Like you, my week has been a mixture of watching The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross on Twitch, trying to figure out if there was a workshop near me where I could learn to paint like Bob Ross, and Bob Ross Bob Ross Bob Ross. My wife is huge into ASMR, which for those of you that aren't familiar, is this pretty interesting (still being pioneered) science that I am linking you to. The basics are that certain sounds, voices, or cognitive stimuli can have a tingling sensation on your body. In this sense, Bob Ross is a gold mine of good vibes and feelings, so I've been fairly addicted to watching him paint and listening to his musings on life, happiness, and personal achievements.
I also had to prepare for a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier, but we'll get to that in a moment. For now? Painting.
As I tend to do, I relate a lot of the things correlating with personal growth to Magic. One lesson is that it's not about finishing the painting, it's about the experience of painting itself. We aren't playing in a tournament to win, but instead are playing one round at a time. The event is the painting, but one match is a happy little tree, another match is your sky, that match is a stream, and so on and so on. What we create is always beautiful, even if it doesn't look like it is at first glance. Not making Top 8? That's not a mistake. Just a happy little accident--something that teaches us for the next time we step up to the canvas. Remember, even when you were a child and you'd fingerpaint and show it to your parents, they'd think it was the most beautiful thing ever created. It's all about perception.
This week I was a novice painter. I have so little experience playing Modern that I was looking at the RPTQ I qualified for as more of a learning experience rather than my "shot" to get back to the Pro Tour. Perhaps I'd pick up a few things along the way.
My first painting was Grixis Twin. As I talked about last week I felt like this deck was the one I was most likely to battle with over the weekend due to it being the kind of Magic I like to play. I loaded up Magic Online and was completely unable to string together any wins or get into a groove that made me feel comfortable. This was a happy accident. It led me to a different landscape.
With a sigh I decided to build the second deck I talked about, which was the following:
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 2 Grim Lavamancer
- 4 Kird Ape
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 4 Wild Nacatl
- 4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
I tried my best to remember the advice I gave everyone some months back about escaping your comfort zone and playing a deck that you feel is powerful, but may be different than what you're used to battling with. Patrick Sullivan's Naya Zoo was certainly something that fits that criteria for me. Whether we like it or not, many players (myself included sometimes) fancy themselves "too good" to play aggressive decks such as this. I decided to invalidate my prejudices by playing with it without any misconceptions or notions.
This painting was far more pleasing. The games felt like I was always in control and my opponents were always on the back-foot, never really able to put together or execute their gameplan. I mused on Facebook "So far what I've learned about Modern is that Tron players will naturally have it on turn 3 every game, and then lose on turn 4." I was able to win multiple matches in a row, punctuate them with a loss, and then go on huge streaks again. Two matches were lost because I embarrassingly barely have used the newer client and I clicked through my attack steps when I had lethal and was punished the following turn, but I still count that as a failure.
By Friday I felt far more comfortable with Zoo and decided to play with it. After a quick conversation with Patrick Sullivan to make sure my ducks were in order in regards to sequencing and sideboarding, I just kind of went with the flow. My drive to the event on Orlando was smooth along with my traveling partners Sean and Bronson, the meal we had was fantastic, and our hotel offered up a gorgeous view and comfortable amenities. I spent the evening trying to sleep, winning a few last-minute matches online, and most importantly, watching Bob Ross until almost five in the morning.
Wake-up call at eight. Time to paint.
I registered the above-mentioned Naya Zoo decklist card for card. Patrick intimated that the list felt great, and I was inclined to agree, therefore I didn't mess with perfection. The only change I wanted to make was to cut the Shattering Spree for a third Lightning Helix--a fix I would still recommend today--in order to shore up several matchups. Spree is fantastic against Lantern Control, but I didn't expect much of it. I did, however, expect a fair bit of Affinity (or Robots, whatever the PC culture wants to refer to it as) so I left in Spree. In hindsight Helix is also quite good against them, so it may be trading one devil for another.
John Cuvelier was kind enough to bring the deck for me and his beautiful girlfriend helped me sleeve and write down my list on the registration sheet (I have doctor hand writing) so everything was able to start nice and easy for me. That was going to be the theme of the day for me: just be. The room was filled with about 40 players, all of which were accomplished. To my left were Open Series standouts Logan Mize and Cuvi, to my right was Pro Tour Top 8'er Steve Mann. The next table was Antonino De Rosa, Brad Carpenter, and Keith McLaughlin. Plenty of ringers as far as the eye could see.
My first round was pretty quick, as I attempted to acclimate to live Magic with Naya Zoo, so a quick victory over Temur Twin was just what the doctor ordered. Nerves settled.
I was paired against Affinity three times in a row after that. Patrick said it wasn't the best matchup, but most of my wins were sweeps, and I was able to brutalize their draws with cheap burn spells and some of the most efficient one-drops in Magic history. Kird Ape and Wild Nacatl punished anything resembling a slow start, and the burn package did a ton of work.
The sideboard allowed for a ton of reach against Affinity. Usually I would bring in about eleven cards in the form of all Path to Exiles, Gut Shots, and Destructive Revelries, and combined with a one-mana creature, the pressure was sufficient. Each round was over within twenty minutes and before I knew it, I was able to double-draw in.
It was peculiar because of how calm I was. Usually I'm in knots and torn to pieces during whatever event I'm playing in, but I wasn't today. In that moment, I was going to paint something for me. Like a mountain or something. Perhaps a forest. Most likely a plains.
A fourth matchup against Affinity awaited me against GP Charlotte Champion Michael Malone. He wasn't on Elves and instead opted for the mechanical menace. We battled earlier in the tournament and I was victorious, but it was easily the hardest match I played the entire day, and I won off the back of a timely topdeck. Michael, to his credit, was my most pleasant opponent and the only player who offered a handshake after I won. Take that for what it's worth.
I was in first place going into the Top 8, which thankfully meant my extremely aggressive deck was favored in most scenarios. Game 1 was over fast when Michael didn't have the freak start his deck is capable of and my triple one-drop + Atarka Command draw put him to bed. Game 2 seemed hopeless if you were a bystander, but when Michael had a Hangarback Walker with two counters fail to block a 3/3 Nacatl I attacked with, I understood my role the rest of the game. His board became more frightening with an Arcbound Ravager coming down, but I was undeterred. I chipped away with a Lightning Bolt and Grim Lavamancer activation eliciting an "uh oh" from Mike. His draw gave him a Galvanic Blast which he pointed at the Lavamancer on his turn, and his attack dropped me to eight, which I hopped back up with a Lightning Helix, which put him to six. My hand contained a crucial Destructive Revelry, and when tapped out a turn prior he would have chosen to make a huge Walker, I think I would have lost that game. What happened was his fear of the previously-seen Path to Exile, which caused him to go to combat. The maximum damage he could do would be thirteen when I was at 11, but my Helix kept me alive and put him to three when he elected to not go all in against my three open mana. His read that I had Revelry was 100% correct, and my untap saw an Atarka's Command to seal the game up.
De Rosa, Mize, and I were able to convert and will be our RPTQ's representatives for Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch in February of next year. It's a great feeling.
Naya Zoo ala Sullivan seems to be a deck that many players are not quite prepared for. Aside from the numerous hate messages I received online, every win was usually worked for and each loss felt extremely close. I never felt like a dog no matter what I played against, and aside from Jund, was able to dispatch every deck in the format regularly. De Rosa was piloting a Grixis Delver deck that I suspect would be a terrible matchup, but most other decks feel very beatable. This Zoo deck feels more like putting a puzzle together--properly sequencing your one-drops, knowing when to switch gears, when to deal with what threats and when it's appropriate not to, etc. All of it has to be put together, and is surprisingly more complicated than I initially thought it would be. I was rewarded for learning the ins and outs, which felt kind of nice.
So far I've been asked a few dozen questions about the deck, so allow me a moment to answer them:
- Naya Zoo
- Yes, I think it's a good deck.
- Yes, I would play it again.
- Yes, I'd recommend it for your next Modern event.
- Play your non-hasted creatures like Kird Ape or Wild Nacatl first, as it usually will lead to more damage.
- No, don't just point everything at your opponent's head.
- Yes, saving your burn spells like Lightning Bolt or giving a creature indestructible with Boros Charm can be the right play, even though it may feel counter-intuitive.
- Don't just sac your lands to "thin your deck" because you play Searing Blaze.
- Sideboarding out cards like Boros Charm or a couple Atarkas Commands when they don't impact the board is understandable. I boarded out Boros Charm quite a bit.
- Atarka's Command gives reach. The blowout potential for this is huge, and even though it's a slight corner-case, it's great against Affinity and Infect some of the time.
There are probably a ton more nuances I'm missing, but trying out a deck and learning it for yourself is half the fun. If you have any questions, I'll be sure to check them out below.
Now if you'll kindly excuse me, I have more Bob Ross to watch.
Go out and paint your own picture. Plant your own happy little tree.