Reflecting Ruel - Travel Disasters, and M10 Limited
This is the story of a man who only wins in the formats he hates the most; who goes to the other side of the world to play in this very format but who may have to go back home without touching a single card. This is the story of the French administration and of the most uncertain trip I’ve made in fifteen years of Magic…
I lost my passport the night before I had to fly to Pro Tour: Philadelphia but I made it.
I missed the last New York-Boston flight on the night before a team Pro Tour in Massachusetts but I made it.
I took the last flight from New York on September 10th 2001 and I made it.
I was almost deported (for not turning back my green paper to the immigration after a previous trip) before Grand Prix: New Jersey but I made it.
I arrived in London the day before the Pro Tour in the middle of the terrorist attacks but I made it.
I bought a Paris-Tokyo ticket at the last minute arriving in the Japanese capital at 9pm the night before Grand Prix: Shizuoka when I had no idea where Shizuoka actually was. but I made it. (That’s a cool story by the way… I’ll have to write about it someday!)
I’ve had countless problems due to bad luck (a little) and lack of organization (a lot) in my 15 years of Magic. But so far I’ve never ever missed one of the approximately 175 Pro Tour/Grand Prix/Nationals/Invitational tournaments for which I’ve had a ticket.
However I’ve never been as scared of missing any event as I am right now.
You know the beginning of the story if you read my column regularly. I don’t like M10 Limited much but I somehow won the most recent Grand Prix in this format in Brighton which gave me enough money pro points self confidence and motivation to go take my chances in Thailand and Japan over the next two weekends. The first thing I decide is I’ll go if I can find both tickets for a maximum of €1200 (about $1800) as the two appearance fee (2 x $500) and the fact that I can stay at friends in both countries is going to limit the investment.
Let’s see… Lille to London by train €90 both ways. London to Bangkok €550 plus Bangkok to Osaka €460… that’s €1100 I’m good!
So I buy my tickets online check I’ve received confirmation and leave to Paris to visit friends and family. On Monday two days after I actually bought the tickets I realize I have forgotten a rather important detail. My passport expires in two months and a week while many countries ask for a passport valid for several months after the date of the trip. A touch worried I go to the first travel agency I find.
“Thailand and Japan you say? You need a passport valid for six months after the trip.”
No time to think I advance my return to Lille. The clock is now running… I have now 72 hours to get a new passport. First stop: the city office. They make special passports in case of emergency and they can get me one within 48 hours. In order to do so they ask me for papers I can get easily except for a birth certificate from my town of birth (about 250 km/150 miles from here) which they will ask to be faxed the following morning. It is now 4pm and my file must absolutely be at the prefecture passport office at 11:30am on the next morning.
Tuesday 8:30am. I start the inventory of the required documents to make sure I don’t forget anything.
Two Identical ID pictures: check!
A certificate that proves I live in Lille: check!
A note from my employer justifying the emergency (in this case a letter from WOTC): check!
Plane tickets: oh yeah I almost forgot about that… let’s print them.
When I open the different emails the travel company has sent me I find two confirmations but only one e-ticket. Therefore I decide to give them a ring. After 10 minutes of bad and excessively noisy musical wait (one of the stupidest human creations in history by the way) I eventually get to talk to someone to whom I explain my problem.
“So sir I guess you’ve made the two reservations within a short period?”
“Then it’s all good. What is happening is normal you received two confirmations mails but only one e-ticket.”
“Normal? Which means I have one or two tickets?”
“Only one sir.”
“So you’re telling me if I had gone to the airport they would have had no proof of me having bought a ticket despite the confirmation mail?”
“So you’re telling me I’m going to have to buy a last minute ticket because of your site’s malfunctions and you’re telling me it’s absolutely normal.”
“Indeed sir absolutely normal.”
I could have given the gentleman a piece of my mind but I was too shocked both by the bad news and by the calm manner in which he announced it. If the man was a doctor I ‘m pretty sure his colleagues would always send him announce deaths to their patient’s families.
I guess I had more important things to think of at that time. The only flight I had now was Bangkok to Osaka so I was in a hurry. If I were to buy a new and more expensive ticket and get a passport on time it would be fine but if the passport was not ready before my departure then I would be in big trouble. However being an extremely optimistic (or is it just stupid?) man I was still convinced my passport would be ready on time… so I bought another ticket €110 more expensive than the previous one but departing a little later to allow my passport to be ready on Thursday morning. Maybe it was not that bad after all.
I go to the city office and check my inventory again:
Previous passport: check!
Birth certificate: almost done. According to the nice lady from the city office (whom I shall now refer to as Sophie as it’s shorter than “the nice lady from the city office” and she actually was cool enough to deserve personification) it will only take a phone call five minutes and two faxes for my file to be complete.
Allow me to step aside from my story for a minute… I’d like to talk about the employees at my local city office. They are nice they are always polite and they always try to help you which they manage to do because they are also very competent! It may sound normal but in French administration one would call that an exception. Ever heard of our “fonctionnaires”? They are the members of “la fonction publique” (the public function) a collective term for all the people employed by the State and who have their job secured for life and therefore don’t work very hard as they know they can’t lose it. [In the UK that’s the Civil Service – Craig amused.]
In France they are the people you absolutely don’t want to deal with.
It feels very weird to enter Lille’s city office to discover all those nice and able people as if some pieces had miraculously escaped the global formatting (also called the ”useless bastard formatting” or UBA for specialists) to be raised in some kind of Teletubby perfect world. Drancy’s administration on the other hand was about to remind me of this unique moment of enjoying speaking to “fonctionnaires.” Meeting two nice examples of such folk on the same day (Sophie and a colleague of hers) is about as common as a full solar eclipse. The possibility of meeting three is infinitesimal as the city office of my lovely home-town of Drancy would remind me. Being born in “La Clinique du Bois d’Amour” (the Wood of Love clinic) surely sounds pretty cool but the price to pay for that is very high.
Sophie tries a preliminary call. No one answers. A second call? Still no response. As I have the number of the city office I give it a try in the meantime. Someone eventually picks up! Nice! I give Sophie the phone and she explains to the person on the line the emergency of my situation.
”All good… it will be done in a minute” she says.
It is now 10am and I have 90 minutes to receive the papers and reach the prefecture 100 meters from here.
10:15am: no fax yet.
10:30am: no fax yet.
10:45am: still no fax.
11:00am: nope still no fax.
This is getting annoying and Sophie decides to give them another call. Guess what? No answer…
I phone them myself. On my second try I manage to reach the same person I spoke to over an hour ago. I explain my problems over again.
“I don’t understand what you want sir.”
My rush made me forget who I was talking to. I probably used too many complex words words with three syllables. I repeat my sorry and simplify it.
“But we have received no fax sir! Let me check again.”
(I hear her walking away from the phone and talking to one of her colleagues.)
“Oh there’s no paper in the fax machine!”
(And now she’s coming back.)
“We’ve had a little technical problem with the machine but it works now. You understand it’s the summer holidays and there are only four of us working today!”
“It will be ready any minute!”
Of course it was not.
At 11:30 I went to the prefecture to explain my problem. Luckily the person I met told me an error-free file should be processed within 24 hours. The fax eventually arrived in the afternoon and I went to the prefecture to give them my file full of optimism. In the queue I was the happy possessor of ticket #2. The person before me left the office wishing me “good luck with those bastards.” It was pretty close to what I would repeat a few minutes later to the owner of ticket #3.
They wouldn’t make my passport.
Emergency passports are only allowed once a lifetime and I had used mine when I had lost my passport before. It was obviously my responsibility not to lose such an important document and to pay more attention to its validity dates but that was not what made me really mad. The person “helping” me had no idea what the concepts of politeness and respect could mean.
She could have said “hi.” She didn’t.
She could have said “goodbye.” She didn’t.
She could have smiled been nice or looked sorry for me at any time. She didn’t.
She could have considered that it was not such a great idea to almost call an idiot announcing that I had just lost about €2000 in tickets and appearance fees and two weeks of holidays. She obviously did not.
After five minutes of panic I regained my calm and triggered Plan B. Get letters from WOTC explaining the situation so I could show it to the immigration go take my planes as if everything was normal.
So here I am on London’s Piccadilly Line heading towards the airport for what may be my shortest stay in a foreign country.
Will I be denied the access to Thailand after a 20-hour trip? Will I be deported and miss both GPs? Will I actually be able to compete in Bangkok but not to enter Japan? What actually happens when you’re denied an access to a country?
I guess I’ll have interesting tournament reports to write!
For now you may call me exaggeratedly optimistic denying reality or maybe just stupid but I’m convinced I will not only play those tournaments but also crush them*. I never feel stronger than when against a fierce opposition and when the best case scenario involves 95 hours of planes trains and buses** to play in a format I despise I guess I couldn’t hope for a better warm up!
I guess my pre-report could end here but it won’t. After all I haven’t said a single word about strategy and this is a premium article! So let’s get to it.
Impressions of M10
Despite the uncertainty of the whole trip I practiced as if I was going to play in three straight Grand Prix tournaments (including Prague) and will now share with you my first impressions of M10 Limited. I’ll tell you about cards archetypes and synergies that have struck me so far in both good and bad ways.
There are three archetypes I would highly recommend you avoid.
Black Green and White have many more playables than Blue and Red in M10. However Blue/Red is not one of the three archetypes I am referring to. Considering Red’s excessive popularity and the small amount of playables in both colors the archetype is risky but the synergy is clear and the two colors’ union often relies on cards that are not so popular (like Jackal Familiar Goblin Piker Coral Merfolk Panic Attack and the flyers). It can actually be quite efficient.
Black White and Green are meant to be main colors. Black’s early drops are often double Black if not more (Looming Shade Tendrils of Corruption) while White relies mostly on its own early drops. That’s why the mixture of the two is the most fragile and irregular archetype in the format and therefore the one I’d like to play the least. Synergy is bad and any mana problem will kill you.
The Green and Black cards are just not synergic together and therefore I don’t feel like playing GB either. The deck has a lot of playables - you should never be short there and your average card will be just fine. Sadly a M10 deck needs bombs/synergy to win and GB rarely has the latter.
I don’t mind drafting WG as those two colors can be complementary. Indeed White flyers tricks and Pacifism fit the synergy and the curve where green decks need the most support (in the 2 and 4 slot).
Therefore the last thing I would not recommend (generally) is to go Red. Red has extremely powerful Rares and Uncommons but its commons are just too weak. If I open my draft with Lightning Bolt Fireball or Earthquake for instance I’ll try and go Green/something splash Red or GR with a very heavy Green base because it is the color which can splash the most naturally (Rampant Growth Borderland Ranger). Then of course if I get Dragon Whelp Chandra Nalaar Magma Phoenix or Goblin Artillery in the early picks I’ll consider a strong Red base but I’ll stay open to switching as long as I don’t have the guarantee the color is open.
Overrated Cards and Cards That Disappoint Me
Celestial Purge: An excellent sideboard card but not a maindeck one. This is not ACR anymore and the card is a free mulligan versus half the decks at the table while it’s only really good against two or three maximum.
Looming Shade: The card is amazing in Mono Black and good in decks which have at least 12 Swamps. Then it’s playable if you have 7 to 9 but it’s just not good. Black has many better three-drops in that case.
Undead Slayer: I face this card a lot but it’s definitely not a main deck card! It’s only good versus Black decks which are also those who should be able to deal with it the most easily. White’s strength compared to other colors (Red or Black in particular) is that it should be able to produce equally powerful creatures as those of the other colors for less mana. It has fewer power cards but that extra creature quality is supposed to compensate for that. If you’re not short on playables running a main deck Gray Ogre is a crime against your deck’s synergy.
Trumpet Blast: A Red aggro deck will trade blows very often which will cause many trades. Therefore the card is only interesting in a WR deck with first-strikers or in a UR deck with many flyers. But globally I like Panic Attack better in most decks and you don’t have many slots for cards which are not guys or removal.
Underrated Cards and Cards That Surprise Me
Entangling Vines: How can a Green Coma Veil be good? Simply by being in a format in which removal doesn’t always outnumber rares.
Berserkers of Blood Ridge: Considering you should be able to provoke trades in the early game and clean its path with removal and obviously considering that staying in defense is not in a Red 4/4 guy’s nature anyway you have a card that looks quite crappy but which is actually quite good.
Ice Cage: The card is in the main deck about as strong as Pacifism. It may be more fragile after boarding but it is still an absolute must when you play Blue! It’s worth pick 3 (maindeck) to 6 (after board) and certainly not pick 8 to pick 11 as it often is online.
Deathmark: Definitely a maindeck removal spell and a good one both in Sealed and Draft. The three dominant colors are Black White and Green and about 6 decks at the table should be running at least one of the two colors.
Gorgon’s Flail: An excellent card very synergic in Red and White decks (see below).
Merfolk Looter: I actually believe Merfolk Looter is the strongest common in the format. Slightly stronger than even Lightning Bolt and Doom Blade as it is the only common in M10 which has the possibility to win games on its own. Also just like Soul Warden it benefits from the fact that there’s not a single common pinger in the format.
Polymorph: Not a good card but definitely playable so don’t pass it forever in draft. The card has already won me several games in the format. It is clearly expensive but it can handle bombs and enchanted guys which is very appreciated if you are short on removal. It is at least a good sideboard way to kill a guy you can’t stop.
Combos and Tricks
Let’s now have a quick look over some combos and interesting interactions.
Vampire Nocturnus: I may be the only one who has never read the card as I’ve never played it but I discovered last time I faced it that it actually pumps the other vampires (Vampire Aristocrat and Child of Night).
Vampire Aristocrat/Stone Giant + Act of Treason: Makes the new Threaten a cheapest Slave of Bolas. I sometimes have the Aristocrat in the sideboard but I always board it in against Mind Control and very often against Tendrils Harm’s Way Pacifism and Ice Cage.
Megrim versus multiple Merfolk Looters: I realized in my latest draft (a Blue Green deck relying on triple Looter) that Megrim would have absolutely destroyed me. The card may be pretty bad but I think I’ll board it in some day in particular if I play discard spells myself.
Unholy Strength / Jump etc. versus Blue: Every cheap spell that targets is a good sideboard card versus Blue mages because of Ice Cage and Illusionary Servant. Try and get a pair in each sideboard. Alluring Siren is pretty good too against blue mages.
Harm’s Way + Deathtouch/Shroud: The strongest (and almost only) trick in the format only has one target. Therefore you can prevent damage from or to a Shroud creature. Also if you redirect damage from a Deathtouch guy it will automatically kill the creature of your choice. However pay attention; as the spell has only one target it will be countered if that target becomes illegal (via sacrifice bounce).
Twincast/Hive Mind: Both are pretty good sideboard cards against heavy removal/trick decks. However running Hive Mind requires running an extremely low number of non-guy spells except maybe for a few (Deathmark Flashfreeze Doom Blade) your opponent can’t necessarily copy.
Gorgon Flail + pingers: Kills any guys but the equipment is also excellent with first strikers and vigilance guys. It also destroys Ice Cage.
Goblin Artillery + Lifelink: First about Lifelink… remember the ruling of Lifelink has changed with M10 and playing it on an opponent’s guy is quite bad. The Artillery combo is excellent but unadvised as it’s too easily stoppable. I guess I’d board the Aura in against a deck like WG if I’ve the 1/3 in the main.
Capricious Efreet + Vampire Aristocrat/Regenerators: With Drudge Skeletons or Wall of Bones you have the guarantee never to lose a permanent. If you have Aristocrat bear in mind you don’t have to target two guys belonging to your opponent. If you target one on each side and kill one of yours (with the Aristocrat ideally) you’ll be able to kill the guy of your choice for sure.
Fireball + Illusionary Servant: If your opponent has let’s say a Servant and a Looter you can kill them both with a Fireball and three lands. You just have to divide one rounded down between both. As the 3/4 dies before the spell resolves it deals one damage to the last available target (the Looter).
My flight is boarding right now… Cross your fingers for me!
* Rereading this I think my next two columns may be embarrassing if I do badly… or of course if I don’t even make it to the events.
** Yes buses! Haven’t I mentioned my night trip from Osaka to Niigata because my bad Japan geography made me take a ticket to the wrong city? Funny story… hopefully I’ll tell you about it next week!