I play an Exarch and survive for a while, but I don’t draw Twin or Pyroclasm and end up losing.
I wasn’t exactly happy with my performance, as I went from a very good record at 4-1 to a bad one at 4-3 in two rounds of what I think were two good matchups.
Day 2 – ORI and Standard
For Day 2 I was in the featured draft, and you can see my picks here.
My draft was, much like the last draft, heavily influenced by my pick-1 decision, in this case Whirler Rogue versus Outland Colossus. I think both cards are great, though Whirler Rogue is a little better because it’s very hard to remove (whereas there are three commons that will deal with Colossus outright). In the end, however, I picked the Colossus. That was a combination of my preference for green over blue (I think both colors are bad, but I like green a bit more), and the fact that Thiago was passing to me. I hadn’t talked to him about it, but I had seen three of his drafts—two at a GP and one at a PT—and they had all been UW, and he had had a lot of success with them. It didn’t seem like much of a stretch to imagine that he liked the combination and would try to draft it, so if I could pick non-UW colors, that would be better.
Those two factors combined to make the Colossus a better pick for me in that spot, though I don’t think it was actually correct—if I know for a fact that he will force UW, then I think it’s right, but I didn’t know that. If I could go back, knowing only what I did at the time, I would have taken Rogue (even without being influenced by what happened in that draft).
The draft went in such a way that I was severely punished by my pick. I think the opposite of draft 1 happened to me—I picked a card that was close, and then everything worked out so that my deck ended up much worse than it would have been had I picked the other card—certainly a much bigger discrepancy than in the individual cards. I think, for example, taking the Nameless was a “7.5,” whereas Root-Kin was a “7.” My deck, however, ended up a 9 because of that pick, whereas it might have ended up a 7 if I had taken the Root-Kin, just from the way things happened. Here, Whirler Rogue was a 9, and Colossus was an 8.5—it was a mistake to pick it, definitely, but not a huge mistake, just a normal-sized mistake.
The impact in my draft, however, was tremendous. My deck ended up a 6.5, whereas if I had first picked the blue card it would have ended up a 9.
I followed my Colossus with a Somberwald Alpha, which I thought was the best card in the pack anyway (plus it’s a combo), and then I think I should have just taken a Willbreaker pack 3 (as opposed to the Enshrouding Mist that I took). I don’t think Willbreaker is a fantastic card or anything, but it’s probably better than Enshrouding Mists all things considered, and it works well in UG with pump spells. I then proceeded to take some black cards until I opened Kytheon’s Irregulars, which I took.
In the end, my deck ended up GW, with almost no 2-drops (there weren’t many in the draft to begin with), but with 2 Yoked Ox, which I prioritized higher than most people would have because I think it’s important to have blockers in this format. Normally, in GW, you want 2-drops to attack, but my GW deck had late game and I thought I’d end up trading my 2-drops with theirs anyway, so Yoked Ox was not a bad card. I had a third in the sideboard, and boarded it in all three rounds.
My deck wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. Unlike my first deck, which was a great collection of commons, this deck was only playable because I had two good rares, one of which was arguably the best card in the set. I think I drafted poorly and got bailed out by opening good cards, but my deck still ended up a shadow of what it could have been if I had taken Whirler Rogue. It’s possible I should have just switched to blue as well, though that prospect was a lot less appealing once I was down a Rogue and the guy I was passing to up a Rogue. Maybe if I had taken a pick-3 Willbreaker and a pick-4 Watercourser, my deck would have been a good UG deck (or even UW) in the end.
In round 8 I got paired against Thiago, with a RW deck. Looking at his list was a huge advantage for me, because I got to know about Tragic Arrogance, so I could play around it. I held my rares for many turns while attacking with with just a 2/2, and, when he finally had to cast the Arrogance, I just played Colossus and Irregulars. It turned out he didn’t actually have the Arrogance the whole time, he just drew it on the last turn, so in retrospect I wish I hadn’t known about it.
The next game was basically a race that I ended up winning because of Wild Instincts.
Round 9 was against Yuuya in a feature match. Yuuya’s deck seemed very bad to me—it was BR with no good cards, and had to hope to just rush me. That plan failed miserably game 1, when I combo’d War Oracle with Wild Instincts and Sigil of Valor to gain roughly a brazillion life (get it, get it?). It succeeded, however, in game 2, when he played a turn-1 Goblin Glory Chaser and I did not have a 1-drop to stop it, and he eventually just pushed through enough damage.
Game 3 was a bit anti-climatic. We both kept slow hands, but mine had War Oracle, and his had… well, cards that he was playing in his deck that were not War Oracle. I normally would not keep a hand whose first spell is on turn 4 against a BR aggro deck, but War Oracle can get me back in the game, and I knew he had few ways to remove it, so I thought it was OK to keep it. If that had been any other 4-drop, even Irregulars, I think I would have mulliganed. It turned out he was heavily flooded and I was never under much pressure.
Round 10 was against Martin Muller, and it was very awkward because I was 2-0 in the draft and he was 0-2, which would never have happened in any other tournament. Owen and Seth both had very good decks, but I managed to dodge both of them due to the way pairings worked, which worked out great for me (at least in theory).
Martin Muller’s deck certainly wasn’t bad—it was probably like mine, except with a slightly higher average card quality as opposed to having good rares. In game 1, I kept a hand of two Forests, and went turn-2 Wolf, turn-3 Runed Servitor, no land. He attacked with Akroan Sergeant and I thought a bit about it and double-blocked, even though I knew he had at least five cards that could punish me in his deck. I wanted to block anyway, to try to draw land, and at that point there’s no reason to not double-block—he has multiple instants and tricks in his deck, but I don’t mind trading my 2/2 for one of them, and hopefully he wastes his turn playing it. Luckily for me, his trick was Ravaging Blaze, so he ended up skipping his entire turn and spending his good removal spell on my Wolf. Unluckily for me, I drew three more Forests and finished the game with six white cards in hand.
Game 2 I was also stuck on lands, though this time I had both colors. He played a ramp spell and then a 5/6 Wurm before I played my fourth land, and when I did, I had to just run guys out there into his two Javelins and two Ravaging Blazes—I had Might of the Masses and Enshrouding Mist in my hand, but didn’t feel like I could afford to wait a turn to maybe draw a land and keep a trick up.
He didn’t have a removal spell, but he played a 7/4 Zendikar Incarnate, which became an 8/4 the following turn. He attacked into all my open mana, and I blocked it with my 1/4 Spider with the intention of casting Might of the Masses. If he played Ravaging Blaze, I had Enshrouding Mist to protect it, and if he played Titan’s Strength, then our guys would still trade. The card he had, however, was Titanic Growth, and that blew me out because even if I cast Enshrouding Mist to save my Spider, his Zendikar Incarnate still wouldn’t die (I decided to keep the white spell and let my Spider die). I killed a guy the following turn by double-blocking, but then he still had a Wurm, and Ravaging Blaze with spell mastery finished me off.
I was happy to have gone 2-1 with my deck—I was scared of going 1-2 or even 0-3 with it when I was done building, and I felt like two wins were more than I deserved with how I drafted.
Next came Standard. I had good breakers, so I needed to 3-1 it. Of all the formats, Standard was the one in which I felt the most confident by far, because I thought the deck was good and I knew how to play it, so I had high hopes.
This was the list Bolovo, Ondrej, and I played:
It’s fairly standard, other than a couple of sideboard options. Tormod’s Crypt raised some eyebrows (and indeed it was bad versus every deck in that tournament), but we were scared of Rally decks. We knew Shaun McLaren had done well at the PT with Rally, and we also knew Alexander Hayne had won the Canadian WMCQ with a Rally deck. More than that, we thought Rally was well positioned, so another team might play it. In a field as small as this, if we assumed Hayne convinced his three teammates to play the deck, we could be looking at almost 25% Rally decks. If two teams played Rally, then that was a third of the field. Games against Rally go long, and we have four Digs in our deck, so it seemed worth having one slot that was only for that matchup (and some Whip decks, I guess), since it drastically changed the match (it basically countered Rally and every single Rally thereafter, and it let you tap out freely for a board sweeper or a Dragon). If I could go back, I’d play a second Orbs of Warding, since it’s basically Coalition Victory against Mono-Red. Everything else I’d keep exactly the same, unless you expect a rise in the numbers of Atarka Red (I hate that name, as it looks like it’s playing Atarka, but I suppose I’m ready to admit defeat at this point), in which case you should increase the number of Bile Blights and Drown in Sorrows.
Jace is not very good in the main, but it’s very good in the sideboard. The beauty is that, even if they know you have it, they can’t do anything—what are they going to do, leave in Dromoka’s Command because they know you have Jace? They just can’t do that. Game 1 there are all sorts of things that kill it (Bile Blight, Command, Ultimate Price) but game 2 those all come out, so Jace is good.
Before we played Standard, we got to watch some of the coverage where they talked about the metagame breakdown. I knew there were a lot of Abzan players, five Esper decks, and two Mono-Red—both with green. This was important information, because we weren’t supposed to get deck lists until round 2, and, though we didn’t know who was on what, we could have an idea.
When I sat down to play against Magnus Lanto in round 11, things weren’t looking good. There were two Mono-Red decks, and I believed that unless EFro and Shahar were playing Mono-Red, that meant the Scandinavian guys or the other Americans had split.
I decided to assume my opponent was Mono-Red, since Ari/Seth/Brad/Rubin had been playing Devotion and Abzan forever, and the Scandinavian guys had won tournaments with Red, so it made sense that it’d be them. It didn’t make much of a difference, as I mulliganed two 0-landers, but it was still satisfying to know that I had correctly figured it out when he played Mountain. That was about where the satisfaction ended, though, because we were really soft to this Mono-Red deck—since we expected people to play the PT Mono-Red, which is burn-based, we cut the Drowns from our sideboard. Orb is still great against this version, but the token makers are a huge problem—we also only had two Bile Blights, for example.
I didn’t stand a chance game 1, but game 2 I could have played a lot differently. He led with Zurgo into Swiftspear, and I had a hand of Foul-Tongue Invocation, Ojutai, Languish, and a freshly drawn Silumgar’s Scorn. My plan was to Languish away his board and then have Ojutai or Foul-Tongue + counterspell, but he played well and never committed more to the board, and then I couldn’t Foul-Tongue him because of Atarka’s Command.
On turn 4, I decided to Languish anyway, and then he bounced back with Hordeling Outburst + Denizen. I played Ojutai and he played Stoke + Atarka’s Command and that killed me. I think the correct play would probably have been to just jam turn-3 Invocation while he only has one mana. This way, he can’t stop me from gaining 4, and I can just Languish away his followup.
Playing a turn-3 Invocation will also perhaps make him believe that I don’t have the Languish, as it’s usually better to save it if you’re going to clear the board anyway, so he would maybe just overcommit after that. If he has two followups (like Outburst + Rabblemaster, or 2 Outbursts), then, well, that sucks, but holding the Foul-Tongue isn’t going to beat that either.
I think that, had I given the situation some more thought, I’d have arrived at the correct play. At that point I was a bit tilted to be paired against my worst matchup and to mulligan to 5 in game 1, and I adopted the mentality of “well if he has it he has it,” when I could have just played differently to avoid “it.” This is a big flaw in my game and something I’m still trying to correct to this day, and I think it definitely impacted how I played that match.
After we got deck lists, my tilt-level increased—the tournament felt like it was 4 mirrors, 2 bad matchups, and 18 good matchups. I happen to think Abzan Control is a very good matchup, as is any form of Jeskai, and about half the field was on either of those decks, yet I got paired versus stupid Mono-Red #$%^&*.
At least that meant I was probably going to get a good matchup in all the remaining rounds!
In round 12 I got paired against Ondrej, and our games were very unexciting. Both times I resolved an early Thoughtseize and saw that his hand had exactly one relevant spell and a bunch of blanks. Both times I took that one relevant spell and then resolved an Ashiok and subsequently an Ojutai. The most interesting thing that happened was that in game 1 I chose to draw, which I think is correct when the only card that can punish you in the entire deck is one Ashiok. I would never consider drawing for game 2, however, because Jace/Ashiok/Tasigur make the game a lot faster and it’s important to be proactive with those cards, as opposed to just playing draw-go. I also boarded in one Ultimate Price, to kill Jaces and Tasigurs. On the draw, I would have cut it as well.
Round 13 I got paired against Sam Black, and my match was on camera. I thought the matchup seemed great for me, as he was a cross between a fast deck and a slow deck and my deck was just a slow deck, so I would have the edge in that department. Of course I could lose to Mastery, but if I could beat the Bant deck that had Mastery, Den Protector, Raptor, and multiple Disdainful Strokes/Negates, I could certainly beat the Mono-White Mastery deck. His deck also seemed super soft to cards like Jace and Ashiok, and I had three of each after board. After the match, I talked to Sam about it and he said he thought he was slightly favored, which was surprising to me, but he had played the match before and I obviously hadn’t, so it’s possible he was right and I was wrong.
Game 1 was awful. I kept a hand of three spells and four lands, scryed three times, and ended the game with 4 spells and about 11 lands—the one Ultimate Price I kept on top with one of my scrys was literally the only spell I drew the entire game.
Game 2 was more interesting. He had a good start, with Gideon into two Knights of the White Orchid into Mastery and Banishing Light for my Perilous Vault, but my hand was also good, with Languish, Bile Blight, and Silumgar. On turn 5, I had an important decision—I could either Languish away his Gideon and two Knights, or just Bile Blight the Knights. Keeping Languish in my hand is better, because he has Mastery, but keeping that Gideon in play is problematic—if he plays an Elspeth, then he can actually flip it before I can cast Silumgar (remember that he is ahead of me on lands because of Knight). I decided to Languish the Gideon away, and sure enough he played Elspeth, which I answered with Silumgar.
He then plays an Archangel. I Bile Blight to finish it off after blocks, but the fact that he blocked means I can’t safely play my Ojutai the following turn. I play it anyway, and he uses the Elspeth minus ability to kill it. I then flip a Jace and play another Ojutai, and I have a choice to use Jace on one of his guys and go to 3, or to Jace my own Ojutai to prevent it from dying to a possible second Elspeth, which will leave me at 1 life.
I choose to Jace his guy—I know he only runs 2 Elspeth, and I think that beating a Mastery with 8 mana when I’m at 1 life is going to be difficult even if I have Silumgar with two Dragons going, because I have to deal with two manifests every turn. He turns out to have a second Elspeth, which is a setback but not unbeatable. On my turn, I play yet another Ojutai (I’d regrown one with Haven) and a Jace, which gives me enough blockers for this turn (then next turn I can attack with two Dragons). It turns out one of his Manifests is an Archangel, however, and that kills me.
In the last round I got paired against Shaun McLaren with Jeskai. Jeskai is a good matchup, but Shaun is a bad matchup.
Game 1 he doesn’t do much and I win. Game 2 is close, but it comes down to me Thoughtseizing him and seeing nothing, and then next turn jamming Silumgar into his freshly drawn Ojutai’s Command, which returns a Jace and then returns something else the following turn. Game 3 I was stuck on three lands for about 15 turns and lost very anti-climatically.
So, I finished 7-7, which was enough for an 11th-place finish. It’s not a bad finish, and I got 7 bonus Pro Points, which is a lot, but I can’t help thinking this was a missed opportunity, since I thought my decks were both very well positioned, and I happened to do decently in draft (in fact, I think of the 8 matches I played, I should be favored in 6. Another was the mirror and the last one was Mono-Red). If I had to replay the tournament, I would play the same two decks, with a tweak or two for the metagame, but the same archetypes.
The whole thing was a lot of fun, though, in sharp contrast to last year where I wanted to hide in a room and never come out after going 4-12. The tournament being at PAX really makes it more interesting for me, and I like the whole party/previews thing, as well as the karaoke that usually follows. I hope it continues being at PAX and I hope I can qualify again next year!