Down and Dirty - The Krakow 10
10. Armin Birner
While I don't exactly know who Armin Birner is, I do know that this is his 2nd trip to the Top 8 of a Grand Prix this year. I also know he placed 23rd at Valencia, and has been having a monstrous past couple of months in regards to Magic. This is a very good #10 because it has very little significance in the big scheme of things, but at the same time this guy could be the next big thing out of Austria, and if he is, I want to be the first one to jump on this shaggy-haired Austrian's bandwagon. Heres the deck Armin played:
Decks like this, while confusing to look at in the begining, are always pretty easy to understand once you break them down by the roles they play. In the history of Magic, big mana decks have always had the same formula to success, combining mana accelerants with removal/card draw along with a healthy portion of fatty boom booms.
Fatty Boom Booms (14)
The core of any big mana deck is the Fatty Boom Boom section. These FBBs provide a nice mix of huge explosive creatures with game controlling effects that will usually end the game soon after they come into play. Bogardan Hellkite and Cloudthresher are particularly successful in this deck, since your opponent will usually put you on an end-of-turn Factory activation, not suspecting a 7/7 or 5/5 to pop out instead.
Personally I'd like to see another Urza's Factory in the deck to further the chances of running that bluff. Having only two gives you 1/30 odds, and even with a couple of Harmonize cast you can't realistically expect it to have the kind of impact on the game that you'd like it to have.
You could make the same argument about the X spell slot and wanting to run more than two, but I'm pretty sure two is the correct number because it is mainly there as a pair of miser's cards to win some random games that go late. Also in long-rounded tournaments like Grands Prix, having a couple of cards that you can just draw to win the game at any point, while clunky, will eventually pan out due to the massive amount of games you are expected to play.
Mana Accelerants (14)
I hadn't noticed there were so many mana sources until I sorted this out. Even if you exclude Garruk, that's eleven ways to speed your draw: four turn 1 plays and seven for turn 2. This is the fuel for the deck, and gives it a lot of staying power. Wall of Roots is actually the core of the deck, and I would be hard pressed to mulligan any hand with a few lands and Wall of Roots, even if I don't have a turn 3 or 4 play. Garruk is also pretty insane in this deck, with all three of his abilities being complete powerhouses. You can easily power out a turn 4 Hellkite with the help of Garruk, or give all your FBBs trample and a little extra to kill your opponent in one huge swoop, but the best ability is clearly the Beast-maker. If you take a look at the average curve of this deck you'll see that there isn't much in the way of defense for the first few turns beyond a Wall of Roots or Incinerate. Garruk gives you an army of Beasts to both distract and ward off your opponent for enough turns to get your mana going to power out a lethal FBB.
The Supporters (15)
This category isn't as scientific as it is just a place to put all the other cool cards that I didn't put in the other two sections. Treetop Village is a perfect fit for this deck, given its lack of exciting one-drops. Harmonize and Incinerate give you something to do on those first few turns while you're working the mana situation out. Tarmogoyf, however, I feel has no spot in this deck. It isn't big enough early on to provide a good defense, and late game you'd much rather just kill your opponent than bother with a 4/5 Goyf. This deck has bigger fish to fry than jacking around with a two-mana creature.
In its place, if I was going to play the deck, I'd add a 3rd Urza's Factory and a pair of Detritivores. It doesn't seem like you would need any help in the aggro matchups, but the rise of all these dang Blue permission decks could very well be the end for this archetype. To combat them I think Detritivore does the best job, since he's uncounterable and you will have plenty of mana to make him fierce relatively early on. In fact, presuming they don't counter any of your early mana acceleration, which they shouldn't, you could actually give him a few suspend counters as early as turn 4, locking them on four mana for the next few turns.
Detritivore in general is a card that isn't actually as bad against aggro decks as a lot of people think. I've been testing the Mono-Red Snow deck featuring Stuffy Doll, Skred, and Molten Disaster a lot lately on MWS, and I've actually been boarding Detritivore in against some of the slower aggro decks simply to have a card that will blow out all of their Treetop Villages.
9. Cheon A Test Tube Baby?
With all of Paul Cheon's recent success in Magic, and his seemingly unknown background, there are gossips that proclaim that Cheon was actually genetically engineered by the U.S. from some of Asia's most prominent players a few years back. Documents were found showing that Wizards organized a blood sampling of some of Japan's previous superstars - Masashi Oiso, Tsuyoshi Fujita, and Masahiko Morita - in the summer of 2004. Some theorists state that the Oiso and Fujita samplings weren't as prominent as the Morita strands, which would explain Cheon's vast Grand Prix run while also explaining his lack of Pro Tour Top 8's.
More on this next week...
8. Brave Phoenix
This was the deck Shouta Yasooka chose to play in Poland. Take a minute to actually look at this deck and all of its complexities. Lift the deck up to your nose and gently waft the aroma into your nostrils, stir the deck lightly and waft once more to take in its true flavor. Although the list says Vivid Creek, I suspect it was just an error by the coverage staff, and he was probably playing Vivid Craig.
I'd have to do some testing to find out if his numbers are correct, but this deck really looks like it has all the best cards in it. Garruk and Liliana form a Planeswalker tag team to take on any treacherous Teachings decks. Damnation provides an unexpected board sweeper that stops any dooders that are coming for the Planeswalkers. Fertile Ground and Mind Stone are the accelerants, along with Garruk in late game scenarios, to power out an extremely robust Profane Command. Masked Admirers gives the deck a reusable creature engine that remains intact after a Damnation, and Siege-Gang is that creature that they have to deal with before you untap with it or they lose.
He also managed to fit in Treetop Village in an extremely complex manabase which needs to cast GG, BB, and RR spells. The sideboard adds a bit more to the Liliana package by including several one-ofs like Akroma's Memorial, which would cause quite the headache for any opposing Red decks and can be powered out as early as turn 4 with Fertile Ground and Garruk. The rest of his sideboard seems to be filler against aggro decks, and Extirpate to stop the Mannequin, Blink, and Teachings decks.
Nath of the Gilt-Leaf is a pretty obscure choice that doesn't seem to do anything favorable for the deck. I can't imagine a situation where you would tutor for him over another dooder, or want to even draw him over any of the other cards. I'm also really curious if splashing Siege-Gang is worth the mana troubles it causes. It seems like you could revert to a G/B base with more basic lands and possibly a couple of tutor targets for Liliana to shore up any bad matchups. However, the turn 3 Garruck, turn 4 Siege-Gang might be tempting enough to stray from conventional logic.
This kind of deck will have a lot of problems with the Blue permission-based decks that succeeded on the day since it can't really sneak any big threats in early, and once its mana gets worked out the permission decks will have counters all the way up the curve and usually enough card draw to basically stop every spell you play. Another problem I see in this list is that it has a hard time playing multiple threats per turn early enough to gain an advantage before the control decks engines start roaring.
Still, there are a lot of huge impact cards in this deck that all seem to synchronize with the Planeswalkers to form a tight little package if unopposed, and sometimes all you need is some fatty boom booms.
7. Guile Elopes with Pact of Negation (pictures soon to come)
The deck of the weekend is clearly the mono-Blue permission deck piloted by Guacamole Waffle-Tacos and Amiel Teneb-and-balm.
This deck is a well-oiled engine, pumping out diesel fumes that would give young children asthma. Oftentimes, when you look at a deck, the first thing that stands out is an awkward number of a certain card, like 3 Tarmogoyf, or random untutorable one-ofs. This deck doesn't have any! It's just a streamlined deck that will do tha damn thang over and over again in consistent fashion. When building a deck with a butt load of counters, it's best to use a curve of sorts leading up to your best counterspell, which in this case is Cryptic Command.
After testing the deck on MWS I found that you can actually upgrade this by improving the mana. Perhaps I'm just a storage fanatic, but I'd really like to max out the storage department with another couple of Dreadship Reef. I understand the importance of being able to make Detritivore less effective, but there was only 3 copies of Detritivore in the Top 8, and the trend after large professional level standard tournaments is that they will shape the metagame immensely. I just don't think you need to fear Detritivore as much as you had to going into Krakow. Of course, you could always just play another Tolaria West an a Dreadship Reef. One of the problem with maxing out Tolaria West in this deck, as opposed to Teachings, is that this deck never wants to tap mana on its own turn unless absolutely necessary. Tolaria West becomes pretty inefficient when you have to leave an ample amount of mana up to deal with whatever threats your opponent could throw at you next turn.
The sideboard is also very well executed, providing a nice creature sideboard to make any long term disruption strategies less effective, along with giving an optional proactive way to kill your opponent if time becomes a problem. The best part about the sideboard is that if they see very few creatures game 1 and sideboard out all their Shriekmaw, Eyeblight's Ending, Incinerate, and Oblivion Rings. Thus making Sower of Temptation and Razormane Masticore FBBs in their own right.
Awesome list, sure to become a Standard staple for the next few months. I guess this brings the price on Eyes of the Wisent up a bit too?
6. Auschwitz Uncovered
"Krakow is rich in history going back to the Romanesque structures seen in the city.
An added attraction is the famous, 700-year-old Wieliczka salt mine nearby with its magnificent St.Kingais Chapel carved of salt 125 meters underground. Like old Krakow, it is listed by UNESCO as World cultural heritage site.
Located not far from Krakow is the site of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. A memento from the World War 2."
While this section from the Wizards fact sheet about GP: Krakow is supposed to encourage you to attend the Grand Prix, I hardly believe that the Auschwitz camp should be described as a "memento" from World War 2. Not the best turn of phrase I've ever heard....
5. DO NOT PLAY THIS DECK (as is atleast)
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Mistbind Clique
- 4 Mystic Snake
- 3 Pestermite
- 4 Scion of Oona
- 4 Scryb Ranger
- 4 Spellstutter Sprite
- 2 Wall of Roots
There were a handful of unique and creative standouts in the Krakow Top 8. This is not one of them. This deck is awful, and I suspect the only way Robert Jacko did well was by getting paired up against aggro every round, then drawing Loxodon Warhammer with Scion of the Oona backup. Every game. Not kidding.
In all seriousness though, this deck is a pile. However, there are ways to make it better. There is something to be said about the Faeries curve, in that it can completely overwhelm the opponent with a mass of marginally-sized fliers backed up by Scion of the Oona. My one big problem with this deck is its lack of a way to abuse Scryb Ranger. The creatures aren't big enough to play defense, so untapping them is completely irrelevant unless you have a Birds of Paradise in play. If I were going to make a few snips here and there, I'd add Spectral Force. Somewhere, anywhere.
Another shining flaw in this deck is its lack of consistency. Without any way to manipulate your deck, your draws will have a much larger variance than most decks in the format, which would most likely lead to consistency issues and heavy mulliganing. Unfortunately, the coverage staff were a bit short and could only cover two matches, so we never actually got to see the deck in action. It has a lot of annoying problem creatures, but no real way to ensure that you draw the right components each game. Think Twice or Ponder would might make a strong addition to the deck, which could help solve this problem, but honestly I don't really know what to cut. The deck depends on a high number of Faeries to make all the other cards more efficient, but Wall of Roots and Loxodon Warhammer stand out as obvious cuts since they inhibit the deck from playing at instant speed. More Psionic Blasts are probably needed, as two is such a random number and can't really be taken seriously in the deck as is. Same goes for the random Remove Soul and Warhammer. The deck just doesn't have enough manipulation to support such abstract numbers.
4. GWT: The Man, The Legend, The Level 6 Pro Who Has No Ambitions For POY?!?!?
When the Top 8 was called, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa was poised to make a dent on the tournament, finishing the swiss with 38 points as 3rd overall. That 3rd place seeding is what killed him, as he was forced to play against the 6th seed, his formidable fellow French friend Olivier Ruel. Wafo-Tapa humbly conceded to Ruel since he had already locked up the illustrious Level 6 status in the Pro Players Club and had no ambitions to chase the Player of the Year title. Still, sitting at 52 points on the season tied in second place with Kurihara, trailing Saitou by only five pro points, one might think he was completely bonkers to do so.
In fact, I'm actually pretty upset at GWT. If he makes somewhat of a run at Worlds I hope he falls short by a couple of points so he can look back at this and know that he could have been the one to dethrone the Japanese from their coveted POY title they've held the past few years. But alas, it looks like Cheon is our best hope at taking down that small island.
Another interesting fact is the large number of Level 6s at the end of this year. Saitou, Kenji, Shingou Kurihara, Guillaume, and Cheon all have secured Level 6 spots next season, with Olivier and Raphael Levy both having promising chances. Having seven Level 6s seems like a bit much to me, and I'm sure Wizards isn't too happy about it either.
Olivier Ruel reached his monumental 20th Grand Prix Top 8 this past weekend, making people wonder how the hell Alex Shvartsman got to 21 so damn quick. Oli is about to reach his 10th year on the PT, giving him a little over two Grand Prix Top 8s per year, which is pretty impressive all things considered. Especially since he had a six-month ban in there. Here's his deck:
- 4 Epochrasite
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 4 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 4 Shadowmage Infiltrator
- 4 Shriekmaw
- 1 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 4 Phyrexian Ironfoot
A classic example of an Olivier Ruel deck... a steady and powerful base with a pair of miser's cards to luck out against his opponents. All in all a pretty solid looking list. Profane Command has been a bit of sleeper but it really does add a lot to this deck. It acts as reanimation spell #6-7 and gives you a virtual Fireball to take any gutsy opponents out, along with a handy little spell to take out annoying creatures like Stuffy Doll or the occasional Doran.
Damnation seems out of place in this deck. However, I suppose it does fit the Suspend Cloudskate / Epochrasite / Damnation curve. One of the strategy's to beat a deck like this is to overload the board to get in as much damage as possible, and Damnation really fits the bill at negating those kinds of troublesome situations. Still, with Shriekmaw's and Cloudskates coming into play and Mannequin's to reanimate them it doesn't seem like you'd need a card with such a drawback against the decreasing aggro decks in the upcoming Standard format. I understand Damnation doesn't really hurt you that much since there is a lot of card advantage in the deck, but there has to be a better option.
Its place in the deck might be better suited as a versitile weapon against control that could double down against aggro decks. I would first recommend going down to 60 cards, then possibly including one more Venser and another Grim Harvest in place of the Damnations, which could be moved to the sideboard.
2. The Rise of Cheon
I didn't get the chance to talk to Cheon or LSV prior to Krakow, and I didn't even know they were attending until I did my customary Ctrl+F "USA" to see what youngsters would waste their time to venture to foreign GPs (cough *SADIN* cough). My first result was Dusan Prikazsky hailing from the SVK, followed swiftly by two of the quickest upstarts the U.S. has seen in quite some time in Luis-Scott Vargas and Paul Cheon.
Being an admirer of Cheon's resolve and clear supremacy to all other mages known to man, I feel its time we cut off the "Paul" that has clearly been weighing him down from a PT Sunday appearance, much like former one-namers like Kenji, Oiso, Osyp, Saito, and Melvin. In fact, Wizards should rename the tournament "The Rise of Cheon," since this is his first of many pro-level tournament wins, which also makes his FOURTH GP Top 8 of the season. Incredible, and to think he's from the U.S. of all places.
One of the most astonishing things about his giant leap is that he was Level 2 at the end of last year, meaning he jumped four levels in one season. I'm not sure about the exact records or anything, but I'm pretty sure that hasn't been done too much in the illustrious history of Magic. Here's the deck he played:
- 3 Brine Elemental
- 4 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
- 2 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
- 2 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 4 Phyrexian Ironfoot
This deck is pretty solid, yet not exciting in the least. Honestly, this deck just looks like an awkward collection of good cards, which is an even bigger testament to Cheon's playing ability. The numbers for this deck just can't be right; you don't have the ability to draw nearly enough cards to make two Teferi and three Wrath of God work, not to mention how awkward Ironfoot works with Wrath. Traditionally, Ironfoot has been that awesome three-drop that holds to ground to set up the Pickles lock... however, when you have Wrath, it makes the situation a little more awkward since you get less of an advantage from casting the four mana sorcery. Leading out with Ironfoot is a nice play to mask the Wrath though, since they probably won't put you on one if you send a creature out pretty quickly to force them to overextend.
The sideboard looks like another hodge-podge of "good cards" to glue up some holes in various matches without any clear focus or tactic other than just bringing in "good cards." I'm thinking cutting Ironfoot from the maindeck to include a 3rd Teferi, 4th O-Ring and Wrath, along with a 4th Brine Elemental would be the best step in making this deck a little more consistent. That way you can really work the Wrath game, and the threat of Teferi is much more prevalent, enabling you to mix up your game plan a little more often.
Also, after playing with the deck on MWS I really want more charge lands, so possibly a pair of Dreadship Reef over a couple of Islands. With the big showing of control decks at Krakow, the control matchups are bound to be a bit more popular, and the mana advantage the storage lands provide are a critical key to winning those games.
Sanchez: First off, congrats on the win, but seriously, this is the first Grand Prix that you've ever traveled outside the U.S. for (excluding Montreal). What kind of expectations and mindset did you have going into it?
Cheon: I had 41 pro points going in, so between this Grand Prix, Daytona, and Worlds I needed to pick up nine points. The plan was to get two from each of the GPs and 5 from Worlds. Those were the realistic expectations that I had going in. Anything worse would be a disappointment, but considering that it would be a 1,000 man tournament, not getting there was also realistic and I knew that risk was there.
Do you have any rituals that you use before a tournament to get prepared? For instance, in the competitive eating World many starve themselves for a few days prior to a major eating competition. Well, that was a pretty bad example, but it's not uncommon for superstitious Magicians to use a certain color of sleeves or use the same dice, pen, or score pad, and even shuffle the exact same way each time. Do you have any such superstitions?
Hrm, not that I know of... Short answer for a long question. =P
So you're telling me you don't feel the need to appease the Gods by sitting on the North or East side of the table each round?
Heh, nope. Whatever side I manage to be on first, I sit there.
That semifinal match opposite Olivier Ruel was pretty epic, and was by far the highest profile match that you've ever had to play in an elimination round. Sure, sure you could make the point that you squared off against Levy in the finals of GP: Dallas, but let's be serious here, Levy is no Ruel (no offense to Levy). What kind of mindset did you have to maintain while playing against such a well-known master? Nervous? Pumped? Terrified?
I know Luis played and beat Olivier in an earlier feature match, so that gave me great confidence. Luis also told me that the match-up really wasn't that bad. Going in I already beat 2 Mannequin decks albeit in 3 games, but after sideboard I feel that it heavily favors me. In terms of my mindset, I just took it like I took any other match. Do what I have to do to win. The only difference is that I can't anticipate him to make too many mistakes but there are also plays you can make against the really good players that you would not dream of making against others.
A little pumped, definitely nervous, but also confident... I guess that's how I felt.
You mentioned plays that you can make against good players that you wouldn't dream of making against others. What are some examples of this?
I knew Olivier was aware of me being able to Brine him at any given point so he tried his best to play around this. This allowed me to Rune Snag some of his spells even when he had the mana to pay for them. Other players wouldn't be aware enough to do this and would have simply paid.
You've made the finals of two previous Grands Prix this season. After defeating Ruel, did you ever doubt that you would eventually win this tournament?
To be honest, I actually had no idea what Amiel was playing after I beat Olivier. Somebody had to tell me that he was playing Mono-Blue Guile Control, and I had no clue what that meant. I was under the impression that he was playing Pickles!
After looking at his list, it seemed like it would be a bad match up for me as all he had were counterspells, card draw spells, and solid win conditions....
My advantage was that I had four storage lands to his two and two more lands than he did. I've never played against Amiel before, but I did know that he wasn't somebody to take lightly. Still, I beat several control mirrors that week and I had no doubt that if I play my cards right, I would come away with the win.
When you used that fateful Oblivion Ring to take away Amiel's Sower of Temptation in Game 3, what exactly was going through your mind when you realized you had overcome your curse of falling short in the finals? Also, if you could have called one person on the planet at that moment, who would it be and why?
I knew I had the advantage in the game as soon as my Jace resolved in turn 3 and allowed me to just draw many more cards than him. I played him on turn 3 and the game had to have gone to turn 15 or so. Twelve cards off that single Jace. It got to the point where he would use counterspells to my suspended Ancestral Visions when I had seven cards in hand the whole time.
This allowed me to milk a bunch of his counters on my Visions and I was able to build up enough counters to win the relevant counter wars later on in that match. When I finally resolved the Ring and he extended his hand, words couldn't really describe the feeling of joy that I had. All the work and dedication I put into Magic this season felt like it culminated with this win as it locked up Level 6 and broke the "curse" if you will.
If I had to call somebody it would have to be my Dad, he was against me playing the game for a living in the beginning but he eventually came around and everybody wants to have their parents' approval and support when pursuing anything in their lives.
Earning yourself Level 6 status for all of next year, you also propelled yourself into a decent position in the Player of the Year race. With only eight points between Tomoharu and yourself, do you feel a bit more pressure to do well at the tournaments leading up to Worlds?
I haven't even considered the POY race until somebody brought it up after I won this event. I wish there was something more on the line for POY other than just the title. As of now, there isn't too much of a difference between a Level 6 and the player of the year. A suite is nice and all, but in all honesty you use your room for sleep and shower when going to a Magic tournament so it's a bit unnecessary. If there was some money on the line, or even pro points for the next season, that would make it a juicier goal to obtain.
That's why Wafo-Tapa conceded to Olivier in the Top 8 of the tournament, as he too saw the near irrelevant status of POY. So I don't really feel extra pressure to pursue the Player of the Year, but these tournaments do offer cash prizes that are nothing to laugh about, and trying to do as well as possible should always be the goal.
Thanks for your time Paul, and good luck bringing home to POY title to the U.S. at Worlds!
Yeah, no problem, thanks a lot!
(I'm not sure if he meant no problem for the interview, or no problem winning POY...)
That's that for The Krakow 10, ladies and gentlemen... tune in next week for The Kiittkkaayyyuuusshhhuuu 18!
Thanks for reading,
Top 5 Picks
1) First Breathe After Coma - Explosions in the Sky
2) Missed The Boat - Modest Mouse
3) Waters Of Nazareth - Justice
4) At The End Of The Day - Amon Tobin
5) All My Stars Aligned - St. Vincent