Cash and Cockroaches in Mexico City
I'm back again. I'm back at a sad time indeed. While many people were praying for the victims of hurricane Katrina, I was just hoping that someone or something would allow the Kamigawa Block Constructed season to go on just a little bit longer. For some reason, the format just clicked for me and I was more successful than I have been in any other format to date. Thankfully, I had one last event to which I could bring my Tops, Gifts, and Kagemaros into action for the winning team: Grand Prix: Mexico City.
Even though my friend and teammate Rasmus Sibast had stayed at my place during the week between the Grand Prix in Salt Lake City and Mexico, my teachers kind of decided I should have little time to test. So when we headed to Mexico City on Friday night, we didn't really have any significant insights as to the format past where we were after the tournament in Utah. On my way to the airport, I got a call from Eugene Levin informing me among other things that Adam Chambers had missed his flight and we were down to three in the room. I mean, sometimes you just have to finish your MODO premier events.
When we actually arrived in Mexico, we surprised to find not only Eugene but also a full Dutch contingent waiting for us including Julien Nuijten, Rogier Maaten, Frank Karsten, and the most sunburned Jelger Wiegersma you could ever even conceive in your imagination. The poor guy had fallen asleep on a beach and was forced to walk like a real live cripple. It hurt just to watch him; bad beat. Being in Mexico and everything, the fact that I speak Spanish proved to be nice and useful. I bought tickets for our cabs to the hotel but as we started going towards one of the cabs a bunch of people started to yell at us. It turns out there was a line for the cabs and we were inadvertently trying to cut it. When we saw how long said line was, my jaw actually just dropped. It took us about an hour and a half to get through it, and several of us, including myself, thought that the right course of action was to pay people in the front of the line to cut them. A strong second option was to just cut them without bribing them first. The latter was taken by a group of American pros who call themselves the Seven Kings, and I have to say they outplayed us in this category for sure.
After having some drinks at the bar - drinks they didn't card me for, of course - we went up to our room and Eugene pulled out a copy of the new Finkel book, Jonny Magic. He started reading but I told him I just neeeeded a bedtime story and to please, please, please read me a chapter. It turns out that when Eugene came to America, they always told him to read with more sentiment in like first grade and stuff. Apparently, he took the advice to heart. Not only did I learn about some of Finkel's exploits as a card counter on a blackjack team, but with Eugene's advanced reading skill, I got all the possible emotion as well.
Over the course of the weekend, I actually ended up reading the entire book in between matches and such. While I think the way it is written leaves a lot to be desired, the story is interesting enough to make it worthwhile.
When I woke up and went to the site, I saw that many, many more people than I expected were registering White Weenie. For this reason, I put Hideous Laughters back in my sideboard as well as Exile Into Darkness in the main. Another change I made was moving the two maindeck Kokushos to the sideboard and replacing them in the main deck with second copies of Meloku and Ink-Eyes. This is because the only matchup in which I even leave in Kokushos is the mirror. With a relatively low amount of Gifts (compared to the week before in Utah), it seemed that the right move was to relegate the mirror stuff to the board. I got the idea from the Dutchies, who went down to one Kokusho main rather than zero, and expanded on it by going down to zero myself. In hindsight, I am happy with the decision. I also upped the Extraction count in the sideboard to three. This is because in testing, it was always insane to draw it naturally yet terrible to Gifts for. The natural solution was to move the count up. Even though I just didn't draw them in sideboarded mirror game, I'm fairly sure it was also correct. Here is the list I took into battle:
4 Gifts Ungiven
4 Sensei's Divining Top
4 Sickening Shoal
4 Kagemaro, First to Suffer
4 Sakura Tribe Elder
4 Kodama's Reach
2 Ink Eyes, Servant of Oni
2 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
1 Hana Kami
1 Myojin of Night's Reach
1 Goryo's Vengeance
1 Death Denied
1 Soulless Revival
1 Hideous Laughter
1 Exile Into Darkness
1 Wear Away
Round 4 vs. A Dude (my match history has yet to be updated) with Gifts
Game one he wins the roll and I mulligan. I have good cards with mana acceleration and Gifts so eventually I am able to Myojin him. That was not before he Ghost-Lit Stalkered me. I am still in very good shape since I was able to set it up where it left me my Death Denied - my combo was still very much intact. This left me in excellent shape, but the game was not nearly over. I was at low life from random beats from something that I had eventually killed, and when he started ripping legends he put me on my heels quickly. Meloku was a problem I could deal with. The first Kokusho made things a little more complicated. The second Kokusho finished me off.
Game two I mulligan again but start off with quick guys-Meloku on turn 4 then Keiga on turn 5. I thought I was set, but he drew the random Kagemaro you leave in, so he was able to stabilize. I had Black Myojin backup, but needed to draw a land to be able to put that into action. The first turn possible I didn't do so and he had Gifts. He went for Death Denied, Soulless Revival, Hana Kami, and Cranial Extraction and I gave him the two reanimation spells. I thought it was obvious I had the Myojin so I wanted to make sure it didn't get Extracted that turn. I drew the land the second turn and Myojined him. This time he was the one on low life already instead of me. In addition, he didn't catch three legends in a row, so I pulled it out. Unfortunately, there was not much time left for game three, since when he was up a game he was trying his damnedest to slowroll me out.
Game three I called a judge for slow play but luckily he did stone nothing despite my opponent seemingly preferring a sure draw rather than risking a loss. I have a nice draw with Extraction for his Kokushos on turn 3 and my own Kokusho on turn 5. I feel like I'm very surely in control but need to race the clock. He peels a Sickening Shoal on the fourth turn of the extension but ever so luckily I peel a second Kokusho on turn 5. I play it and Shoal it myself to finish him.
Round 5 vs. Another Dude w/ White Weenie
I almost get a game win off of him for being late. Unfortunately, the round gets started late because Jon Sonne and his opponent had filled out the match slip wrong and they had to get them switched up. Unlucky. Then we get deckchecked, which gives me yet another alternate route to victory, but alas, it was not to be. I would have to win the real way.
Game one he wins the roll and starts with the White Weenie nut draw. You know, Isamaru, two-drop, Umezawa's Jitte, Hokori. My draw was okay, but my mana was a bit shaky and I didn't have a wrath effect. By the time I could Gifts, simply getting a Wrath effect was no good because he could just give me Laughter and pump his guy with Jitte. I had to go get something like Hana Kami, Soulless Revival, Wear Away, and Exile into Darkness. I don't really understand why, but he actually gave me the Hana Kami and Revival. I mean, I just got to return the Exile. I blocked and got back Wear Away and stuff and by the time I achieved the feat of clearing his board, I was at two but he had no hand. Several turns in a row, he drew, played out a guy, and on my turn I just killed it with Exile. If he had ever just held the guy and waited to draw another the next turn, he would have had me there and then.
After a few turns of that, he literally said go without doing anything but occasionally playing lands for about ten turns. By this time, I had gotten the full combo but I did not want to kill him yet for fear of Shining Shoal. So I went for Black Myojin. Once he knew I had it, he decided to act on his turn. He had eight cards in hand after his draw. He played Hand of Honor and Celestial Kirin. He then equipped them both with a Jitte and a Manriki and passed. Being at two, this was somewhat threatening. After my draw, my hand was the following: Sickening Shoal, Exile Into Darkness, Black Myojin, Soulless Revival, Hana Kami, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and two irrelevant non-Black cards. I had thirteen mana at my disposal. This left me with several dilemmas. I knew I couldn't cover all the bases, but I could cover most. He was tapped out, meaning I didn't have to fear Blessed Breath, but if I let him untap I would, since he had it in his deck. One possible play was to Shoal his Kirin and Exile his Hand. The problem with this is that I lacked a backup Shoal, so he could just kold me with Hokori. The way he had played it, waiting till he had infy cards in hand, it seemed very likely that he was setting up for Hokori. That left that play out of the picture.
I could play Black Myojin, Shoal his Kirin, play the Green guys to block the Hand and then crush his remaining cards after his draw. The problem with this was that it left me dead to Blessed Breath and I also had to remove my Exile to Shoal his Kirin. The third option was to play the Green guys, Shoal his Kirin removing Myojin, and Exile his other guy. Then, if he had Hokori, I'd be able to retrieve Shoal and use it. The problems here came in multiples: if he had Blessed Breath I was still dead to it. Additionally, I'd have to go back to killing him around possible Shining Shoals, since my Myojin was gone to make him discard them. With all this in mind, I made the following play: Black Myojin, Shoal his Kirin removing Exile, play the Green guys to block the Hand, and use the Myojin right away. This left me open to only one thing, a peel. Possibilities were Blessed Breath and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. Needless to say, he got the 8.5. Frustratingly enough, he was actually holding nothing when I discarded his hand. If I had just waited until after his draw, I would have probably won the game. But still, you have to play around more things rather than less. I mean, I usually don't fold my straights on the river when the flush card comes unless I have some ridiculously good tell for the flush. Since it's impossible to have a tell on the peel, I think my play was definitely validated.
Game two went a lot more along the lines of what a game between Gifts and White Weenie should look like. I stabilized at seven, and then started attacking him with Kagemaro. The whole time, of course, he was trying to stall me out, but that is beside the point. When I went to finally kill him, he cast Shining Shoal. No problem, though, I could just sack the Kagemaro and it'd be fine. So I did.
And then, I died. Hulluh? What's going on? Yes, apparently you can still choose it as the source even if it's not there and the damage gets redirected. Oh my. Normally, I'd have to blame myself, as it seems like an obvious case of me just not knowing the rules. However, this time, it's not just my fault. To begin with, on MODO, you have to actually click the creature as the source since you are not able to click the combat damage picture thingy for it to work the way it apparently does work. But hey, sometimes MODO has bugs. Sometimes it doesn't work perfectly. That is why you have to defer to rulings by real live judges. That's what I did though. At Pro Tour: Philly, a guy was at one and I went to kill him with Tribe Elder. He tried to Shoal it, I sacked it, and the ruling was he died. At Grand Prix: Minneapolis, the ruling never actually happened in a match, since the situation didn't come up. However, I did specifically ask the head judge about sacrificing Kagemaro in response to Shining Shoal since I was running Kagemaros and many, many players were running Shining Shoal. He assured me that if the Kagemaro was sacrificed it would deal damage to my opponent since it was not there to redirect the damage.
The worst part about the whole situation is that if I hadn't been one hundred percent sure that Shining Shoal did nothing for him I would have won easily. I had Meloku that could have just killed him regardless. However, I was in such a hurry to kill him as fast as possible that I didn't bother playing around something that multiple level four and five judges had assured me I didn't have to play around. Bad beat indeed.
Round 6 vs. Paul Rietzl with White Weenie
Game one I won the roll and it was never really close. I had the standard good draw and he didn't really have anything good enough to compete. Gifts for the combo and Exile + Kagemaro I was holding was all I needed.
Game two I mulligan but have a pretty good draw again. He kicks himself for a mistake of what he felt was blowing an Otherworldly Journey, but honestly, my hand was the stones and it didn't matter.
Round 7 vs. Edgar Leiva with White Weenie
Game one he won the roll and I mulliganed into four lands, Kodama's Reach, and Sickening Shoal. I drew all lands the rest of the very short game.
Game two I won easily. High points included Extracting Hokori on my turn 4 because I had nothing else to do and hitting one in his hand. After that, it wasn't too hard as I had Gifts and more.
Game three he took a chance keeping a one land hand on the play. It doesn't seem like it's worth it but maybe if he had the stone nuts and thinks it's his only chance... Regardless he didn't draw the second land for quite a while and my draw was fine, so the entire game was just a formality. I don't feel too bad as he ended up making the finals of the tourney anyway. After I beat him, he didn't lose until then.
At least the judges from previous tournaments didn't cost me Day 2. I was really glad to have added the anti-White Weenie cards as they had obviously came in handy in a couple matches. After a mediocre dinner at a place with cockroaches running around on the floor, I just crashed.
Round 8 vs. Frank Karsten with Gifts
Man, this guy. Not only does he shuffle my deck to terrible draws every time, but I add to the problem by being an idiot. It's almost ironic... two weeks in a row the tourney is like good plays/good draws against one, two, three guys then I played Frank and got unlucky and was bad and then I played well and drew fine against some more guys and bashed them.
He wins the roll and I mulligan. He starts with mana acceleration and a turn 4 Kagemaro. On my turn I have the choice between killing Kagemaro with Shoal and playing one of my two Melokus, or just playing Meloku. The argument for just running Meloku is that then I can save the Shoal for something more meaningful. The problem is that he doesn't really have to blow Kagemaro. He can attack with it and wait till I return some lands to blow it. When that happens I'd be behind, so I went with the Shoal play. He used his own Meloku to kill mine and I played a Kagemaro of my own. He played Ink-Eyes and passed. I attacked with my Kagemaro and played Meloku and said go. I didn't have enough cards to kill the Ink-Eyes at any time. Meanwhile, this whole time, hidden amongst his Swamps he had a Shizo I hadn't noticed. He gave his Ink-Eyes fear and attacked. So yeah, that is my big mistake. A bit more on this later.
He took my Meloku from the yard and I made some tokens but then my Meloku died. On my next turn, I attacked with my tokens but had to chump with Kagemaro. When he targeted my Meloku with Ink-Eyes the turn after that, I used Soulless Revival that I drew in response. On my next turn, I drew Sickening Shoal. After I attacked him, he was really skeptical when I didn't play the Meloku he knew I had. He did some math and decided to Goryo's Vengeance his Meloku back and make a bunch of guys. It was enough to kill me even with me having Shoal for his Ink Eyes. Playing Meloku wouldn't have helped; he would have just Vengeanced in response, made a bunch of guys and then my Meloku would have died before I could make guys.
Game two my hand with Top, three lands, and no acceleration goes bad when I draw no acceleration or land. On my turn 4, I Extraction his Kokushos, since he had enough mana to play one on his next turn. Instead of Kokusho, he's got Black Myojin. On my next turn, I see a second Extraction as the third card down when I Top, but don't have the fifth land to play it on Black Myojin. If I had, I'd surely have enough time to draw lands and win, but as it was, his Myojin did me in,
About the first game, after some careful analysis we decided that I had actually made the correct play although unintentionally. I think if I had been watchful enough to notice the Shizo, I would have still deduced that I had to attack with Kagemaro anyway. Still, even though I made the right play, it was for the wrong reasons, which is almost as stupid. The reason it is correct to attack and let my Meloku die is because of what happens if I just chump, which is I get to make more Meloku tokens, but the next turn he would get through and take the Kagemaro out of my yard. At that point, he'd use it to clear my board and any tokens I had made. Since he had Okina, he could kill my Meloku and still save his Ink Eyes. Additionally, I'd be behind on tempo, since I would have had to return lands to my hand to make guys at all. But the moral of the story is that I should have made my play or all those reasons instead of because I just missed his land.
Round 9 vs. A Dude with White Weenie
Game one I win the roll and mull but have a decent draw, but his isn't bad either. All I know from my life pad is that I stabilized at four. It was a long game, and I eventually won around possible Shining Shoal(s) with Meloku tokens. I don't think there was anything else important to mention this game.
Game two I quickly stabilized and got the combo. His deck was designed so that it had more outs than the average White Weenie deck, but Extraction removed said outs one by one and when he realized he would get decked, he conceded.
Round 10 vs. Another Guy with U/G
Game one I win the roll and get an early Kagemaro into play. It gets in a few times until he does something. Then my Shizo allows Kagemaro to keep beating down until he dies.
Game two was a bit closer, but not much. Isao just seemed to kold so many cards in his deck. He got in some beats before I had it, but after I was in the driver's seat the whole time. I lacked threats but I bided my time until he tapped out for Keiga. Then I dropped Kagemaro, which gained me some card advantage when I used it on his end step. On my turn I played something so-so that he countered and then Gifts to get further ahead on cards. After this he couldn't come back as Top + shuffles gave me many more threats than he could counter.
Round 11 vs. Rafael Denis with Gifts
We start the match with my second lucky deck check, but nothing comes of it. Game one I win the roll and for the actual first time in the weekend my opponent mulliganed. We both had Gifts for the goods, but my double Kodama's Reach allowed for turn 6 Black Myojin. He did what he could, but in the mirror there's usually no beating that draw.
Game two he mulled to five. At least my opponents' mulligans come in hordes. He cast Gifts on four but he incorrectly went for the combo. I gave him Death Denied and Revival, but apparently he didn't have another land. I actually had to Gifts for Top, Gifts, Reach, and Tribe Elder myself since I didn't have a fifth land either. When he played his second Gifts, he went for cards that could get land, but by then I was already beating down with Kokusho and had more huge guys waiting in the wings to take it home.
Round 12 vs. Gerard Fabiano with U/G
He won the roll and mulled, but still started off with a North Tree and then a Meloku. I did some stuff and he countered it. Finally, the turn before I would die, I had to find a way to get Kagemaro into play. I thought and thought to see if there was some possible way I could lure him into using a counter if he had one first, but there was none. I just had to hope he didn't have any left, which was very likely. He didn't. I cleared the board, and he was out of gas. A couple turns later, when my Tribe Elder turned instantly into Ink-Eyes, we were shuffling for game two.
Game two I mulled into a hand that was really bad and I got demolished. I don't remember what the actual hand was, but I remember thinking that maybe I should have went to five because of how quickly I lost...
Game three we both had pretty good draws. I had early Isao beats and he had a quick Meloku that I couldn't kill immediately. When he added a Jitte and I lacked any of my answers for it, I now had a very large problem. As the clock ticked faster and faster, I had to set things up to potentially kill the Jitte and Meloku while at the same time bait some counters - not an easy task. He let a Gifts resolve which I think was a mistake, but used like three counters on other stuff. On his endstep before I would die, I cast Gifts and he Hindered it to the top of my deck. This was another mistake, as that Gifts would allow me to get back into the game. I had Wear Away I had retrieved with Hana Kami, as well as a Shoal I had been gripping, as well as the Revival and Denied I had gotten earlier.
When I cast the Gifts on my own turn and it resolved, I went for Shoal, Ink-Eyes, Goryo's Vengeance, and a land. I knew for a fact that he would give me the land and the Ink-Eyes; it was an easy choice for him. But I needed the land to do what I had to do and I needed the Ink-Eyes to remove to Shoal. When he had the fourth counter of the game for my Wear Away on Jitte splicing Revival, I needed him to make several mistakes. First, I needed him to blow a Jitte counter on my Isao when he was at high enough life total where he didn't need to do so. He did. Then I needed him to move his Jitte to a token in fear of Hero's Demise. He did that also. To be fair, that is not as much a mistake as judgment call that happened to be bad, while killing the Isao was just wrong. When he moved the Jitte to a token, after he pumped the first time, I Shoaled it splicing Revival on Kagemaro. His attack could only put me to three. After re-equipping his Jitte to Meloku, he had to pass. At this point, time had been called, but it was going to be hard to even survive through the turns. After drawing for the turn, my hand was Kagemaro, Death Denied, Soulless Revival, and two lands. My graveyard's only creatures were Isao and Hana Kami. I had ten lands in play. He had a Jitte with two counters on Meloku, as well as two tokens, a few cards in hand, and some mana open. I did have to assume he had no counters, though, as if he did, he would have just countered the Shoal and killed me. So I played Kagemaro. Then I cast Death Denied for two. In response he Consuming Vortexed my Kagemaro. I only had three cards in hand and therefore couldn't kill his Meloku. Game, set, match.
For a while, I was sure I could have won this game but wasn't sure of a particular play that would have done it for me. Then I saw it. All I had to do was play Kagemaro and say go. On his upkeep, before he had the chance to draw a counter, I would use Kagemaro and in response Death Denied for three: Isao, Hana Kami, and the Kagemaro itself so it would resolve for three. I would then gain definite control of the game and go on to win. I was pissed at myself for a whole day for not seeing this play. Like, sometimes I make careless mistakes where I just play too fast for my own good and don't notice something, but I do feel that when I take the time to think a situation through I can almost always find the correct course of action. My excuse in my head was basically "I didn't know his deck had Vortex." I didn't, but even still, there was no reason not to play around it.
It went on, and I felt terrible for a whole day until I realized that I actually couldn't have won. Why? Because as I said, I had ten lands in play. To play Kagemaro, blow it, and cast Death Denied for three I would need eleven lands, meaning I'd have to play one from my hand. This would give me one less card in my hand. That means he could just Vortex my Kagemaro and then I'd have to do that in response, but only for five, not six. Then he'd remove a Jitte counter as opposed to both Jitte counters, save his Meloku, and on his turn attack with Meloku and pump it with the last Jitte counter. At three I would died. It was actually kind of sad how much better I felt when I realized I hadn't directly blown a game for Top 8, but it's true; I was extremely relieved.
I still had a shot at Top 8, as I had the best tiebreaks in my bracket. Gerard said he'd play the last round for me if I needed the breaks help, which I appreciated. I told him that if he played a friend of either of us, then to just draw but if he played a random then I really would appreciate if he played for my breaks. As it happened, he played Julien, so they drew. And as it happened, I didn't even need the breaks as I had an unfortunate pairing...
Round 13 vs. Rasmus Sibast with Gifts
Man. Big Oots. Of all the possible pairings, I had to play the guy who had stayed at my house the week between the Grand Prixs and needed this win for Level Three, a.k.a. Gravy Train for Life. With Pro Points being key for me in both the Player of the Year Race and the hunt for Level Stone Cold Nuts (six), this match would be real big for me as well. But quite simply, Level Three is the most important threshold to break in the Player's Club system. It basically allows you to sit around in "Pro Purgatory" forever until you have a big finish and go infy. So I packed it up, and gave my friend the win and the points he needed. Would have been sooo much easier if we just got paired against other players and could both win in, but that's life.
Being in tenth place and conceding, I was hoping that I could still squeak out a Top 16 finish, but I actually wasn't even close. I ended up with highest tiebreaks in my bracket, but still 19th. It was still good for a PT point and some cash, so the trip was well worth it. I really just hope I don't end the year with 63 or 64 points and miss Level Six because of my unfortunate last round paring. And if I do, then I'm sure everyone will feel real sorry for me as I receive a measly $1500 and flight for each PT as opposed to two grand, flight, and hotel.
I won't have any tournaments to tell about for a while, since PTLA is at the end of October, but hopefully I will be able to tell all about Ravnica for Constructed soon, as I guess I've been winning some matches in it lately. Speaking of which, I was indeed very sad that the Champions Block season was over. However, I think that before everyone jumps at what a bad person I am, I should mention that while it is a shame that KBC is gone it is obviously nothing compared to the hurricane as I wrote at the beginning. Not being a God-fearing individual myself, I can't quite pray to the people affected by this catastrophe as I mentioned above, but my thoughts do go out to them. I'll end with that before I give anyone any more ammunition for the cause of making me public enemy number one.