Magic is easy when you're winning.
However, when you spend a large amount of money traveling to Europe in the hopes of accruing Pro Points and walk away with nothing, it's easy to be down on yourself.
This is my story.
After a long string of disappointments, both in life and on the Pro Tour, I never expect good things to happen (for more on that, you should read this). For me, it's far easier to expect nothing and to know I don't deserve anything. In the end, maybe something nice will happen.
Then I made Top 8 of Pro Tour Gatecrash.
No, I don't want my column to turn into a weekly reminder that I did well in that tournament. It's relevant to the story, I promise.
With 33 Pro Points, three guaranteed from the next Pro Tour (unless I get hit by a bus or something), I only need nine points to make Platinum. I'd toyed with the idea of going for Platinum before, but this is the closest I've ever been. I felt like I'd be a fool if I didn't try to capitalize on it.
With Platinum being so close, surely the World Championship wasn't far away...
A quick glance at the standings had me in 8th place for Pro Points at large, where six get invites. I knew I could do it. Flights to Grand Prix Rio were relatively cheap, but I forgot I had to obtain a visa, which I couldn't do in time. When I realized Grand Prix Verona was Standard as well, I booked my ticket. It wasn't cheap.
I left on Thursday, but not before talking to _VFS_ on Magic Online, as his U/W/R list looked interesting. He had Aurelia, the Warleader maindeck, no Boros Reckoners (which I was already convinced was correct), and more counterspells. With Jund being the most problematic yet fixable matchup, his list looked good.
The other person I looked to for advice was Dave Shiels—a good friend of mine, very good man, and person who is very smart, yet I don't try to get his advice enough. He made Top 16 of both Pro Tour Gatecrash and Grand Prix Quebec City with U/W/R, and our phone call was very helpful.
My time on flights is typically spent brewing, and it's where I get some of my best work done. There's no better recipe for success than a blank sheet of paper and nothing else to do. After tossing several builds back and forth, I had my list.
After arriving in Italy, I found Joel Larsson, my roommate for the weekend, easily in the tournament hall. He was naturally playing a similar deck to the one he used to beat me in Top 8 of Pro Tour Gatecrash. While it was nice to have another very experienced U/W/R player to talk to, it didn't help much. Our decks were so different that we approached nearly every matchup differently.
I ended up realizing some key flaws about my deck, which led to my deck being much better. The next morning, I registered one of the worst decks I've played in quite some time.
Boros Reckoner might seem like a staple at this point, but I disagree. It's mostly bad against Jund, mostly bad against Jund Aggro, mostly bad in the mirror, and very bad against Human Reanimator and Esper Control.
Against the midrange decks, it doesn't apply much pressure, and they have plenty of ways to kill your creatures. Fighting them with spells is more effective.
Against Jund Aggro, you will often look to Reckoner to stabilize you on turn 3. If they have Abrupt Decay or Dreadbore in those situations, you usually fall far behind. Basically, you need to be killing their creatures, not trying to turtle up behind fragile creatures. Perhaps you want to play Boros Reckoner for the free wins when they don't have it, but for now, playing without it seemed correct.
The debate between Aurelia, the Warleader and Thundermaw Hellkite was interesting. Aurelia by herself does one extra damage and can block, whereas Thundermaw Hellkite can kill Lingering Souls tokens and come down a turn sooner. My plan wasn't to tap out and cast my fatty until late in the game anyway, so I considered that a moot point.
Against Jund, I wanted to stabilize, cast Sphinx's Revelation, and then end of turn Restoration Angel into Aurelia for twelve damage. Jamming Aurelia on turn 6 isn't going to win you the game, as that gives them a window to resolve something powerful. When attacking together, that's four more than Restoration Angel plus Thundermaw Hellkite.
I cut Thought Scours and added a land because without Boros Reckoner / Harvest Pyre or Runechanter's Pike, I didn't feel like I needed to fill my graveyard. The cheap cantrips are part of the mana base, and being able to Augur of Bolas into something cheap that could find you a land was a huge plus. In order to rectify that, I added another Think Twice.
The sideboard was a mix of trash and treasure. On one hand, I figured out how to beat Esper relatively consistently. Previously, Psychic Spiral wasn't very good because I didn't have the tools necessary to win the counter war. Since I had more counterspells, more lands, and more Think Twices, I could actually play the same game as them. With more Dispels, winning counter wars was easy.
On the other hand, I had Geist of Saint Trafts and Rest in Peaces that did basically nothing all tournament. They were meant for the "bad" matchups, so I suppose it's ok if all they did was collect dust.
I still haven't figured out a good plan against Human Reanimator. Junk Reanimator is a fine matchup, at least post-board. The Human version is naturally good against Sphinx's Revelation decks. Once they have anti-hate, it's very difficult to get an edge.
Round 4: EFro/Saito Naya
While I was unfamiliar with my opponent, it turns out that he was a fellow Grand Prix champion. I was able to quickly figure out that he had some play skill due to his actions and sharp, crisp movements.
I also had something irrelevant, which was probably Aurelia since that's exactly what she is.
I already had my Hallowed Fountain ready to go and didn't play the Steam Vents instead even though it's basically strictly better. Consider the situation if I have to cast Pillar of Flame next turn—surely I'd rather play another Ravnica dual tapped than play Clifftop Retreat.
I played my Retreat and passed, stubbornly refusing to take the Pillar of Flame line of play because it would punish me for my mistake. Using Azorius Charm to put a crappy guy on top isn't a bad use for the card, after all.
His post-combat Domri Rade said otherwise.
At that point, I knew I had to tighten way up because I was playing like garbage.
Unsurprisingly, I went on to lose that game.
Second game, the board position is:
Clearly, he wanted me to play Restoration Angel and save my Augur, but why? The only thing I could think of was Thundermaw Hellkite, which would tap my Angel and make it so I couldn't Azorius Charm his Dragon and potentially use Thought Scour to get rid of it permanently.
That didn't make any sense, but who am I to guess what's going on in his head?
I saved my Augur.
He slammed down land number six followed by Mizzium Mortars.
The saving grace was that he didn't have triple red, but even that took me a few seconds to realize. I was mostly anguishing over how badly I was playing before I put all my creatures, hopes, and dreams into my graveyard. At first I was surprised I didn't notice his lack of red, but then I was surprised I realized it at all considering how unfocused I was.
I went on to win game 2 and then game 3 as well. He made a judgment call involving not replaying a Burning-Tree Emissary I Azorius Charmed for fear of Supreme Verdict. Eventually, I stabilized at two life with a topdecked Supreme Verdict. Aurelia killed his Domri Rade and cut off his Flinthoof Boar outs.
Somewhere in there, I made a bad call myself and ended up taking five damage that I probably shouldn't have.
Round 5: Jund Zombies
His first spell in game 1 was Geralf's Messenger, which I Pillar of Flamed. My card advantage took over from there.
Geist might seem like an odd sideboard choice, but it's completely necessary. Not only does it give you the option to gain six life or more off Azorius Charm, but it's tough for them to block or kill. Most of the time, it just kills them. Rest in Peace is another option, especially if you're short on Pillar of Flame, but Geist is better.
Round 6: Esper Control
Game 1 I basically have no shot against Esper, which I'll have to remedy. In the second, I played the long game with Psychic Spiral and eventually won the counter war.
In game 3, he took two hits from Geist of Saint Traft before casting Supreme Verdict. After I reloaded with Restoration Angel, he cycled an Azorius Charm main phase into Augur of Bolas, which found another Supreme Verdict. He was low on life, and I decided to take a very aggressive stance. I started using my counterspells to protect my creatures, but it was all a ruse. He had the necessary removal to preserve his life total.
Even though I was able to Spiral him, he Spiraled me right back.
This round was definitely winnable. My sideboard plan was to sit back, and despite how the texture of the game appeared, I basically had inevitability. There was no reason for me to protect my creatures when I would win the long game.
Round 7: Jund Aggro
I lost the first game to his aggression but won the next game.
Game 3 I cast Think Twice turn 2 and had to draw a card with Azorius Charm on my third turn in order to hit my third land drop. Still without a red source, I flashed back Think Twice on my main phase into a Clifftop Retreat, which allowed me to Pillar of Flame his creature.
From there, I cast three Restoration Angels. He attacked with all his creatures, and I blocked in such a way that I would go to five, effectively safe from Ghor-Clan Rampager. He used Golgari Charm to save his guys and set up a potentially lethal attack next turn. Thankfully, I drew a red source and killed him with Aurelia.
I guess it is better than Thundermaw Hellkite.
Round 8: Jund
After the last match, it looked like Gerry got his groove back.
A quick mana screw in game 1 left me down a game, but Sphinx's Revelation evened it up. For game 3, he jammed threats on turn 5 onward, and I struggled to keep up.
Back to reality.
Round 9: Naya Humans
Game 1 was a beautiful display of how Flash should handle aggro decks. In the second game, I got run over after mulliganing. For game 3, he mulliganed to five on the play.
Despite that, he came out of the gates quickly. My first Supreme Verdict met a Boros Charm, but my Snapcaster Maged Supreme Verdict cleared the board. I flooded out after that but managed to deal with the occasional threat.
I had twelve land and Restoration Angel in play with a single life point.
If I passed the turn, hoping to trick him with the Azorius Charm, he would likely sit back, make a Wolf, and attack me the next turn. Because of that, I decided to draw a card main phase. If I'm going to need to draw something in order to live, I might as well cycle my Charm. If I let him make a Wolf, I'll need to draw two things. If Sphinx's Revelation is there, I win.
I drew another land, passed it back, and he immediately attacked with both his creatures.
Maybe if I'd held the Charm, he would have made the same attack, but it's hard to say.
After that match, I felt sick. I thought I played well in a good matchup, but it wasn't to be. I wanted to be anywhere else in the world at that moment.
I should have known better. Did I really think I could chase Platinum? Did I really pay two thousand dollars so that I could lose my last two rounds to miss Day 2? Did I really sign up to be crammed into airplanes next to whiny babies and smelly, old dudes for over 30 hours?
You're $%*@ing right I did.
I played on autopilot. I radically altered a finely tuned deck into a mess. I made amateur mistakes, but at least I got punished for them. At this point, I wouldn't award myself a life preserver if I were drowning, let alone Platinum benefits.
You could say I had the fire or was in the zone at Pro Tour Gatecrash. The reality of the matter is that I played methodically and actually thought through my plays rather than relying on gut reactions. During Verona, I played quickly and mostly on autopilot.
Many people have suggested jetlag as a contributor, but that's a copout. I slept plenty, and my mind felt fresh. I actively chose to play based on my gut rather than thinking. As far as my deck choice was concerned? Well, several people did well with U/W/R Flash, and I certainly could have been one of them.
I made some bold decisions without actually making sure they were good enough. Of course, I function on theory most of the time, so I had no reason to doubt myself. Aurelia, while garbage most of the time, was fantastic in a couple spots and won me games that no other card would have. That said, I would never play her again.
This would have been a better deck:
I wish I could replay the tournament, but I can't. Standard is over for me, so it's time to look ahead to Modern.
@G3RRYT on Twitter
P.S. Thanks to all the awesome Europeans that made my miserable trip less miserable. Lasse Norgaard, Swedish Kibler, Michael Bonde, and the legendary streamer known as Dzy brightened my mood. I added those people on Facebook immediately, except for Dzy. I knew he had a girl's name like Jen or Jan, but I couldn't remember his other four names. A search for Jan Vitor Damo da Rosa found me Paulo's sister, but that was it.
Thankfully, he added me!