The Pro Perspective - Grand Prix: Gothenburg!
Autumn is starting to settle here in Sweden. Gteborg had been my hometown for a while and compared to the 40°C we have in my current hometown Toulouse it is indeed cooler. But I still feel like I'm home here and playing at home is a nice feeling.
I never really understood why playing home was such a big advantage. In a soccer game the local team has the public behind them they know their field… But in Magic? What did that get you?
I had a good feeling about this tournament. I still don't like the M11 Limited format very much but I'd learned to deal with it. My old friend and Pro Tour: Yokohama '03 winner Mattias Jorstedt offered me shelter —and along with Simon Carlsson and Pro Tour: New Orleans '03 winner Rickard Osterberg we headed to the Gteborg Convention center fifteen minutes away on a Saturday morning to meet our fate.
My Sealed deck was particularly interesting —and as usual I invite you to try to build it before checking what I did with it. Here is the pool:
2 Goldenglow Moth
2 Safe Passage
Back to Nature
2 Cudgel Troll
Wall of Vines
- Green has all the bombs and fixers: two Cudgel Trolls Gaea's Revenge 2 Cultivates and a lot of very powerful cards like Garruk's Packleader and Acidic Slime. Unless the other four colors are insanely good your deck will be G/X or G/X/y or even G/X/y/z since you have the possibility to splash easily thanks to the two Cultivates and Terramorphic Expanse.
- Red and White are miserable. Nothing relevant in either color nothing you really want to splash for… Which is too bad considering the splash would have been even easier with the help of Rootbound Crag and Glacial Fortress.
- This pool doesn't have many removal spells. Except for Triskelion all of them are in Black in the form of Doom Blade Quag Sickness and Corrupt (and Royal Assassin in a way). Quag Sickness and Corrupt require a lot of swamps to be used to their full potential.
- Black has the removals but an overall weak pool. Royal Assassin and Doom Blades are the highlights the two Liliana's Specters could make good filler if B is one of the main colors.
- Blue has Air Servant Foresee Azure Drake Cloud Elemental and Augury Owl —all cards that cost one Blue mana to cast. Flying power is always needed in Sealed deck and Air Servant Azure Drake and Cloud Elemental are all able to stop a flying assault.
I started with the deck I thought was the most intuitive a straight Green/Black deck packing all the removal and Green powerhouses:
There are a couple of things I didn't like about this deck.
First: the mana base and mana curve. For a two-color deck this deck has a poor mana base and curve. The only fine two-drop (Garruk's Companion) does not allow you to play a turn 3 Liliana's Specter. There are too many double-Green and double-Black spells.
Next: the game plan. With this deck you basically want to get to four or five mana pile up monsters and attack on the ground. You pretty much have to deal with every flying creature your opponent plays since your Specters aren't exactly very good blockers —especially against Cloud Elementals and Cloud Crusaders.
A mediocre curve and no efficient way to handle flyers made me want to find something better. That deck could have been fine but it would have been nowhere near solid. With two Cultivates and Terramorphic Expense it would be a shame not to play three colors.
I then tried to build a G/U deck:
This deck already looked a lot better… But I didn't like its mana base either. Six islands were not necessary and playing more Forests wouldn't make any sense either. Nine plus one Expanse is more than enough to support the strong green base… And I didn't like the fact that I'd probably just lose to a Harbor Serpent.
I therefore found a compromise and was very happy with what I ended up with:
2 Cudgel Troll
Basically I cut some suboptimal cards for Royal Assassin and Quag Sickness. Quag Sickness isn't exactly an impressive card in a three-color deck running four Swamps but it kills critters in the early game and of bigger creatures later. Cultivates help you find the second third or even fourth Swamp to take care of these.
Replacing two Islands and a Forest with three Swamps doesn't hurt the deck. Four Islands an Expanse and two Cultivates are enough to play the blue cards in the deck. Except for the Owl on turn 2 the other cards can wait until turn 4.
The tricky part comes from the number of swamps. I wanted to be able to cast Doom Blade constantly enough without having to Cultivate for a Swamp every time I needed black mana. With five black mana sources you constantly have it on turn 3 or 4. You may have to wait for the second Black mana but you don't want your Royal Assassin online on turn 3 anyway. You want your opponent to waste his removal first and then play it when it's safe.
Runeclaw Bear and Barony Vampire seem a bit suboptimal especially the Vampire in the splash color but they fill the curve nicely. They give a way to trade the first few creatures with your opponent. I would not consider them seriously in a deck with other early drops. But here Garruk's Companion and Augury Owl are just not enough to block the early beats. You want to be able to survive or block Scroll Thieves until you hit your fourth mana and start breeding Trolls and Wurms.
It's the first time I really got to see how insane Gaea's Revenge really was. 20% of the time when the board is packed it's “just” an 8/5 shroud wall. The rest of the time it's a two-turn clock for your opponent…
One question I have been asking myself all day and that I still have no definite answer to:
Spined Wurm or Greater Basilisk?
My default choice was Spined Wurm because of its five power and its lone green mana in the cost —which is relevant in my deck since I want to keep green open to regenerate my trolls. I boarded in the Basilisk against other green decks. The Basilisk is a much better blocker and trades for any Wurm even the 7/7. You also don't have to worry about a Giant Growth when you attack and your opponent blocks with a couple of 2/2 and 3/3s.
The sideboard options were also interesting. I sideboarded in Celestial Purge and Solemn Offering against R/B opponents trading a Swamp and an Island for Glacial Fortress and Plains and taking out Cloud Elemental (usually a bad blocker) and Royal Assassin (which is usually too easy to kill and not worth the trouble to go find your second black mana when you're trying to find white mana).
Wall of Frost got in every time against big green monsters.
I ran hot the whole day winning very tight games. The deck delivered maybe a bit better than I expected…. And I was sure happy to finish the day undefeated.
In my Magic career I had never missed a top 8 when I went undefeated on day 1 which would be something like seven or eight times. I was confident I could make it again this time and therefore not ruin my stats
I had decided to stick to my plan to avoid green and white. I was fine with any combination of Black/Red and Blue with a preference for Mono Black and U/R.
I basically ended up with the deck I wanted. I opened a Doom Blade then got passed Black cards all the way till the end of the draft. I got lots of removal including two Doom Blades two Assassinates Quag Sickness two Corrupts and a fine set of creatures: three Reassembling Skeletons two Viscera Seers to go along and a Bloodthrone Vampire that I took over a fourth Skeleton.
I couldn't get my hands on the second Bloodthrone Vampire that my deck craved for.
I won my first match mostly thanks to the insane interaction of Viscera Seer and Reassembling Skeleton. With the help of the removal arsenal of my deck and the never-dying blockers I could sift through my entire deck to find the cards I wanted almost every turn basically finding my Corrupts for the kill when the board got too packed.
Things started to go wrong from there. I had run way too hot so far and it finally got back to me. I got paired against Sami Hggkvist also undefeated and his very average R/G deck. He did have two Acidic Slimes in his deck though which is one of the reasons I might consider playing Green if I am passed any. They both killed my Swamps in game one when I was actually digging for them. Bloodthrone Vampire and Reassembling Skeletons did a good job keeping all his team at bay for ten turns. I was eventually going to succumb since I kept piling up lands and he kept piling up monsters.
“Oh well. One loss isn't dramatic. I'll win the next one!”
Then I got paired against Sam Black and his White Weenie deck… or more accurately against Sam Black and his White Knight. The risk you are taking when you are drafting Mono Black is that you run into White Knight and have no way to deal with it. It definitely is a problem and there aren't many cards in the format that help you deal with it. You need Brittle Effigy (at rare) or a Gargoyle Sentinel to block… Anyway that was a risk I was willing to take.
Unfortunately for me Sam had it in play on turn 2 both games. His deck was very good and it would have been interesting to see how the matchup had fared without the Pro: Black Knight. His second draw was absolutely ridiculous against me:
… okay I guess I'm going 1-2 with this deck then… And yeah I scooped.
I drafted White Weenie successfully once and my deck was absolutely incredible mostly thanks to my three Squadron Hawks that supplied the bodies for my Inspired Charges. When the deck comes together that you get all the flyers all the good one- two- three- and four-drops your deck is insane. The rest of the time you end up with a pile and have to add a second color for playables. It is a risky bet but it does pay when it works out… It did work out for Sam who 3-0'ed with it.
I was 10-2 entering the last draft. I had to 2-0 to top 8 (then probably draw in since my tie breakers are really good) or maybe 2-1 and hope for the best.
I'm sitting at table 1 again with only one other player at two losses meaning that I could be playing someone who lost the first round on the second round of the draft for the top 8…
The choice was between Royal Assassin and Foresee. I hadn't had much success with my first Black deck and passing all this Blue would definitely mean that I am staying away from it. If I picked the Foresee my left neighbor was going to go for the Assassin and the others would probably have gone for Blue so I was going to be screwed anyway. Royal Assassin is probably the best card of the pack and I'm sending the right signals.
I was not passed the best black cards—only Quag Sickness Sign in Blood and Child of Night—but I'm not passing anything spectacular either. I get the feeling Green is underdrafted with Spined Wurms getting passed really late so I decided to move into green by taking an Awakener Druid and a couple of Yavimaya Wurms.
Here is what I ended up with:
This deck misses a couple of Doom Blades and better creatures like Cudgel Trolls. But apart from that this is pretty much how you want your G/B deck to be: A nice curve card advantage in the form of Gravediggers to get your first threats back Mind Rot a couple of tricks (Giant Growth and Stabbing Pain) and ending your curve with Wurms. Stabbing isn't a great card most of the time but it really finds its home G/B decks. It's removal for annoying critters makes room for your big creatures to attack and messes with the math when your opponent is double-blocking your Wurms (working pretty much like a flexible pump spell)
The Awakeners Druids give you surprise attackers in a deck that is not supposed to have any.
This is not a 3-0 deck but I hoped it could carry me to the top 8. I pulled out a first-round win against the other G/B player at the table who had a terrible deck. Then lost to Conley Woods who had lost his first round with his double-Mind Control deck…
With very little chance to make top 8 I battled against the best matchup G/B has: W/R.
W/R will try to save his creatures and clear the way for his beaters. Gravedigger is W/R's worst nightmare if he can't get his flyers operational in time. He will have to trade for your guys that you will bring back to life your creatures will overall be bigger and you will win eventually.
I needed a couple of matches to go my way in order to top 8. Bram had to win his match against Marku Rikola I had to win mine (that was settled) and two matches of the opposing 12-2 players needed to have a winner. Unfortunately for me Bram lost and all four 12-2 players drew… Which meant that I would finish 11th and that two of the players (included Conley who beat me the round before) would draw themselves out of the top 8.
I drew myself out of the top 8 in Grand Prix: Madrid '98 finishing 9th. Believe me you don't want to be there. Before drawing in the last round check the standing do the math… See if there are more chances for you to make it by playing or by drawing knowing that the feeling of frustration is not going away anytime soon if you don't make it…
11th. I finally scored some points this season. It was about time…
This weekend is Pro Tour: Amsterdam sure hope I'll rack up some more there!
Until next time