Stark Reality – Taking Home the Trophy *PT Paris Report, 1st*

The story begins a few weeks earlier, as I boarded my flight from sunny Fort Lauderdale to Indy, without a hotel room to stay in or plans of any kind for the Starcitygames Open in Indy. I just figured I would go to the site and get a hotel room, unless any better options presented themselves. On the way there, AJ happened to post on Facebook that he was landing soon so I decided to meet up with him. At this point I was just figuring we would chop the cab to the site. He wasn’t going to the site though; he informed me that he was being picked up by Nick Becvar (one of the best local Indy players) and that he was staying with him. Within about 10 seconds of Nick getting there he invited me to come along and stay with him…and the run good begins. Really it just continued since I was coming off second place at Grand Prix Atlanta but I was happy to see it would be in full effect for this trip.

Friday night we tested some Standard, ate some sweet burgers that Nick made for the gang of gamers he was hosting, and ultimately Christian Valenti and I hammered out a Valakut list that we would be running. Drew Levin being a smart kid seemed to figure out that if two of the best players here were working and playing the same deck perhaps he should run it, and asked if he could play it. We obliged and it worked out really well as Christian and I had rather mediocre finishes but Drew piloted the deck to second place.

After a nice dinner on Saturday night with Gerry, Nick, and a few other guys I decided I wanted a really good night of sleep so I bought a room at the site and slept from 11 to around 11. I then rushed downstairs because I wanted to make the second draft challenge. It didn’t start till 2, but I was assuming as people lost in the Legacy round by round it would fill up. When I asked if I could still get in they laughed at me as it had something like 12 players at the time, but it ended up having 40 or so. I drafted two really good decks: a controlling B/W deck with Sunblast Angel/Black Sun’s Zenith, and [cardGeth, Lord of the Vault[/card] (the run good continues) and an aggro Glint Hawk deck with good removal and synergy. I won the tournament, then I ran up to my room just in time to see the last 6 minutes or so of game time of the Superbowl.

The next morning it was off to Paris. I have to be honest, France is not my favorite country. When I was there for Worlds in ’06 I found it to be outright miserable. The usual forecast for the weather in Europe, which mostly seems to be cold, wet, and gray, is miserable, along with the people in Paris just refusing to speak English and/or help you ever when they definitely know English. The last time I was there we definitely got charged “the American” price at several restaurants. Luckily for me though I would attend a Pro Tour if they held it inside the gates of hell so I was definitely willing to endure Paris.

The flights went off smoothly, although I did manage to break my laptop somehow when travelling to the airport so that kind of sucked. I also somehow managed to train to the completely wrong side of Paris but eventually I managed to get to my hotel and meet up with my roommate Max who I was staying with.

On Wednesday I met with Martin and the rest of the Channelfireball guys and we did some drafts while I debated which deck to play. Max was going to play my Vamps list, while I wanted to play either Martin’s Tezz deck or the UW Mystic deck. Luis convinced me to play the Caw deck when he made the really good point that while Martin’s deck was sweet it wasn’t ready. They weren’t even sure whether or not Jace belonged in the deck, which is a pretty good sign it wasn’t as tuned as it needed to be. From there I decided to play the Caw deck, though that said Martin 5-0ed with Tezz and Max 4-1ed with our vamps list, so I may have been in a pretty good spot. Still, the Caw deck was amazing and I am (obviously) pretty happy Luis convinced me.

I woke up very early the next day. After Max and I feasted for breakfast (one of the only things I like about Europe is the amazing breakfast spreads the hotels seem to have) we went to the site to get some cards, the finalized decklist, and most importantly to start making battle.

Round 1 – Toni Portolani playing Valakut.

He had to take a few mulligans and just never really got anything going. While I love the sick tight matches where every decision matters it was nice to be able to play a warm-up match with a deck I hadn’t really played versus anything except 10 or 20 games against Max playing vampires the night before.


Round 2 – Ian Wood playing Caw-go

Now it was time to step into the big leagues. Having never played a game of the mirror, I had to guess at what mattered and what to fight over. We had a super-close 3 game match where I decked him a little before he could kill me I believe.


Round 3 – Gerald Leitzinger playing UB

Blue Black is a very easy matchup but he did take a game so I had to sweat it out. I don’t think game 3 was too close though.


Round 4 – Yuuya Watanabe playing Tezz

This was a covered feature match but I consider Yuuya to be one of the best in the world and I think if he played as good of Constructed decks as some of the other top pros he might very well be the best in the world. Beating him is super tough and I definitely felt like he outplayed me game 1 but games 2 and 3 my draws were too strong for him to overcome considering how favored the Caw-go deck is versus UB Tezz in my opinion.


Round 5 – Valentin Mackl playing UB

Another good matchup and this time I had good draws both games and won pretty easily.


Normally if I 5-0ed the Constructed I would be jumping for joy now that it was time to draft but this time was a little different. I didn’t know all the new cards and really had only done 4 or 5 drafts with the new set. I was going to follow my usual rules for draft of not forcing anything and just trying to see what was there. Well, my draft was covered and is up on draft viewer on sideboard and match by match analysis of limited is pretty boring so I am going to fast forward through these rounds. I drafted an aggro infect deck and played a really tight/ cool match in a covered feature match against Chapin in round 3 so you may want to read that one if you are interested.

Round 6 – Jon Kolos – 2-1, 6-0
Round 7 – Kentaro Ino – 2-0, 7-0
Round 8 – Pat Chapin – 2-1, 8-0

In my previous two Pro Tour Top 8’s I started out 6-1 and 6-2 and picked up even more losses shortly after that in both but managed to win my last 3 or 4 matches to make it into the Top 8. I have never had a start like this in the Pro Tour and frankly I was pretty excited. The downside of all that excitement being of course I barely slept, but hey welcome to the life of a pro Magic player.

Day 2 kicked off with another booster draft. This time I pretty much saw nothing but red cards the entire draft. Archetype-wise I should have been green-red dinosaurs but the green was really dry. I ended up just playing straight mono-red. This time 2 of my 3 matches were featured and the one that wasn’t was a tough 3 game match against Yuuya.

Round 9 – Naoki Nakada – 2-1, 9-0
Round 10 – Pat Chapin – 1-2, 9-1
Round 11 – Yuuya Watanabe – 1-2, 9-2

Ok ,so I lost two straight but that basically just returned me to the pack. I was still doing quite well, needing 3-1-1 for Top 8 and hoping to pick up a nice easy good matchup to return me to winning.

Round 12Luis Scott-Vargas playing Caw-go

You have to be kidding me. I have to play against the best deck in the tournament being played by the best player playing the deck (give or take a PV). I wasn’t pleased. I won the die roll though and just straight nut drew him on the play game one. Game 2 he took a mulligan and had a fairly weak draw as luck smiled down on me and gave me a victory.


Round 13 – Tom Martell playing Caw-go

This is getting old, I understand we had the best deck and lots of us were doing well but there were still plenty of other people I could play and playing the mirror every round is definitely not what I was hoping for.

On the other hand…I won the roll again! We took turns nut drawing on the play in games one and two, then in game 3, I had a Stoneforge on turn 2 while he didn’t make land drop 2 and discarded. I made land drop 3 and passed, but he found a land that came into play untapped on turn 3 and passed the turn.

Now this told me some interesting things. For him to keep a 1-lander without Preordain he must have all the good 2-drops (Hawk and Mystic). However for him to not cast a Hawk to chump block the Sworded Mystic I could make he must have had a better solution (Divine Offering). I had lands and a Mana Leak in my hand so I figured I would just sit around for a turn. If he didn’t draw an untapped land next turn I could put the Sword in play with 2 up and Mana Leak his Offering, and if he did draw the untapped land I would rather let the game go longer by forcing both of us to keep two lands untapped at all times. I was ahead on lands already, so this line of play would punish him much more than me, and that’s assuming I missed on lands and he hit, an unlikely scenario.

As it turned out, he made some land drops but discarded a few times, since I was locking his mana up, and somewhere around turn 6 or 7 I was able to put the Sword in knowing I could protect it and I rode it to victory.


Round 14 Nico Bohny playing G/W quest

Win and I am in, sweet right? Well this match sure wasn’t. He browned me like I was Fried Chicken and he wanted extra crispy. Two games, maybe 9 turns and 15 minutes later and I was cooked.


Round 15 Mat Marr playing Valakut

I started off the tourney against Valakut, and now I would have to beat it again to make Top 8. He beat me game 1 in a really long tight game, and my back was now officially to the wall. Game 2 he mulliganed and didn’t play a green source until turn 4; he did some things but I won pretty easily. Game 3 we both had good hands, and I elected to Preordain on turn 1 instead of leaving Spell Pierce up because I felt if I hit the Mystic the gain was huge, where as if I left Pierce up he was just going to elect to play Battlement or Cobra instead of something Pierceable. The best plays for the Valakut deck on turn 2 in order are like Cobra, Expedition, Zenith for Treespeaker, Explore, and Battlement in my opinion.

So, if he had drawn a Cobra I was basically accomplishing nothing but if he hadn’t then I was gaining quite a bit having him play Battlement instead of one of the other plays but not as much as if I find a Mystic. It was tough choice but I was pretty sure I made the right one, though everyone else seemed to think the other play is better so who knows. I ended up not finding Mystic, he Zenithd for Treespeaker, I Ousted it and the game went long, where I managed to pull it out.


Round 16 Vincent Lemoine playing Boros

Having the nut breakers since I started 9-0 I got paired against a 12-2-1. All I needed was a draw and he was happy to give it, saying I earned it by going 12-3, so we drew. I also informed him the matchup was quite good for him so he should want me in Top 8 anyways. He didn’t think it was so great but Bboros was pretty much the only deck we had been losing to all tourney.

As it went Luis got unlucky and got paired down against Paul playing Boros and lost. Martell drew in and Efro and Owen won to go X-4 giving us two in the Top 8 and 3 more in the Top 16 and since two Japanese players also Top 8ed with their own Caw-go variants and Erik Landriz Top16ed with his I would say utter dominance.

In the Top 8 I held serve against Tom, and as I was the higher seed I got to play first game 1 and whoever played first won all 5 games.

The Top 4 and Finals were filmed/covered but I basically drew amazing for 7 games in a row, including the one I lost to Rietzl and took the 2 matches down.

I really view this more as team Channel Fireball winning the Pro Tour then me winning it. I went 4-2 in draft and just crushed in constructed by running great with the best deck in the tourney designed by the whole team and sideboarding strategy taught to me by Luis and designed by the team as a whole.

Also I want to say thanks/props to my girlfriend Michelle for understanding when I disappear completely for a few days to play a Magic tournament, my roommate Max for helping me get in practice games every stage of the way. Thanks to Gabe Walls, since his generous offer to host all of us was crucial for our Limited practice in particular, and it’s just a shame he couldn’t make it to the Pro Tour. Thanks also go to Brad, Kibler, Efro, and all of Team Channel Fireball for making the deck, helping me along with it and essentially winning this Pro Tour as a team. I just happened to be the pilot who drew the best and got the victory it could have been any of us. Thank you guys a million times no amount of dinners could ever show my gratitude.

Now off to Conley’s and GP Denver where I hope to continue running good and adding points to my lead in the PoY race. While it is way too early to be even hoping to win, I consider it the highest honor in Magic and nothing would mean more to me that to add my name to that list of great players.


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