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Pardee Time – AlBluequerque *2nd*

This past weekend, I managed to make my way to the finals of Grand Prix Albuquerque with Mono-Blue Devotion. I’ve been playing Mono-Blue since the Pro Tour, and it’s exactly the kind of deck I enjoy playing.

Beware that it doesn’t really promote the play style that one would typically expect with a mono-blue deck. It’s very much about permanents and creatures, rather than counterspells and card drawing. I decided to basically run back the list that Josh McClain and I played at the recent 50k in Columbus. The only change I made was to switch a [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card] for a [card]Rapid Hybridization[/card] between the main deck and sideboard. I’ve been really impressed with Hybridization’s versatility, and decided to opt for the cheaper spell maindeck.

[deck]Main Deck
20 Island
4 Mutavault
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Cloudfin Raptor
4 Judge’s Familiar
4 Tidebinder Mage
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Master of Waves
1 Domestication
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Rapid Hybridization
1 Cyclonic Rift
2 Bident of Thassa
Sideboard
1 Rapid Hybridization
2 Cyclonic Rift
1 Bident of Thassa
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Domestication
4 Gainsay
1 Negate
1 Dissolve
2 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Curse of the Swine[/deck]

My tournament started in round 4, with a feature match against Todd Anderson piloting Mono-Black Devotion. Game 1, I rolled him over with an aggressive start backed up by [card]Thassa, God of the Sea[/card] and game 2, he destroyed me with multiple [card]Nightveil Specter[/card]s. For game 3, I kept (on the play) [card]Island[/card], [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card], [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card], [card]Judge’s Familiar[/card], [card]Rapid Hybridization[/card], [card]Nightveil Specter[/card], and [card]Master of Waves[/card]. This is definitely a very risky keep, but I think that the upside is very high as well. If I draw the first Island on the first turn, I expect to win the game a vast majority of the time, while if I miss and hit on the second turn, I still think I’m probably going to be in good shape. As it turns out, I missed my second land for several turns and died to some random creatures.

Starting a tournament with a loss is never fun, but I vowed to put my head down and keep battling to the best of my abilities. I managed to rattle off three pretty easy 2-0 wins against two Esper control decks and a red deck before losing to a BR Aggro deck. I generally think the BR matchup is not too bad because they have a lot of creatures that get blanked by X/3s like [card]Frostburn Weird[/card], [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card], and [card]Nightveil Specter[/card], but they’re certainly capable of some explosive draws that kill very fast.

All this left me fighting for my tournament life in the last round of Day One at 6-2. Imagine my dismay when I was paired against my good friend and teammate Jacob Wilson playing a 74-or-so-card mirror. Game 1, Jacob was on the play and completely destroyed me with one of the best mirror draws I could possibly imagine. For games 2 and 3, I felt advantaged as I had a lot more experience in the matchup and was confident I would be able to sideboard effectively. This ended up being true, as he cast a [card]Frostburn Weird[/card] in game 2 which I was able to neutralize with my [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card], and a [card]Judge’s Familiar[/card] that did basically nothing in game 3, all while those cards rested comfortably in my sideboard.

With that, I concluded the day at 7-2. I didn’t feel particularly great about my record, but ending on a win always helps build some confidence. It was about 20 degrees and snowing outside, so we hustled as quickly as possible off to get some quick food before retiring to our hotel room for the night. I almost always have trouble sleeping overnight at big events—I just get too excited about the prospect of doing well on Day Two. After a few MTGO drafts, I was able to get to sleep at around 2:30 a.m.

Day Two began against black devotion with a green splash. I think that the Mono-Black matchup is usually really close if both players play well, but as soon as they start adding colors to their deck, I think the matchup swings heavily in mono-blue’s favor. Even though they’re generally adding cards that are great in the matchup like [card]Skylasher[/card] and [card]Golgari Charm[/card], they end up taking quite a lot of extra damage either from their shocklands or from playing lands that come into play tapped. These factors came to bear in this match and my opponent found himself on the back foot too quickly thanks in part to the clunkiness of his mana base.

My next two rounds were spent battling a blue devotion mirror and a blue devotion deck splashing green for [card]Mistcutter Hydra[/card] and a few other sideboard cards. The green splash has the same problem in the blue deck as it does in the black—the mana base is just not stable and you lose too many games where your lands come into play tapped.

The mono-blue mirror is actually very interesting post-board. Everyone has lots of answers and trumps to what the other is doing and you have to carefully parcel them out so you don’t lose to the “regular cards” like [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card] and [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] while also beating the “good cards” like [card]Thassa, God of the Sea[/card], [card]Nightveil Specter[/card], and [card]Master of Waves[/card]. I wish I could offer more advice, but there really is no substitute for practice.

Round 11 saw me battling Benjamin Lundquist in an on-camera feature (at around 3:37:30). Game 1 was pretty straightforward from my side, although the [card]Lightning Strike[/card] he cast surprised me as usually the “red spell” slot in that deck is taken up with [card]Boros Charm[/card]. I still like blocking his guys with [card]Frostburn Weird[/card] basically no matter what, because if he’s spending his turn casting [card]Lightning Strike[/card] instead of developing his board, that’s probably a good thing for me.

Game 2 was much closer and starts off with me making a pretty boneheaded mistake in almost casting [card]Rapid Hybridization[/card] on my own [card]Judge’s Familiar[/card] to block his Ajani-infused 3/2 Soldier. While I was able to catch myself before I went down that road, I felt like I had thoroughly telegraphed the Rapid although the commentators seemed to think I was bluffing [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card]. Late in the game I also had a decision to make when my [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] had both his [card]Brave the Elements[/card] and his [card]Sacred Foundry[/card]. I could play the Foundry untapped, falling to 4 and into [card]Boros Charm[/card] range but allowing me to have Brave to protect my Familiar from a burn spell followed by a double-striking [card]Mutavault[/card].

I opted to not play the Foundry because of how long it had taken for Ben to find his first red source. I figured he had not left [card]Boros Charm[/card] in against me, but that there was still a decent chance of him having a hand full of red cards, and I thought it was more likely I would lose to a topdecked red source followed by 2 burn spells than a sequence of land, burn spell, Ajani after he had already played two of them. After giving it some more thought, though, I think that it may have been better to just not attack with [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] at all and have basically no risk of losing to Ajani.

So there I was, sitting at 11-2 in an 800-person GP. I hadn’t been looking at standings all day, so I had no idea how many x-2s or better remained in the event, but I figured that almost all of the x-2-1s would make Top 8 so I figured I would be playing a win-and-in the next round. I ended up paired against Joe Demestrio playing a funny Boros burn deck. I knew I had a pretty favorable matchup because we had been jamming games against each other during the byes.

I won game 1 with a strong hand and then made the mistake of attacking my [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] into his [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] on a turn where I was fairly sure he needed to cast [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] to stay alive, only to later die to said Phoenix when it was able to return from the graveyard thanks to a [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card]. Game 3 I had another strong draw and was lucky enough to topdeck a [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] at the exact right time to shut down his [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card] and seal the match.

As it turns out, I wasn’t quite the lock I thought I would be with a draw next round, so I had to play. I was called for a feature match although we never ended up making it on camera. My opponent was playing Esper Control and we played a completely insane game 1. I had a slower hand with a few [card]Mutavault[/card]s and a [card]Bident of Thassa[/card], while my opponent had an early Jace I was unable to remove. Eventually, I was able to grind him down with my inferior cast of creatures thanks to a mistake on his part and some good fortune on mine. We knew that there was a [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] on the bottom of his library, and on turn 11 or so he cast [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card] followed by his third Revelation for 3 on my endstep. This basically meant that for the rest of the game he would be unable to Revelate, and I won a very long game because his [card]Aetherling[/card]s were both on the bottom of his library. I took down game 2 pretty quickly with a creature-heavy draw backed up by a few [card]Mutavault[/card]s.

Just like that I had run the tables and gone 6-0 on Day Two to make Top 8. I was pretty excited but also knew that I had a tough road ahead. Coming into the event, I had 11 Pro Points with 5 GP cashes, meaning that whatever result I got from this tournament was worth 1 less point than normal. I still have my Silver invite from the 2012-2013 year banked, so if I qualified for Valencia, got minimum points from it and my now deferred Silver invite, I will also hit Silver this year and qualify for both Portland and Hawaii next year. Because the event was under 1200 players, only the Top 4 would qualify for Valencia—a qualification that was worth a total of 3 PT qualifications and a greatly increased chance of hitting either Gold or Platinum. I had to win.

I ended up as the top seed after Swiss by virtue of having played the last round, which meant I would be playing the 8th seed Paul Rietzl. Paul and I had played in the quarterfinals of GP Portland previously and he’s obviously an excellent player so I was a bit nervous. Our match was covered on camera (at 7:09:30) and was unfortunately not particularly interesting. Game 1 I think I made a mistake, Rapidly Hybridizing my own guy when one of the only ways I could lose was to [card gray merchant of asphodel]Gray Merchants[/card], but fortunately I was not punished for it. I was pretty thrilled to have won the match and qualified for the rest of the Pro Tours this season, but now it was time to earn some extra Pro Points and give myself a better shot at Gold/Platinum.

In the semifinals, I was given a rematch with Todd Anderson, and the games played out similarly to our first match—except with him getting mana-screwed in game 3 instead of me, and just like that I was on to the finals with Owen! Owen was also playing Mono-Black, and fortunately I would still get to be on the play thanks to finishing as the top seed. Our match can be found here. Game 1 my draw was excellent and I ran him over quickly, while in game 2 my draw was pretty poor and he was able to stabilize quickly and kill me with [card]Pack Rat[/card].

Game 3 was incredibly interesting—it felt like every decision was very important. I kept a great hand with three 1-drops on the play, only to have it made a lot less exciting by his turn 1 [card]Thoughtsieze[/card]. On my second turn I had a tough decision between playing [card]Mutavault[/card] and being able to attack next turn with it, or playing Island and being prepared to draw a [card]Nightveil Specter[/card]. Obviously I ended up getting punished by drawing the Specter and I probably would have run away with the game if I had played Island on turn two, but the decision is still really close in my mind and I’m still not sure which is correct. The last turn of the game basically came down to me deciding I didn’t really think I could beat another Gray Merchant and trying as hard as I could to beat everything else. Unfortunately, Owen had a whole warehouse full of Asphodelian goods and managed to take down his second consecutive title, which is a pretty amazing feat!

So there you have it, I think Blue Devotion is a great choice for upcoming standard events and would recommend my list as-is. The Black Devotion matchup is the most important going forward and I think it’s roughly a coinflip. I played it 4 times in the event, always piloted by a strong opponent and went to 3 games every time, with me winning 6 of those games and the black players collectively winning 6 of those games. I’d also recommend to anyone picking up the deck to practice post-board games of the mirror, as you can expect to face that one a few times in a large tournament. Thanks as always for reading and feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments!

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