Up until 1am the night before the World Magic Cup Qualifier, I didn't know what I was going to play. I thought I had good versions of all the best decks, but each seemed to have their own issue. In the end, I settled on a semi-new archetype based on things I had learned from playing all the other decks. It looked really good, I expected it to perform well against most of the popular decks, and I was excited to battle the next morning.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Thursday afternoon, I flew into San Jose, California, where I'd be staying for the weekend with Josh Utter-Leyton. Perhaps you know him as Wrapter, AKA the Player of the Year in 2013. He didn't know what to play either but was leaning toward R/W Burn or the R/W Aggro deck that most of CFB played at Pro Tour M15. He didn't think that any deck had a significant edge, so he was just going to burn people.
Burn was on my short list of decks to play, and I gave Wrapter the task of making a good sideboard for Burn, since that's the area that I felt was lacking. Meanwhile, I was off G/W Aggro for sure and was doing reasonably well with Brad Nelson's B/W Midrange on Magic Online, so I decided to start there. We briefly stopped by his apartment to drop off my stuff and headed to Tom Martell's place, where he and Sam Black were eagerly awaiting some board game opponents.
If you know me, you know I'm not much for board games, so I sat on Tom's couch, ordered Domino's pizza, and played some two-man queues on Magic Online. I posited that Jund Planeswalkers looked good but was a clunky mess, even if the strategy was sound. Instead, I wanted to take another crack at Mono-Green Devotion, similar to what Tzu-Ching Kuo played at Pro Tour M15. He lost playing for Top 8, and I think his deck could be improved upon dramatically.
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Genesis Hydra
- 2 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 1 Xenagos, God of Revels
I updated the deck and played a few queues and it did well, but lately I had been doing pretty well with everything. Sometimes, running hot can be a curse. Beat me so I can figure out what my problems are sooner!
The next day we headed to the site to play in some WMCQ trials. Wrapter joined a trial with the updated G/R Devotion list while I joined the same trial with B/W. I beat U/W Control round 1 but lost to G/W round 2 in a match that I definitely could have played better. Wrapter soldiered on until round 3 or 4 but eventually lost.
He hated the deck.
Still, I think the combination of early blockers, mana acceleration, and planeswalkers is a powerful one, but it feels like it might be missing something. There is a lot of filler, which I would prefer to be some different, powerful cards, but I haven't quite figured out what I want.
Anyway, I used some of the knowledge I gained to build this monstrosity:
I lost round 1 to Nathan Holiday playing Mono-Blue Devotion. It came down to a clutch turn in game 3 where if I had a hard removal spell, he was dead, but instead I had a Golgari Charm to live through the attack (and kill two of my own Elvish Mystics, heh), but I couldn't draw the removal spell I needed to stabilize.
Basically, I felt like typical Jund Planeswalkers decks were clunky. Temples give you a lot of selection, but I'd rather curve out when possible -- you're already playing some of the most powerful cards in the format, and you don't need the help going late. It's far more important to be able to escape the early turns unscathed.
It might seem like the abundance of painlands means that you're less likely to live through the early turns, but that's not entirely true when you actually get to cast your spells on time. Plus, Urborg and Mana Confluence is a combination that fixes your mana early but doesn't cost you anything late. I also cut back on a lot of the red cards, giving me a relatively smooth G/B base to work with.
I also liked the addition of Hero's Downfall. The deck had some issues with opposing planeswalkers, Mutavault, and bigger creatures like Desecration Demon, but Downfall solves a lot of those issues. Typical Jund Planeswalkers can't just add Downfalls and call it a day since you need to adjust the mana base, and I really liked the changes I made as a whole. However, the details need to be fine-tuned.
Wrapter was conscripted to play in a bounty tournament and this time he played R/W Burn. I think he finished 2-1, but I was too busy jamming games against Sam Black to really pay attention. The return to Mono-Black Devotion was my next trial, and while I was basically crushing Sam Black with any Black deck, I knew it wasn't that easy. Let's just say that Sam was very good at drawing three Thassas each game.
Mono-Black Devotion was on my short list, and I told David Ochoa to bring me two Corrupts just in case.
The good stuff. The man they call Ocho always has the good stuff.
While at dinner, I was busy doing research while everyone else was eating. Maybe I should play B/G. Maybe I should play the Cuneo U/W deck that everyone else was playing. Maybe I should play Mihara's Esper deck. Shuhei did say it was the best deck after all. He also said that it was so easy to play that even I could win with it. That said, I didn't know how to sideboard with it without playing some games. Dammit, why didn't I ask Shuhei for a sideboarding guide?
B/G sounded pretty good, especially since the platinums with two byes (EFro, Huey, and Martell) were playing U/W Control. It was kind of a dick move to metagame specifically against them, but I asked and they didn't care.
It was on.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel is a misunderstood card. You frequently remember the times where you mulligan, get Thoughtseized, they decimate your board, and you're left with four land in play and a pair of Merchants in your hand.
"Maybe if these were Blood Barons I could still win," you tell yourself.
It's not until you cut Gray Merchant that you start to realize what you're missing -- that last Lava Axe or Meditation Puzzle split card that you desperately needed. It's not powerful on its own like Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but it has an enters-the-battlefield effect that black decks desperately need, both on offense and defense. Blood Baron might be the better card in a vacuum, but Gray Merchant does something the turn you play it, which is largely undervalued.
On the ride back to Wrapter's, I brewed a new deck. It was one that, in my mind, had the pros of B/G Devotion and Jund Planeswalkers.
Yes, that is 61 cards, but I blame Wrapter. I told him to cut one, but he went to sleep instead.
The issue was that I needed the Connections for control and the mirrors, ten removal spells versus the field, and if I cut any of the threats, Elvish Mystic got a lot worse. I elected to play 61 with 25 lands, an already shaky manabase, and a sideboard plan that involved siding out Elvish Mystics against Black decks and U/W Control. All of that was well and good, except that I should have had a 26th land in the sideboard.
The rest of the deck was pretty nice, and the sideboard covered what I wanted it to. I struggled with whether or not to play Drown in Sorrow but assumed that my matchups against aggressive decks would be fine. The Mistcutter Hydras in the sideboard are not exciting, but I wanted something else against U/W Control and Mono-Blue Devotion, but it's actually not very effective against either.
I started 3-0, then I started to learn what was wrong with my deck. Brave Naya peeled a Boros Charm to kill me two turns before I was going to kill him, then Tom Martell manascrewed me in game 3 after I chose to draw and Thoughtseized his only real spell, a Divination. His turn 5 Jace's Ingenuity gave him the gas he needed to put me away.
Despite being effectively out of the tournament, I decided to "Reid Duke" it. In this case, "Reid Duke-ing" it didn't mean win the tournament, only that I should finish the tournament in order to learn as much as possible. In the end, I was 6-4 after some more losses, this time to Rabble Red and Mono-Blue Devotion.
The main thing I learned was that there are a lot of proactive decks! Sure, I played against U/W Control a couple times, but most of my opponents were trying to kill me. I could have used some extra defenses against those people. Drown in Sorrow would have been pretty nice. Pharika's Cure was solid, but I needed a sweeper badly.
The second thing I learned, although probably the most important, was how this deck differs from Mono-Black Devotion decks. For starters, Mono-Black is very much an aggro deck. You can function like a control deck at times, but you are most comfortable taking an aggressive stance while dealing with whatever important stuff your opponent throws at you.
This deck was good at stabilizing at a low life total, but I had to fade numerous draw steps while either trying to use Courser of Kruphix or Scavenging Ooze to get above four life or find some way to deal them twenty damage. Mono-Black Devotion is typically dealing chip damage with Nightveil Specter or Lifebane Zombie, whereas this deck's Courser of Kruphixes can rarely attack since the ground tends to be cluttered.
Nissa, Worldwaker was fantastic, but I would often have to keep the 4/4 back for a turn. If they drew a creature, I'd need to keep another 4/4 back. A couple turns later, they'd draw a burn spell and kill me. I could blame it on luck, but I really blame it on the lack of Gray Merchant of Asphodel. My deck could have been built better, but now I know better!
I played in five tournaments over the course of the weekend and went a combined 10-11. Overall, I had a pretty terrible weekend Magic-wise but ultimately learned a lot. I'm going to use that knowledge to increase my win percentage in future tournaments. There will be no more wishy-washy, last second, loose deck decisions.
While I'm looking forward to the future and continuing my quest, I do have some bad news. Apparently the WMCQ in Indianapolis is the same weekend as a Season Three Invitational in New Jersey, so now I've got a difficult decision to make. Do I skip an Invitational in the hopes of qualifying for a big tournament or play in the big tournament that I'm already qualified for? There's more at stake here than just money, and I won't make the decision lightly. I feel like this is one of those times where I'm going to regret whatever decision I do make, but it's also a decision where I only have good options.
After all, one can hardly complain about spending the weekend playing Magic and meeting new people. Despite my poor performance in Oakland and the fact that I let a lot of people down, including myself, I had a blast with Wrapter and everyone else. I wouldn't trade that for anything.
Next weekend, I'm doing my first full-time commentary gig for the Open Series in Washington DC, and I couldn't be more excited. I've enjoyed my chances to do commentary in the past, but the prospect of working all weekend is quite daunting. Cedric Phillips, Patrick Sullivan, and everyone else that does commentary doesn't get nearly enough recognition for their efforts. If you can't be there in person, I hope you tune in and let me know what you think!