Hello I am Alex Binek a Magic player/college student from Champaign-Urbana IL and I recently won the biggest tournament of my career. Prior to this event I played at PT San Diego in 2010 a bunch of Midwest SCG Open Series and events like the Midwest Masters Series Invitational.
When I first read about the World Magic Cup Qualifier tournaments I was really excited to try to qualify. So I traveled around to a few tournaments in the Midwest in an attempt to rack up some Planeswalker Points. I attended SCG Open Series: Memphis where I went 6-3 and made Top 8 of a Draft Open. I then got back on the road a couple weeks later to attend GP Nashville my first ever Grand Prix. While I finished 8-1 on Day 1 Day 2 didn't quite go as planned. I went 2-4 in Draft finishing one win out of the money.
While I was a little bit bummed out that I didn't get there I was stoked to have made Day 2 played a couple of pros and most importantly have accomplished my goal of racking up enough points for the WMCQs.
We had a handful of people in the CU area qualified for the WMCQs so we developed a big testing group. For two weeks prior to the tournament we spent every night grinding in Standard matches at either the Illini Union or Dave Kolchowsky's house.
After we saw GerryT's U/W Delver list crush SCG Open Series: Nashville we knew what we were up against and got to planning. Two of our team members were all-in on joining up with the Delver/Angel plan so they were the primary pilots of that deck in our testing.
I agree that the deck is extremely powerful but I did not want to face off in mirror matches all day and definitely thought that it could be beaten. I went back and forth between Esper Control and Wolf Run Ramp all week. I love the raw power level that Wolf Run offers and I believed strongly that the dominance of Delver strategies would limit the number of Zealous Conscripts that would ruin my day. So I settled on this Wolf Run Ramp list that I thought would give me the best shot at taking down U/W Delver thanks to Cavern of Souls:
First a couple of quick thoughts about the deck:
Four Cavern of Souls worked wonders for me. I had color troubles on occasion (especially with trying to cast Slagstorm) but the games against blue decks where I went turn 3 Cavern on Golem for Solemn Simulacrum followed by turn 4 Cavern on Giant for a Titan were incredible. I saw so many people look shocked when I laid the second Cavern while they sat there with their Mana Leak up for both of the turns. There were very few matches where I didn't have an uncounterable threat when I needed it.
Beast Within is really powerful right now. If I didn't land an early Titan there are some cards in Standard that just win the game so quickly. Whether I was blowing up a Sword of Feast and Famine a Consecrated Sphinx or a planeswalker Beast Within was always great.
I literally always brought in the single Devil's Play for games 2 and 3. I still think that it belongs in the sideboard for game 1 but I was always able to find something to take out for it once I knew what I was up against.
Anyway by 6 AM on Saturday morning we were on the road leaving Champaign for St. Louis. Once we got to the tournament site we were shocked to see that it was so lightly attended. I bought sleeves and my last Combust from one of the dealers and got ready to go.
Here's a summary of how my tournament went:
Round 1: Chris Kelly with Naya Midrange (Humans?) 1-0
Round 2: John Milner with Esper Control 2-0
Round 3: Louis Kaplan with G/R Silverheart Aggro 3-0
Round 4: Timothy Jansen with U/W Delver 4-0
Round 5: Charles Bowman with U/W Delver 5-0
Round 6: Josh Lalo with Esper Control 5-1
Round 7: Joey Mispagel with B/R Zombies 6-1
Round 8: Draw with Brandon Downs 6-1-1
Quarterfinals: Greg Ogreenc with U/W Delver
Semifinals: Josh Lalo with Esper Control
Finals: Sam Black with U/W Midrange
Some of the more interesting matches:
Round 3: Louis Kaplan with G/R Silverheart Aggro
This match was extremely close and if I didn't have Beast Within I would have gotten smoked. He frequently paired up his Wolfir Silverhearts with random value cards like Borderland Ranger and hit me for a million. Mid-combat Beast Withins combined with Primeval Titan / Glimmerpost was enough to get there in three games. Game 3 ended with me swinging for exactly seventeen after trample with Primeval Titan + Inferno Titan when he had me dead on board the next turn.
Round 6: Josh Lalo with Esper Control
For the second time I was facing off against what I considered to be my worst matchup. The problem is that they have everything they need against me. Where the Delver decks have Vapor Snag Esper has Doom Blade Day of Judgment and Terminus. Where other decks have creatures that die to my sweepers Esper has very difficult to answer planeswalkers such as Tamiyo Gideon and Karn.
I barely got there in game 1 by playing my threats slowly and Josh running out of answers. Josh's Tamiyo was keeping my Giant Cavern of Souls tapped down while I was slowly battling it with a single Wolf token. He chose to miracle a Terminus to kill the Wolf even though I wasn't really threatening Tamiyo's livelihood all that much. I eventually worked up to enough mana to resolve a Titan through Mana Leak and slowly won from there. One mistake I made was waiting to Beast Within Josh's Tamiyo until it got up to eight loyalty. I was much more worried about Karn Liberated so I kept holding on to the Beast Within but if he had resolved Karn while still having Tamiyo on the board I was likely just dead even if I did turn Karn into a 3/3.
Games 2 and 3 were no fun at all. Game 2 I mulliganed to four and kept no lands triple ramp and a Titan. I lost to a speedy Restoration Angel. Game 3 I mulliganed to six keeping Huntmaster Rampant Growth Cavern Cavern and two more lands. I proceeded to draw many lands before seeing a Titan and by then he had a Karn Liberated rendering my Titan useless. Josh seemed like a really great guy and we would face off again in the Top 8.
Round 7: Joey Mispagel with B/R Zombies
This is definitely not the matchup I was hoping to have for my win-and-in. However I knew what I had to do to win the match and was prepared to do way too much math to try and stay alive long enough to stabilize.
Game 1 he killed me with two Diregraf Ghouls a Blood Artist a Geralf's Messenger a Falkenrath Aristocrat and a Mortarpod. I had resolved an Inferno Titan while on two life but he had the second Mortarpod in hand and a Geralf's Messenger in play to fling at me for exactsies.
I believe that I used Pillar of Flame incorrectly in this game. I was taking some pretty bad beats from his one-drops and did not have any action of my own for most of the game. On his turn 3 he did not play a Messenger and so I used a Pillar on one of the Diregraf Ghouls. The next turn he cast the Messenger. I believe that if I had saved the Pillar for Messenger I would have taken two less damage throughout the course of the game and been at two life with an Inferno Titan and an Inkmoth to block any further Aristocrats. Now that doesn't guarantee that I would have won as he would have had one more draw step to find either a Messenger burn or a Blood Artist.
I won game 2 in very short order with the old fashioned unanswered Titans on turns 4 and 5. Game 3 went very long and I did everything I could to stay alive. After a lot of grinding including me choosing to not cast my Slagstorm for what seemed like several turns the dust settled with both of us having nothing in hand. I was on seven life while he was on approximately seventeen.
He drew the first gas in the form of a Diregraf Ghoul which I followed up with Whipflare and Huntmaster of the Fells. On his next turn he cast another Ghoul; I bashed for four with Huntmaster / Wolf and then passed to flip him and kill the Ghoul. The only other spell he cast was an Act of Aggression to assist in blocking and draw a card off my Solemn Simulacrum but I ended up winning. 6-1 and locked for Top 8!
Quarterfinals: Greg Ogreenc with U/W Delver
I took the play having earned the third seed for the Top 8. Game 1 I got there with Titans while he did not really seem to have much gas. In game 2 I had a hand of three Titans with some ramp but zero Caverns. He stalled on three lands so when I got to six mana I chose to pass the turn rather than play into Mana Leak. He hit his fourth land the next turn and passed it back to me. I really did not want him to cast his Restoration Angel so I sent my first Primeval Titan into his Mana Leak played my seventh land and passed.
He passed it back to me but at this point I was content to continue to play around Mana Leak as I had lands eight and nine in hand. I played my eighth land and passed and he cast the expected Restoration Angel. He simply attacked me for three and passed it back. I untapped played my ninth land and second Primeval Titan which resolved and the game was fairly locked up from there.
Semifinals: Josh Lalo with Esper Control
Game 2 was one of the more memorable games I have ever played. I kept a very clunky six featuring Huntmaster of the Fells Devil's Play and Zealous Conscripts. We played draw-go for some time until I broke the silence when I ripped Cavern played it naming Human and cast my Huntmaster. He had the Doom Blade for the Huntmaster and my Wolf eventually traded with a Snapcaster that Pondered.
Nothing else really happened until Josh cast Karn Liberated. He +4ed Karn at me twice taking a Mountain each time. I was trying not to show any emotion as I avoided looking at Josh's Ghost Quarter hoping he would think my Human Cavern was just for that Huntmaster. I untapped with my Cavern intact and cast an uncounterable Zealous Conscripts to steal his Karn and restart the game with my two Mountains in play. I found out later from a spectator that he was holding two Mana Leaks and a Dissipate when that happened.
In game 3 I kept a hand with Primeval Titan two Beast Within and four lands including a Cavern of Souls. Having the benefits of starting the game with Sol Ring on my side and being on the play were more than enough to win me the game in short order. I used a Beast Within on his Darkslick Shores the turn before I cast Inferno Titan hoping he would no longer have black up for his Doom Blade. He did end up casting Doom Blade the next turn off of another Darkslick Shores but I followed that play up with Karn Liberated exiling the Shores and keeping him on two lands. That prompted a concession and it was off to the finals!
Finals: Sam Black with U/W Midrange
I had been sitting near Sam all day watching as he crushed most of his opponents in two quick games. He had yet to drop a match and I was very nervous. After some small talk Sam and I shuffled up and he took the play having earned the top overall seed. He tanked for a while on his hand and ended up keeping while I went down to six. I kept a very sketchy six for this matchup but it was lands and spells…so I went with it.
I went down to six cards again and this ended up being a very close game. He went on the beatdown early with Snapcaster Mage Restoration Angel and eventually Gideon Jura. On turn 4 I conveniently drew my second Cavern of Souls so I could play one of them naming Golem to insure my Solemn Simulacrum's safe entry to the battlefield to which he answered with an end step Restoration Angel. The next turn he tapped out for Gideon Jura and attacked me down to thirteen. I chose to play Rootbound Crag instead of the second Cavern because Sam was tapped out. I cast my Primeval Titan and made the risky choice of searching for Inkmoth/Kessig instead of Glimmerposts.
Sure enough Sam had the Vapor Snag and attacked me down to one with his team. The next turn I played my Cavern naming Giant (much to Sam's dismay) and resolved my Primeval Titan to gain four life off of Glimmerposts. I left up Inkmoth Rootbound Crag and one more land. Sam went to attack me with his Angel and I had the Combust for it. He then cast Consecrated Sphinx and passed the turn to me.
I now had a serious decision to make. I had not seen Sam cast a Mutagenic Growth at any point in the tournament and his Angel had just died to my Combust. However he had drawn two new cards since then and I did not want to take any risks because I was simply dead if I could not kill the Consecrated Sphinx. So I chose to Devil's Play the Sphinx for eight and then attack Gideon Jura down to one with Solemn Primeval Titan and Inkmoth.
I could have made sure that I killed Gideon with Kessig Wolf Run but really thought that hitting the Sphinx for eight was correct. I got two more Glimmerposts and was back up to a healthy thirteen life.
Now something happened here that caused about a ten-minute judge delay and I learned an incredibly valuable lesson about testing. We were moving fairly quickly and we moved through blockers while I was still shuffling off of the Primeval Titan trigger. The Solemn and Snapcaster traded in combat I asked to draw off of Solemn to which Sam acknowledged it with a yes and I set my deck down from shuffling and immediately drew the card without offering the deck to my opponent. It was a dumb mistake and I realized that my group was relatively lazy in our testing for playing at a tournament level with certain things like cutting the opponent's deck. In my future testing for tournaments I am definitely going to try to focus more on preparing for every single aspect of high-level play.
The judge ruled that it was a Game Rules Violation and only gave me a warning. The major discrepancy was that the judge staff did nothing to try to rectify the situation by insuring that I drew a random card. Sam’s argument was that if I were cheating there would have been absolutely no way for him to stop me; the judge’s ruling would have hypothetically allowed me to cheat and the rules need to be in place to insure that cheating of any sort is not possible within those rules. I believed Sam when he told me that he was not trying to accuse me of cheating but that the rules need to be consistent. I do not know what the right move should have been but the head judge upheld his ruling and we moved on with the game.
The next turn I attacked with my Inkmoth Nexus threatening the full ten poison; Sam flashed in a Restoration Angel to block and I only got through for five. The same thing happened on the following turn with my second Nexus and I had won the World Magic Cup Qualifier!
It all happened so fast that it didn't really hit me for some time. However I am extremely honored and excited to be a member of the United States National Team and I will do my absolute best to represent this country well at GenCon in August!
Thanks for reading!