Jumping on the Bearlwagon or How I Won the Pro Tour, Part 2
I've always found that closing out tournaments is so much harder than starting out strong. I've started off strong many times before but not closed out with a Top 8 or Top 16 nearly as often. Maybe I feel it's because I've never had the rare forbidden pleasure of starting out a tournament x-y (where x is an arbitrarily small number and y is one minus the number of losses that would eliminate me) and winning infinite matches in a row to Top 8. Even when I do really well, I never win that many matches in a row. I'll go like, win four lose one, rinse, repeat. Maybe it's because I just haven't played in enough tournaments, and it will eventually come up. Maybe I just don't have whatever Shuheii Nakamura has that let him win eight matches in a row at Philadelphia, or what Kai has that let him win 16(?) in a row at some Grand Prix.
Regardless of why, I was hoping very much that Day 2 of Pro Tour: Philadelphia wouldn't be my next Grand Prix: Anaheim (I went 7-1 then 1-4-1...yea, big pukes), and that I could close out with a decent finish. In case you missed how I rolled to 5-1, it might be the play to check out part one here before reading on. I'll get right into the rounds, since I can't actually be entertaining talking about nothing and nobody cares about what I did before I started playing.
Round Seven v. Kamiel Cornelissen w/ White Weenie
As soon as they announced my name over the loudspeaker for a feature match, I was instantly a little disappointed. I had been able to dodge anyone I'd ever heard of on Day 1, and it would have been nice to keep the trend going. When they said it was against Kamiel I was happy that at least I got to play against White Weenie, a great matchup despite having a good player piloting it.
Game one he started off with a Lantern Kami and an Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. I ramped with a Tribe Elder, and on the next turn I tried to trick him by casting Cranial Extraction on his Hokoris instead of playing Hideous Laughter, while acting as if I didn't have Laughter. He thought about it for a while, but finally committed two more guys as I had hoped and I cleared the board with Laughter. My draw was pretty much picture perfect this game, as I already had a combo piece in hand and the lands I needed so Gifts for the rest of the combo and Extraction on Samurai of the Pale Curtain sealed the game.
I boarded in Wear Away and the pair of Whispers, just like I had done against the other White Weenie decks.
Game Two he had nice curve to start but a quick Laughter slowed him down a lot. He just played a bunch more guys though, so the pressure was back on. I was able to Extraction Hokoris and go for the combo. I got the lock but needed a window to remove Samurai of the Pale Curtain from his deck. Unfortunately, he drew one before I got the necessary lands to Extraction him and keep the Haze lock going in the same turn.
Game three was one of the closest games I played on the weekend. Unfortunately I don't remember every detail of it, but I remember I mulliganed and he got a strong start. I Extractioned Hokori early, but he had a lot of pressure and I didn't have the combo. At one point I had to blow Haze to stay alive. Eventually I had eight lands in play and was at six and he had three two-power creatures. Complicating things even more was the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails on his side of the board. On my turn I cast Gifts for Hideous Laughter, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Sickening Shoal, and Horobi's Whisper. If he gave me the Laughter I'd definitely live, if he gave me the Tribe Elder I could block buying a turn, and if he gave me neither I'd have enough removal to kill the Eight-and-a-Half since he did not have that much mana up. He gave me the Tribe Elder and a removal spell. I blocked and got a land with the Tribe Elder, going to two. On his end step, I Topped into another removal spell. Luckily, on my end step, he did the best thing possible for me: Sacrifice his Eight-and-a-Half to cast Patron of the Kitsune.
At that point, I used removal spells to clear his board, multiple Whispers were spliced and I was looking good. On his turn, though, he drew and cast another Eight-and-a-Half and a Samurai of the Pale Curtain, leaving three mana up. I was able to use Sickening Shoal on Pale Curtain splicing Whisper on Eight-and-a-Half then respond to him giving Eight-and-a-Half protection from White by casting Wear Away on my own Top (putting it on top of my library, of course) splicing Whisper to kill his Eight-and-a-Half. I think if Kamiel had just played Eight-and-a-Half, leaving five up to protect it, he may have won this game.
This left him with no guys and no hand and me having Horobi's Whisper in hand. He drew Patron of the Kitsune and it got quickly Whispered. I Topped into another Whisper, drew it, and passed. He played a land and passed. At this point time had run out. I topped into Sickening Shoal, drew it and passed. He again just played a land. I Topped into Tribe-Elder, then sacked it and Topped again, this time into Ink-Eyes. I played it, but it was the fifth turn of the extension. I had two removal spells in hand and Ink Eyes in play to his no hand and nothing in play, so he was quite literally drawing dead. No, another Eight-and-a-Half wouldn't save him either because he wouldn't have enough land to cast it, block, and survive the removal spells. I asked Kamiel to concede since a draw would hurt us both. I knew I would have in his situation, so I was really hoping we thought alike. Fortunately, he is a good man and did so. Before you try to accuse me of bribery, keep in mind this was a feature match and judges were chilling all over the place. So yeah.
Round Eight v. Mark Herberholz w/ Four-Color Splice
Game one I played Cranial Extraction on turn 4 removing his. The rest of the game was a formality since I had the Gifts and my grandma even knows that if you Extraction first then play Gifts, you can't lose game one in the mirror.
I boarded in a bunch of legends for the combo.
Game two he mulliganed to four. A friend who was watching behind him said he kept one land (not that it was wrong or anything) and peeled several in a row to make his draw actually decent, but it's obviously very hard for even a great four-card hand to overcome the three-card deficit at the start.
Round Nine v. Simon Carlson w/ White Weenie
Game one I think he had a mulligan and a slow draw. I killed some guys with Shoals or something then comboed and removed his outs quickly.
I sideboarded as per usual against White Weenie.
Game two he gets a very fast start but with Shoal removing and splicing Laughter I am able to clear his board on his end step and play Ink-Eyes on my turn against his no board. Unfortunately, there are no guys in his graveyard because one of the dead creatures was Samurai of the Pale Curtain, so all his guys got removed when they died. After untapping with nothing against my Ink-Eyes, Simon made the very strange play of Hokori, go. I attacked him and was winning the race. He started playing one guy a turn, but I was still way ahead. The whole time I was holding Shizo, Death's Storehouse, which is the fear land. I didn't want to drop it yet, because I wanted him to go to five and then I'd finish the deal. I basically had to hope he didn't have Shining Shoal, but if he did I would lose no matter what. Everything went according to plan, he set it up so he could chump and kill me, I dropped fear land, he lacked Shining Shoal and packed it up.
Round Ten v. Andre Mueller w/ Four-Color Kitsune Blademaster Is A Nice Card
He said he didn't test at all and stuff, so that's always the blanket excuses for Nice Cards like Blademaster, but come on Andre - I'm a little disappointed with that one.
Game one I started well with an Extraction on his Extractions and Gifts for the combo. He still had Hokori and Yoseis in his deck to break out, and played a Yosei on his next turn. That gave him his Myojin of Cleansing Fire as an additional out. I recurred Extraction and hit his other Yoseis, going down to two life from his attack. I almost vomited when he showed the White Myojin he had just peeled, but I wasn't dead yet. With the Sickening Shoal and Kokusho in my hand, I could still kill the Myojin if he wrathed away his Yosei during my end step to tap me down. On my turn I was forced to Extraction his Time of Needs because I knew he had one his hand. If I hadn't, he would simply tap me down on end step, then after I Shoal his Myojin, he could search for Kodama of the North Tree. I then wouldn't untap from Yosei and the North Tree would kill me even if I had more Shoals. By Extracting Time of Need, if he decided to go for it on his end step he would have to draw a creature and have me not have a second Shoal to win. Instead, he just let me stay untapped, which was horrible. This reduced him to two outs rather than any creature, with those being Hokori and Kodama of the North Tree, which he had only one of each. Of course, he drew Hokori. I Hazed, then he played it, I Shoaled it because I had to, then I didn't peel another Shoal and lost. The old runner runner does it again.
I sideboarded in the legends as I would against the mirror, since pretty much any kind of G/B/x against G/B/x matchup is a mirror after board no matter if its Gifts or Snakes or Control or whatever.
Game two he kept the one Plains, Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach hand and didn't see another land until it was too late.
Game three is one that I feel like maybe I could have won if I did something differently, but I don't know what. My friends that observed don't know either, so I guess it will remain a mystery. Unfortunately I don't really remember the details of this one. I do remember he got out a Hokori and a Yosei while I only had some Graverobbers and I wasn't able to get enough mana for my Meloku so Yosei just killed me. It was definitely not that simple, but over such a long tournament some of the games just slip my mind.
Round Eleven v. Erik Grondahl w/ Four-Color Heartbeat + Myojins
Game one I cast Cranial Extraction on turn 4 naming Time Stop. I was pretty sure that that was his only maindeck answer to the engine, but I saw that he actually also had Hisoka's Defiance. For several turns, we both built up our hands and mana. Finally, he cast Heartbeat and followed it with Myojin of the Seeing Winds. He only had one Island open at this point. During his end step, I cast Gifts for Wear Away, Hana Kami, Cranial Extraction, and Stir the Grave, already having Soulless Revival in my hand. He gave me Wear Away and Stir the Grave. Thanks to his Heartbeat, I had the mana to do everything I needed. First, I Stirred Hana Kami back into play and used it to fetch an Extraction out of my graveyard. Next, I played Wear Away on his Heartbeat. He floated two Blue in response. I was clever enough to declare my attack phase, then Extracted him after combat for his Defiances. He conceded soon after when I went through the motions with the Haze lock for a few turns, since his build did not have Sway of the Stars in it.
I boarded in legends, since I figured his deck would have Extractions of his own and additional counterspells after board.
Game two I mulliganed and had some creatures but he had Final Judgment. He also had Cranial Extraction for my Extractions. I think against his deck post board, Graverobber is a key creature because he has to trade Judgments one for one with it pretty much. If I can Extract his Judgments, Graverobber pretty much just beats him. Unfortunately, it took me a while to get one going. He got a Myojin of the Seeing Winds out and drew eleven on about turn 10 or so. I had been gaining card advantage throughout the game, though, so I was not totally out of it. I killed his Myojin and was getting some damage through and it was pretty much even for a little while. He played another Myojin of the Seeing Winds and with only about fifteen minutes left in the round, he mentioned the time left, even though he was definitely playing slower than me. At this point, the confusion began. I told him and the judge, "Don't worry, if I was drawing dead I'd concede." I mean, sure, I was probably going to lose since he had drawn about twenty-five extra cards, but playing for Top 8 of a Pro Tour I'm not going to concede until I'm either dead or drawing dead. A few turns and about six minutes later, he played Meloku and Orochi Hatchery and I conceded.
Before game three, he goes "Well if we go to time one of us concedes?" "Yea obv," I responded. I mean, it would be idiotic for neither player to concede. We reassured each other that whoever was winning the game would get the win. I mean, sure, it's not the greatest thing ever, but of course we weren't going to eliminate both of us with a draw.
Game three started after quick shuffling and a mulligan on his side. I played turn 4 North Tree and turn 5 Ink-Eyes. On turn 6, I attacked him down to four and just built up and some more lands and card advantage with Gifts and Kodama's Reach. He played Final Judgment and I responded on my turn with Extraction for his other Judgments and Graverobber. It's important to note that I already had fatties in my graveyard thanks to Gifts even though the others were removed with Judgment. At this point time was called. I proceeded to remove his graveyard, but he had a Myojin of Cleansing Fire (without a divinity counter), so I couldn't attack him. On turn 5 of the extension, he had one card left in his graveyard. I had eleven lands untapped and Meloku and Kokusho in my graveyard. I began by casting Cranial Extraction on him because I knew he had Time Stop. I didn't want to try to flip Graverobber and have him Time Stop with the flip on the stack because that was the only way I could feasibly lose the game. He cast the Stop in response to the Extraction, and I flipped Graverobber in response. At this point, he is drawing literally dead. Meloku is no good because I just kill it by reanimating mine. He didn't even have one in his hand, which I knew from another Extraction. All I had to do was reanimate Kokusho and fly over. He couldn't kill it since he was at four and would just die to Kokusho's ability.
However, you must remember that this was, after all, turn 5 of the extension. The problem is that I was going to win the game on "turn 7" of the extension. I asked him to concede, and he said he would not. Considering the conversation before the game, I was a bit shocked. He said that I had already gotten a Top 8 and it would therefore mean a lot more to him. That was a terrible argument, so I reminded him of the conversation before the game. He then said that I still might not win and anything could happen. I asked him what possible outs he had, because as far as I knew he had none, but to please tell me because if he would actually win then I'd concede myself. He said something like White Myojin and I informed him that I would, in fact, not forget to return Kokusho into play to kill him.
At this point, he pretty much agreed he was drawing dead, but maintained that a Top 8 would mean a lot more to him than to me. I started to get pretty upset, because it seemed like Erik just wasn't being rational at all and just simply backing out of what he agreed to before the game. I know for my part, if I was losing the game I'd be the one to concede in a second. At this point the head judge came over and said we had thirty seconds to make a decision. They asked him if he would concede and he said no. They then asked me if I would, and I gave him one last chance to tell me how he'd win in which case I'd concede. He simply couldn't do it, since obviously he couldn't win the game. They then told me to sign the match slip, and I angrily wrote down the 1-1-1 draw. If the game had even been at a stalemate, I would have probably just conceded myself in this situation. However, when we agreed that I was just winning the next turn, I was not about to just put someone in the Top 8 after they go back on what they agreed to before the third game. At this point, they gave him the slip to sign and he said "No, you got it wrong, you win 2-1." I just felt this big sense of relief, because I couldn't believe my tournament was just going to end like that.
After everyone settled down a bit, I asked Erik if he was planning on doing that the whole time. If he did, he sure had me going, I told him. He said he didn't understand what happened because I had agreed that I would concede if it went to time. I had no clue what he was talking about, but he said I told it to him and the judge when he commented on how much time was left and that I said it again before the third game. I guess somehow he misunderstood me. I don't see how he could think I'd agree to concede no matter what if it went to time, but that is what he understood. At the very least, I now know that he wasn't just trying to screw me but it was just a misunderstanding. I don't really know hot to explain it, but at this point I was like sweating and stuff and just releasing so much tension from that much, that I was not looking forward to playing another much. I was guaranteed a slot in the Top 8, but I still didn't feel like playing an ante match for an arbitrarily large sum of money. As luck would have it, I looked at the pairings and saw:
Gadiel Szleifer 27 ***AWARDED BYE***
For the third time in my short Pro Tour career. Things were just going my way, what can I say? I have to restate though, that contrary to what was said by many ignorant people, I didn't just "get a bye into Top 8." Yes, I got a bye for a lot of money. Yes, it was extremely lucky. Blessed, even. But Top 8 was a lock, so... yeah... just thought it was a good time to correct everyone.
I just got to chill for an hour or so as they played out the final round. After the Top 8 was announced, we had to go get chatted up by Randy and Guptil as per usual, take some pictures, and get the lists. I was glad to tell the world via video interview that I was Gadiel and I was piloting the Ken Bearl LOL concoction.
I took some friends out to dinner at some nice Italian place, and came back ready to test my matchup for the next day. When I first looked at Jeff Novekoff's list, I had no clue what to think. To begin with, it was Snakes with seven snakes. Next, his sideboard seemed to just be a random pile of cards thrown together with no thought. It seemed like he wanted to bring in seven cards against me and take out... none. Shrug. I only wanted to test sideboarded, since it's all that matters really in a five game match, but none of us knew what he could possibly want to do. Eventually we decided he would take out Sosuke's Summons and Jittes, and I played a bunch of games against Mike Krumb with that configuration. In theory, it seemed like post board we just had a mirror match of guys on guys, and I had more of them. This led me to thinking I had the advantage, but I lost a bunch of games. I was still pretty sure the matchup was fine or a little bit in my favor, but I was really tired. I went to sleep not knowing exactly how I was going to sideboard. I knew I was bringing in legends, but I wasn't sure on the last 2-3 cards to cut. When I went to bed, Starwarskid, Mike, and Jeroen continued testing for me to figure that out, which I really appreciated. If anyone else helped out with that that I'm unaware of, thank you too.
Quarterfinals v. Jeff Novekoff w/ Green/Black Snakes
Even though most people probably hadn't heard of Jeff until this Pro Tour, I actually have known for him a while now since he attended my local PTQs until, well, I stopped going to PTQs. I was kind of surprised that the commentators didn't make a big deal about both us from being the Chicago area, since usually everyone loves those little irrelevant storylines. I'd write about the match from my perspective, but this match was covered pretty accurately by the coverage, so if you care I recommend reading that. After splitting two real games, he just had some bad hands and didn't mise out of them so I quickly took it down.
I was incredibly happy to get out of the quarters this time. I had been really disappointed in Columbus when I got a great matchup in the quarters only to mulligan a lot and play very few lands en route to a 3-1 loss.
After my quick win, I had infinite downtime to just relax and plan for my next match. The outlook for said match was quite positive. I would either play Andre Mueller or Steven Wolfman. I had already lost to Andre in the swiss, but he had had to get incredibly lucky and now that I knew his list, I could play a lot better against him. Regardless, I was rooting for Steve, even though he was down 0-2. I had a decent matchup against Andre, but an almost unlosable one against Steve. His deck wasn't fast enough to put pressure on me before I could combo, and had almost no outs to the combo. This gave me plenty of time to take control and win easily. By no means do I mean this as a bash against his deck, which was actually pretty good for the field, I am simply stating how good of a matchup it is for me. For these reasons, I was rooting for the big comeback that ended up happening. The Top 8 lunch that followed was good stuff, but I have to say it was inferior to the one in Columbus. I am still looking forward to more in the future, though.
Semifinals v. Steven Wolfman w/ Green/White/Blue Control
This match is also covered pretty well by our very own Ted Knutson. Even though it took like three hours, the match was never really close. Steve summed it up well after it was over: He pretty much needs really good draws and have me get really bad draws to have a chance. Only in game three did I have a weak start and he almost got me, but a couple nice rips later in the game made up for it and let me pull it out.
Kenji and Olivier had finished their semifinal ages ago, and I wasn't pleased when I was told I had about five minutes only before I had to battle again. I took those five minutes to figure out my sideboarding and make sure I knew what I was going to do, then went back and got ready. For the first time this tournament, I was actually pretty nervous. I was nervous when I sat down for the quarterfinals in Columbus, but not for that round today. This one was different for some reason.
Finals v. Kenji Tsumura w/ Four-Color Gifts and Myojins/Heartbeat
Despite the fact that this is the match that was covered the most in depth, I'm still going to write about it as a little feature I like to call "Correct the Coverage." I listened to it when I got home, and unfortunately they simply didn't know what was going on a lot of the time. They thought a million plays I made were mistakes and I'll tell you all why not. I'm also going to reveal the only mistake I did make in the match, which they obviously didn't catch. I am not even going to begin to go into how ridiculously stupid all the Taking Back Sunday references were. Once, okay, twice... fine. But any more... as I said, I like you guys, but please.
He won the die roll to begin with. That puts me at a very unlucky 0-4 lifetime in die rolls on Sunday. I had a decent opening hand with lands and Top, which was good enough to keep. I didn't draw lands for several turns. On my fifth turn I didn't lay a land and just said go. During his end step, I tried to cast Gifts, but it got Time Stopped. What I should have done was cast it mainphase when he couldn't Time Stop it. I would have gotten Forest, Okina, Tendo Ice Bridge, and Kodama's Reach. It wouldn't hurt much to blow the Gifts, since I had two more in my hands. It still wasn't a great situation and I was behind regardless. The way the game played out, I still probably wasn't winning. Despite this, it was still a mistake and I was upset with myself for not giving me the chance to pull out of my bad start. I hated to start this way, but I couldn't dwell on that mistake; all I could do was tighten up and move on to the next game.
Before this game I took out the combo, including Extractions. I wanted to take a look at his deck configuration after board before having Extractions so I'd know what to name. More importantly though, I was hoping maybe I could trick him into naming Extraction with his. It worked and it made me look masterful.
Game two I just rolled him with guys. On one turn, I bounced a Meloku token for Ink-Eyes and the commentators criticized that as overcommiting. However, it was actually the right play. To begin with, I still had Graverobber and Keiga in my hand so I had additional gas and wasn't flat out scooping to Judgment. Additionally, bouncing Meloku would give him extra outs of his own Meloku. If he gets the chance to make tokens, he wouldn't die to my attack on the spot. If, however, I keep Meloku in play, I reduce the number of cards in his deck that make him not die the very next turn. It was all irrelevant, because he lacked the Judgment so I won.
I boarded the Extractions back in after he saw that I took them out.
Game three I was in good shape, it seemed, and was getting a little bit ahead on cards but then he got Ink-Eyes, my draws went kold, and I lost. I'm not really going into detail about these since the coverage outlined what happened well. As I said, I'm just correcting their oversights.
Game four I got another aggressive draw while going first and it was enough to take it to a fifth and deciding game.
Game five. Wow. Randy and Mike are good guys, no doubt, but please. First, they didn't understand why I played North Tree over Ink-Eyes. Two reasons: Number one, I didn't play Ink Eyes without regeneration mana up against a deck with Hero's Demise. That seems pretty basic. Next, I wanted to trade for Graverobber, so I would rather lose the Tree than Ink-Eyes. That brings us to my next point. They criticized me for trading with the Graverobber. Well, I'm pretty sure he had like three cards in hand at the time. I had six or seven and four or five of them were gigantic legends. This meant that it would be very hard for him to "out-legend" me. The only way he could do so was with something like a flipped Graverobber that gives him a steady stream of legends no matter how many times they die. Since I didn't have a Shoal to kill it at the time or a Graverobber of my own, I preferred to trade one for one since I didn't see myself losing the game any other way.
The next turn after that, Randy and Mike still wanted me to play Ink-Eyes. Sorry guys, as I said, the only way I was losing ever was to get getting rocked by Graverobber. Since I was planning to discard his hand with Myojin of Night's Reach, I didn't want him to discard gigantic guys and put them right into play with Nighteyes. For that reason I wanted to put five cards in my graveyard (I used Gifts and Reach to go with the one already there) to make sure it would take at least two turns for him to flip his Graverobber. They didn't understand why I cast Gifts mainphase either. It is pretty easy to see that since he had six lands if I tried to respond to him removing a card with the Gifts, he could respond with removing it again and flip his guy so I couldn't wait till his turn. From that point, it was all elementary. After discarding his hand with Black Myojin, I played Kokusho and company. I knew I had it when I drew the second Kokusho, and on the last turn I even made the right play of casting Kokusho and getting him for ten before I attacked in order to play around running Hero's Demise, Final Judgment since that was literally his only possible out. Whew.
Pretty crazy stuff, considering it feels like just yesterday that I was slugging it out in the JSS and selling slots in PTQs. If I think even a little farther back, I can recall when I wasn't even at that level; when I was struggling to Top 8 JSS qualifiers, back in the days of the picture in part one. I don't know what this really has to do with anything, but for some reason those were the visions going through my head right after I won.
As I walked out of the Feature Match area, I had no idea what I was going out to. I didn't expect anything much different from when I made Top 8 in Columbus, or even from when I clinched Top 8 the night before. It was just incredible how many "new friends" (Read: barns) I had acquired in those few moments where I cast a second Kokusho and Kenji extended the hand. Everyone congratulated me and informed me I was blessed, even one Craig Krempels, who has hoped for a piano to fall on me ever since I jokingly thanks-barned him in the report for my very first Pro Tour.
When I thought the barnage couldn't reach a higher level, a friendly young man in a red mana symbol t-shirt asked me to take a picture with him as I walked towards the parking lot with my trophy. I could tell that Tim, who was walking with me, was embarrassed for him... and for me. After taking some friends out to dinner at the Hard Rock, I went to the airport, still just a little bit in awe of the weekend that had just gone down, and definitely not ready to return to the life of a normal 16-year-old who had to go home and write an essay for the next day and get ready to continue hiding the fact that I play some nerdy card game as I always have.
Tune in next week when I talk about how I added Prerelease Champion to my growing resume and share my thoughts about the new set. Peace,