Pro Tour Valencia tought me some important lessons.
I really wanted to make a decent finish, as it was my first individual Pro Tour. After an Italian friend who was qualified but couldn’t play a lot before the tournament gave me a basic Cephalid Breakfast decklist, I tried really hard to tune it (for those of you who don’t know every deck from the last 5 years by name, Cephalid Breakfast used Cephalid Illusionist and Shuko to mill its deck and win with Dread Return on Sutured Ghoul – LSV). I decided the “life combo part” (Daru Spiritualist plus Shuko plus [card]Starlit Sanctum[/card] – LSV, again) was too greedy and quickly dropped it. Actually I wasn’t really good at building decks from scratch, so I looked for every past decklist of the archetype before even starting. I tried so many cards, mostly testing online with other Italians, who were pretty sure they would never play my deck, so they weren’t so happy testing against it. As a consequence, I had lots of games playing all the other archetypes, which I would have done anyway, even if I was pretty sure I would have sleeved Illusionists for Valencia.
My point was that the combo looked quite solid, as it seemed faster than Dredge, but I wanted to have other gameplans too, not just to combo out. Once you have Trinket Mage to fetch for Shuko and Sensei’s Divining Top, why not add Counterbalance too? Playing the deck on MODO was kind of awkward, because they didn’t fix the Sutured Ghoul / Tarmogoyf interaction for a while, so I had to play Krosan Skyscraper or whatever the 13/13 name is…Nice card. By the way, that helped me confirm that the lonely combo plan wasn’t good enough post-sideboard, and I really wanted some other ways to win. Among the crap cards I included in all my primitive decklists there was even a Treva’s Ruins (triple land? woo-ooh!). Once I was playing a casual game, I punted with Top and Counterbalance, playing something instead of something else, and a watcher wrote “Nice spell order”, which of course made me angry (just because he was totally right).
When two Marvel superheroes first meet, they always have a fight, then team-up for battling a common Villain. Comic Book Guy told me that.
So I battled Owen Turtenwald’s Goblins for some games, and in the end just took out Counter-Top from my deck, cause I recognized the enchantment really sucked in that environment.
Here’s the 75 I played at that Pro Tour:
The sideboard was the worst part of the deck, which doesn’t really look that good anyway. I thought that the possibility of having a B plan in my sideboard was just better than the mere combo kill. Cephalid Breakfast wasn’t either popular nor expected at that Pro Tour, but some other guys played a far better version, which was of course infinitely more tested and tuned. I even faced that version, and easily lost, earning Oyvind Anderson’s questions about how could I expect to combo out with my deck, which was pretty weird as we were already locked for a money finish. But the point here, is that you really have to prepare with a decent testing team before a Pro Tour. I know it’s kind of hard, because not anyone can really be in touch with the best, but at least you have to rely on other people to test the deck you think you are playing. Take the most comments and feedbacks you can, etc.
As you might recall, Valencia got flooded so the tournament schedule had some changes, as we couldn’t play on Friday: 7-3 was the needed record for Day 2 (instead of 5-3) and there would have been just 3 more rounds and the Top 8 on the following day.
The first round was a nightmare. My opponent was playing Extirpate maindeck, which I really didn’t expect. Even if the rest of the deck was a pile, I couldn’t beat Smother + Extirpate Game 1, and lost Game 2 also. I was really disappointed losing to a weird MonoBlack control, featuring cards like [card]Staff of Domination[/card], [card]Darksteel Colossus[/card] and stuff like that (no jokes).
Sometimes you have to make a comeback from somewhere. Losing to that deck was the best thing that could happen. I stayed really focused later on, and I think I played quite well during the whole tournament, not giving up to double Leyline of the Void, beating with Narcomoeba powered by Shuko, and beating Leyline of the Void with mulligan to 4. And that was when my record was 3-3, so I needed a 4-0 to Day 2.
When you lose round 1 of a PTQ, things start getting hard. In Italy, after a 0-1, you probably need a 10-0 or even a 11-0 to win the whole thing. The good point about Pro Tours, is that you can afford to lose some matches. But there’s that time in which you’re playing to stay in the tournament, and you can’t really make mistakes then. Remember that everyone punts, even the best players. Last round of Day 1, a Cranial Extraction named Shuko just to see my Outrider En-Kor finish the combo. This is also a good point about not playing a classical 75 cards everyone knows by heart.
In the end, I made the biggest mistake of my day, not drawing last round into top 50 which meant qualifying for the following PT, but playing it out against Shuu Komuro. I won game 1 pretty easily, but later on we couldn’t really understand each other nor the tiebreakers, so I didn’t realize I would have been locked in with a draw. I lost the match and ended Top 64, which was satisfying also.
I decided to play in GP Krakow for some good reasons. First of all, I found a low-cost flight for less than 50$. And I had 3 byes for ratings, which is so important as we all know. It’s always cool to play in a foreign GP, as you can go to a place you probably wouldn’t go to, or you’re interested in visiting. And most of all I really liked that format. It was the regular standard with Lorwyn being legal for the first time. I just decided that lots of people would have liked the Planeswalkers, and I felt like playing lots of Islands and lots of counterspells was a good plan. As a winning condition I didn’t really realize the Guile + Pact of Negation interaction (you have to be Wafo-Tapa for those strokes of genius), I just played the Pickles block constructed deck adding all the legal counterspells I could. I didn’t like Venser and replaced it with Sower of Temptation. I didn’t feel like the deck had any terrible matchups, and I was really lucky because Mannequin.dec, which was a really easy match, was insane popular, especially in Day 2.
Here’s the decklist:
Day 1, after the 3 byes, I realized the BG matchup was not that easy. I was really lucky against Rasmus Sibast who just didn’t play/resolve many spells. Then, on 5-0, I drew with Willy Edel almost playing the same deck. Game 1 was pretty unfair as he cast Hypnotic Specter on turn 2 on the play, so I had basically 0 outs to it. Game 2 my Masticore-Gush/Morph guy plan proved to be good enough, but as we were both playing really slow we ended up with a draw, which I felt a little guilty about, as I thought I could win game3. Then I drew another match against RG Beats, falling 2 attacks short to win, and then again I had to blame myself for not calling a judge to watch my opponent’s speed. Guys, always call a judge when you feel that your opponent is taking too much time for his decisions: it’s a thing not everyone does, mostly because you could be scared to look persnickety or something, I know that. Well, calling a judge can give you 3 points instead of 1 some times, so just do that, otherwise you’ll just regret that draw that could have been a win.
I played Manuel Bucher with Teachings, and I was pretty happy about the matchup, but obviously Manuel is so good and I really felt like giving back his money from Florence, so we split 50% before playing. I won 2-1, then won last round against another BG, that time packing more Elves. So I was undefeated in day1 but with a 7-0-2, that meant I would need a 5-1 to Top 8. I recall I was really focused on that. Once you Day 2, you have to settle your target. I could qualify for the following PT with a Top 16, but actually I felt like the Top 8 spotlight was the real thing I wanted. That brought me to a critical decision later on.
Day 2 was pretty weird, as I lost round 1 to my best matchup, Teachings, but right now I realize Gaetan Lefebvre was disqualified in Berlin for having cards on his lap and adding them to his hand, so that could be an explanation to my loss which was mostly due to his perfect draws and insane topdecks. Well, here is one cheater we don’t have to worry about anymore.
After that I played 3 Mannequin decks which I couldn’t really lose to, and Shouta Yasooka with the Plainswalkers.deck (I would assume he was actually with Planeswalkers.dec, but who knows, maybe Righteous Avengers are tech? – LSV) who didn’t resolve a spell in 2 games. Faerie Trickeries countered his Call of the Herds, and Playing 4+ casting costs into Cryptic Commands didn’t really work for him. So basically I was pretty lucky with the matchups. Or you can say that I was so awesome to bring a deck that was so good in Day 2, but I don’t think I tested it so much to plan all this. I just felt the deck was good, and could play against everything due to his pretty simple gameplan: suspend Ancestral Visions then just counter everything you can, reload on turn 5, try to survive until you can lock them with the Pickles combo. Easy, huh? That’s why sometimes it’s such a mistake to think that playing Islands is more difficult than Forests or Mountains. Some control decks CAN have a simple plan.
Last round I made the math and realize I could either draw into Top 16 or play, which meant ending 1st or 2nd in swiss with a win or out of Top 16 with a loss.
I played Cristophe Gregoir, who’s good, and I wasn’t really sure about what he was playing. I decided that the risk was worth it. I wanted to Top 8, you know, have my player profile on the internet, my coverage, and the glory. I was really confident, and luckily he was playing Mannequin. I won with no real troubles and ended up 2nd in the swiss rounds.
Then I probably tilted. As I had done in a lot of my first ptqs, I just thought that my goal was achieved, and that was a huge mistake. The Top 8 was filled with insane players, and I had to play Paul Cheon in the quarterfinals. As I saw his decklist, I couldn’t really see a way I could lose. He was playing UW Pickles, so basically we had the same deck but his was filled with dead cards: Wrath, O-ring, etc. So it wasn’t a mere mirror decided by Ancestrals, I had an edge due to our different decklists.
Well, he had another edge, which is experience. And skill, of course, cause he’s such a master. Basically he outplayed me in Game 1, playing aggressively on the play with morphs, leaving me in a defensive position the whole game, which I couldn’t come back in any way.
Game 2 I suspended Visions on turn 1 and played a storage land on turn 2. I can recall I was really focused on that game. I played around his Venser, charging my land on my turn, which he realized was a good idea and pointed that out, which made me really happy, and he did it too in Game 3 to avoid [card]Cryptic Command[/card] in my eot. He had some mana issues too, I played 28 lands and missing land drops was crucial. He missed some and died.
All right, I play 28 lands, let’s do the math. No way, it’s an easy mulligan. Why should I gamble in a GP Top 8? What if i die with one land in play? I would be the biggest idiot in Magic History.
Of course I decided to mull, and of course I was drawing storage land, Island, Island, Island, Island. And I still want to kill the guys who told me I shouldn’t have mulled. I think I made a logical play, that’s it. If I gambled, I’d probably won but that would have been too ridiculous (I wouldn’t have kept that hand either – LSV, who has been known to keep risky ones).
I mulled into a decent hand, and even without any early Visions, I found myself in an advantage position later on, due to my Aeon Chronicler. Then I made a huge mistake, not realizing I could have won with the Chronicler and my card advantage; I was really scared of his morph, and made some awful thoughts about it being a Brine Elemental, while it was clear it was a Shapeshifter. So I played Teferi during my main phase, cause I could easily protect it and combo out later. His morph proved to be a Shapeshifter, then he won a counterwar he would’ve never won on his O-ring, who took out my Chronicler which could have killed him in a few turns if I played better.
So basically I punted. A lot. During the whole tournament.
In the semifinals I would have played Ruel’s Mannequin, but as you should have learned, the matchup counts a lot, but it’s not everything. You should always play at your best, and try to focus on your possible plans. I didn’t choose the correct ones and I lost to a better player.
Everyone punts, definitely. In some tournaments you’re luckier, and you play better than your average, and you reach some goals. Top 8ing made me really happy of course, but winning at least that match would have been way better. In a PTQ, either you win, or…you win. There’s no other possible way to reach the goal. So try to be focused the whole day. Make everything you can to be mentally and physically prepared for lots of hours of mental work. Definitely don’t go clubbing in Krakow on Saturday night as I did! I was pretty exhausted at the end.
I definitely hope this read can give you something to think about. The lesson I took from writing and reading/checking the article is that you can just take a breath when the whole thing is finished. And after that, you can start analyzing what you could have done better. And also, there’s always something bigger to win or a bigger goal to accomplish.
Thanks for reading!
Till next time