United States Nationals is right around the corner and for the first time in a long time I do not feel adequately prepared for a tournament. I’ve run into this problem before and when I do things do not end up very well for me. The problem I’m having is that I don’t like any of the viable decks. That’s a weird thing to say especially because I think Standard is a healthy format but I’m not getting any enjoyment out of the decks I am testing. Even worse my results on MTGO are reflecting that.
I’ve examined my testing process over the past few days but I don’t see any flaws there. As usual I pick up a deck for a few days on MTGO work the mistakes out of my system and decide if I think the deck is good or not by the end of a 48-hour stint. I think 48 hours gives me a good opportunity to examine each deck under a microscope instead of playing a deck for 2-3 queues and scrapping it because of bad draws mulligans poor sideboarding etc. I’ve gone through this process with 4-5 decks and none of them have really impressed me.
The first deck I tried - and this dates back to GenCon - was the Pyromancer’s Ascension combo deck. Like I said last week the deck is quite powerful and borderline unbeatable when its namesake card is active. The problem I ran into is that the deck has been talked about by numerous people in the past week. With GerryT and Chapin highlighting the deck in their recent articles the deck is no longer under the radar and people will begin to take the deck seriously. When people take a fragile combo deck like Pyromancer’s Ascension seriously it suddenly becomes much more difficult to win. Flashfreeze was always going to be a mainstay in the format but when Celestial Purge Qasali Pridemage and even Naturalize start seeing play consistently in sideboards it makes things a lot more difficult for a Pyromancer’s Ascension player. After playing a lot of queues and not winning due to people over-sideboarding for the hot new combo deck (which I also expect to happen at U.S. Nationals) I decided to move on to Jund.
We all know I hate Jund but I really want to represent the National team this year. So I set aside my hatred for Sprouting Thrinax and company contacted the Owen Turtenwald for his newest decklist and got to testing. Initially things were going really well as I was the ignoramus who was cascading perfectly with Bloodbraid Elf and drawing multiple Blightnings when my opponent mulliganed to five. I thought I had found my deck for this coming weekend until something incredibly annoying started happening.
I kept getting the opening hand of Maelstrom Pulse Lightning Bolt Bloodbraid Elf and four lands (one of which was a man-land and all of your colors). How many of you would keep this opening hand game 1 against a mystery opponent?
I am keeping this opening hand every time. It has all the colors of mana Lightning Bolt to deal with the first threat Maelstrom Pulse to deal with the second threat and Bloodbraid Elf to do what Bloodbraid Elf does (read: whatever you need it to do!).
The problem with this opening hand is that it doesn’t beat that many decks. Sure it beats a creature deck like Mythic most of the time but this hand is average against UW Control average against a decent draw from Naya average against the mirror pretty bad against Pyromancer’s Ascension and terrible against RG Valakut. I try to stay pretty level-headed when I’m testing but this hand (or a variation of it) kept coming up and it’s a hand I don’t think can be mulliganed. If you think you can mulligan that hand what are you trying to mulligan into?
This is why I have never liked Jund. It gets awkward hands that are good against some decks and comically bad against others. Standard is as diverse a format as it ever has been and when a format has this many angles of attack it is not time for a super-powered Rock deck to reign supreme. Angles of attack include:
It just seems really tough to find a build of Jund that can compete with all these decks. All these decks no matter how much I hate them are viable decks (and I’m probably missing some.) They are going to be at Nationals and they cannot be ignored.
I grew tired of what felt like an uphill battle when playing Jund and went back to what I knew best: Turboland!
We all know I love Turboland but I don’t think there could be a worse time to play it. As I stated earlier Pyromancer’s Ascension is the new kid on the block and its garnering a lot of attention. As such people are playing it like crazy to see just how good it is. In their testing they were finding out at the expense of me that their Turboland matchup was very good. I came to terms with that matchup being poor but what surprised me was how bad the Naya matchup had become.
Before M11 the Naya matchup could be classified as a joke. For Naya to win it had to draw Vengevine plus Elspeth Knight-Errant to win and Turboland could beat that a good amount of the time due to All Is Dust and Roil Elemental. But with the addition of Fauna Shaman this matchup has changed dramatically. Turboland has no way to stop Fauna Shaman from doing whatever it wants. A turn 2 Fauna Shaman meant Vengevines were coming whether I liked it or not. So what was a matchup that I loved being paired against has now become a coin flip or worse.
Mythic has waned in popularity but that matchup was awful. Mana Leak being in print hasn’t helped it and God forbid if they adopt a Fauna Shaman engine. U/W Control has adopted a ton of counterspells and Jace Beleren to make the matchup much more difficult. And let’s not forget about Jund. This matchup was always close to begin with and while I expected to beat it Jund can beat anything.
My poor poor Turboland deck. I had to shelve that too!
I tried out Mythic a little and wanted to hang myself every time my Lotus Cobra got blown up or countered. I tried out RG Valakut but ramp decks without Blue just never felt right to me. I even tried out Runeflare Trap but you couldn’t pay me enough to play with a Howling Mine deck.
And so now I am here. Deckless and frustrated. Wondering what direction to go. Anyone have any bright ideas? Submit them to the forums if you do!
Let’s move onto something much more enjoyable shall we? Like my Hall of Fame vote! Now before you ask I don’t know why I have a Hall of Fame vote either but it sure is awesome that I do! One thing I keep reminding myself of is that the Hall of Fame is a privilege and an honor. I am taking my vote very seriously and I hope everyone else is too!
My ballot right now is the following (and it is subject to change… it does quite frequently):
Gabriel Nassif – If you don’t have Nassif as a first ballot Hall of Famer you shouldn’t have a vote. Gabe is great for the game great at the game and an all round great human being. I haven’t had much experience with Yellow Hat in my life but the one that I had at Worlds last year is more than enough proof that he is a good guy and Hall of Fame worthy:
Last year as many of you know I qualified for Worlds on literally the last weekend possible. Unsure how I was going to fund my trip I touched down in Rome with $20 in hand no place to stay and pretty much no plan. I ran into Nassif at the event site on the Wednesday before Worlds and asked for a monetary loan. With no questions asked he said “Sure! Congrats on making it here. How much do you need?” Nassif and I don’t know each other that well. We are friends with the same people but we’ve never really hung out or anything. We acknowledge each other whenever we are at a tournament and move on with our lives. For him to for lack of a better term save me just shows what kind of guy he is. He has my vote not just because of how he helped me in my time of need but because I grew up hoping to be as good as him when I was younger. Congrats Hat. You earned it buddy!
Brian Kibler – There are a lot of things I love about Kibler but the biggest one is his love for the game. It shines through at every tournament he plays. Growing up I remember following “The Dragonmaster” and hoping he would win on a consistent basis. But it was in 2004 that I finally had a match against the legend himself. Now I have no idea if Brian will remember this match but I do…
It was at Grand Prix: Columbus in 2004. The format was Mirrodin / Mirrodin / Darksteel draft and at 18 years of age I was the only person psychotic enough to force Green in my drafts. Green was the under-drafted color at the time and I decided the only edge I could get on the pros was to force the under-drafted color and try to get lucky. My plan had been working to perfection as it was round 14 and I was in Top 8 contention. But when I saw my pairing I got quite nervous. Kibler was the person I was hoping to dodge the most but the winner made Top 8 so it was business time. I don’t remember our match all that well as it was six years ago but I remember casting Rebuking Ceremony on his Platinum Angel and my own artifact to clinch my only Grand Prix Top 8. Brian was gracious in defeat wished me well in the Top 8 and said I played well beyond my years. That kind of praise made my weekend.
I then ran into him in my first pod at Pro Tour: San Diego. We talked a bit and prepared to do battle. That tournament didn’t go well for me at all (0-3 in my first Pro Tour pod) but he talked to me all weekend to ensure I was enjoying myself. None of these things were necessary. He did them because he is a good guy. Fast-forward six years and Kibler and I are writing for the same website and he is still winning tournaments with under-costed flying monsters (Baneslayer Angel anyone?)
I truly believe Kibler is a first ballot Hall of Famer due to his love of the game and how he was able to take a break and come back stronger than ever. Oh and his Grand Prix: Sendai photo!
Anton Jonsson – Anton is before my time so I don’t have much to say about him due to my lack of interaction with him. But when I was younger I followed the pros on the internet. And in my stalking I always read that other pros said that Anton was one of the best Limited players of all time. I consider Limited to be the harder part of this game and just because someone is only great at one area of Magic doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be a Hall of Famer. I think Anton’s dominance of Limited makes him a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. But don’t take my word for it. Take Ted Knutson’s:
Five PT Top 8s (this basically auto-qualifies a candidate unless the guy is a real scumbag). Eight GP Top 8s all of them in Europe (additional degrees of difficulty). The bulk of his career came in the modern era (again an additional degree of difficulty). One of the undisputed best players in Limited for at least a five year period (2002-2006). He’s also Swedish (more bonus points).
The knock on Anton is that he was only a Limited player but he has a Constructed PT Top 8 (PT: New Orleans where Kai beat Walamies and EDT ate his hat and which boasts one of the more impressive Top 8s you’ll ever see) as well as two GP Top 8s in the only two Constructed Grands Prix he ever attended so how could you possibly not vote for him?
That’s good enough for me!
The other two are up in the air for me right now. Saito and his cheating incident is an interesting case for me. He is certainly Hall of Fame worthy but with this cheating incident looming it makes me wonder if he should be first ballot.
I’ve had no interactions with Bram but I’ve heard nothing negative about him. I’m really looking for a reason to vote him in outside of his resume.
Eugene Harvey is someone I always respected and I am surprised more people aren’t talking about him being inducted to the Hall of Fame. He was great for as long as he played and the fact no one is talking about him very much is criminal.
Chris Pikula is the person who has been the most controversial. Most Americans believe he should be in the Hall of Fame but there hasn’t been much said from the European side. I’ve never interacted with Chris but on his resume alone I feel he should be inducted. The problem I have on the resume alone issue is that Bram’s resume is better than Chris’s. If I have to go on simply a resume vote it would be Bram before Chris.
Like I said I still have a lot of research to do when it comes to this vote. Nassif is the only lock for my vote. The rest is still very much up in the air and will be until the final couple of days.
Hopefully I will be coming to you next week with a sweet Nationals performance but if I were a betting man I wouldn’t expect it. But who knows? Anything can happen in this wonderful game of Magic!
Until next week!