Feature Article - Winning Worlds
A few days ago I received a mail from the guys at StarCityGames.com asking for a Worlds report. I’ve written Premium reports for StarCityGames.com in the past but this time I’ve decided that I shouldn’t write a report merely for the Premium readers. Even if Premium access is cheap for most people I know that there are Magic players out there that can’t afford it and I want everyone that loves the game as much as I do to be able to read my report for free.
2008 was my worst Magic year since I played my first Pro Tour. In 2005 I made Top 8 at Worlds. In 2006 I made Top 8 in three Grand Prix tournaments and Top16 at Pro Tour: Kobe. In 2007 I made Top 8 at two more Grand Prix tournaments and I was really close to reaching Level 7. In 2008 I didn’t make any Top 8 finishes and I ended the Magic year with only 15 Pro Tour Points.
I guess there were many factors for this. I was in the final year of my degree. I was still disappointed at getting so close to Level 7 in 2007 but missing out because I just couldn’t get any points after my two Grand Prix Top 8s. I finished my degree in Computer Science in September of 2008 and decided to give Poker a try. I started playing full time since I thought that I could make more money doing that than at a regular job. It went well for me and at the beginning of this year I decided that I want to make the highest level possible at my internet poker site. It has been a pretty hard grind and I haven’t much time to play Grand Prix tournaments. As I had only one Pro Tour invite courtesy of my 15 Pro Tour Points from the previous season I decided to play Worlds as it’s my favorite tournament.
This year I played Nationals since a Top 4 there would mean I could spend my Pro Tour invitation on PT: Houston so my Nationals was basically a PTQ. I didn’t have much time to practice... I simply did some drafts and asked Mike Flores for a deck. The deck wasn’t very good for that metagame but I was happy with my drafts and I really felt that I had a edge against that field when it came to drafting. I dropped after round 9 and I didn’t play any tournaments afterwards for quite a while.
In October I played some releases queues and drafts on MTGO in order to have fun and practice a little for Worlds. Again I asked Mike Flores for a Standard deck because I think that he is great at deckbuilding and sometimes he builds something that destroys the metagame. Also his decks are mostly midrange strategies and I prefer midrange. At the beginning of this month I was sick for a few days; it delayed my working plans. I decided to remove Worlds from my schedule since it would be hard to attain my poker goals in the time I had left this year. Shortly after I went on my worst Poker run for quite a while. On the Wednesday before Worlds after working at my Poker game for hours I couldn’t take it any more. I really needed to leave Poker behind me for a few days and try to have some fun... and what can be more fun than playing at Worlds?
At 2am I booked a flight for 3pm the following day. I paid 300 euros for a direct flight to Rome and booked a hotel. The hotel room was 50 euros on one website but it wasn’t accepting my reservation. I tried another site and the same hotel had rooms for 30 euros per night! I saved 100 euros on that. At that point I thought... “has my luck changed?”
When I arrived in Rome I tried to get the cards for my Standard decklist but I didn’t even bother thinking about Extended. I didn’t expect to be playing on Day 3 as I hadn’t played any of the current Standard format before.
- 4 Baneslayer Angel
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Ranger of Eos
- 1 Scute Mob
- 4 Wild Nacatl
- 4 Woolly Thoctar
I will quote Patrick Chapin and his thoughts on my Standard deck. Only a great artist can understand the work of another great artist and when it comes to deckbuilding both Chapin and Flores are great artists.
Now Flores has unleashed another monster packing so many proactive powerhouses that it is somewhat surprising to find that there was room for all of them and as four-ofs. "Isn’t this just another midrange deck?" you might be asking. No and here is why…
This deck has the best card advantage in the format. Ranger of Eos? Bloodbraid Elf? Ajani Vengeant? These are the new ways to gain card advantage. Lightning Bolt Path to Exile and Ajani Vengeant are among the best removal and Baneslayer Angel the good Woolly Thoctar and Scute Mob are incredible end-game threats.
Can you build a deck that can prey of the saturation of fat creatures in Naya Lightsaber? Sure but that is not the point. Naya Lightsaber does not aspire to be the focal point of the format; it is willing to let Jund be that. It just shows up in Jund’s world and preys on the fact that the entire metagame is designed to beat Jund not Naya. This is not to say that Naya doesn’t beat Jund as it does have edge over it. This is more a reflection on the fact that people can’t just go around playing tons of cards to beat Naya like Day of Judgment Journey to Nowhere and so on. You can play some of that stuff but the more of that you play the harder Jund will be and with 34% of Worlds competitors packing Jund and a full 50% of the Top 42 Standard decks being Jund it is safe to say that the format still revolves around Jund.
Flores’s deck is built around the theory that creatures are so good right now that you can base a winning strategy on just summoning the most strong creatures and in the words of Jamie Wakefield the last fatty they don’t deal with kills them. Without good combo decks to force aggro decks to be interactive we find a format where decks like this are possible.
If you are looking for a good alternative to Jund for States I recommend checking out Naya Lightsaber. When I was in Bucher’s hotel room with Olivier and Antoine Ruel helping him test for his Top 8 match-up against Terry Soh also piloting a Naya deck we couldn’t help but notice how much more we liked Andre’s list than Soh’s. One of the most compelling aspects of the Naya Lightsaber is the fact that it is literally a list of the best Red White and Green cards in the format.
I managed a 4-2 record over the six Standard rounds. My two losses were against a WUR control deck and Jund. I won against a UW deck two Jund decks and a Boros deck with Earthquakes so I don’t know what the deck’s good matchups were. I admit that I didn’t really know how to sideboard with the deck but I don’t think I made any major mistakes while playing.
The match I lost against the Jund deck was pretty close but I flooded. The the match against the WUR deck was a bloodbath; he had all the right answers to my threats at the perfect time.
There was a match against Jund where my opponent had the kill on the table. He had Garruk Wildspeaker with 4 Loyalty counters enough creatures to deal lethal damage when pumped and I was tapped out but he tapped his creatures before activating Garruk and I called a judge. The judge rulled that he was already in his attack step as he was tapping his creatures and that he could go back to Declare Blockers but he could not use Garruk before attacking. The interesting part was that he conceded the match when he probably had 6-7 outs in the next 3-4 draws. I had one Angel that would kill Garruk next turn but if he drew an answer to the Angel and I couldn’t draw another one he would kill me eventually.
Against Boros my opponent made a fundamental mistake when he misassigned who was playing the beatdown deck as he tried to play the control role with his Earthquakes and burn spells. I just played a Ranger of Eos plus his fetched creatures which he Earthquaked... then a haste Bloodbraid Elf that got Earthquaked again... and then I burned him out since he dropped himself into burn range.
I was really excited by my 4-2 finish because I’ve never won so many rounds in the Standard portion of Worlds before. Breaking my record was an achievement on its own.
I didn’t have any predefined strategy for Limited. My plan was to use my draft reading skills and try to draft what was underdrafted no matter what it was. In the first draft my deck wasn’t very good. Based on what I saw during the draft and the matches I don’t think that anyone had a great deck. My deck wasn’t good enough for a 3-0 record but I was lucky to draw the right cards in the right matchups and I think that I made better decisions than my opponents. In the second draft I got the sickest deck ever. It was almost Mono Black with multiple copies of every good common and uncommon and a splash for three really good Blue cards. I was a little tired at that point and I made one mistake during the deckbuilding stage as well as mistakes during the games but the deck was so sick that it didn’t matter. I repeated my Limited 6-0 from 2005 Worlds!
I didn’t have an Extended deck so I picked up a decklist from Tomoharo Saito. I played some sort of Naya deck with a splash for Bant Charm in the maindeck and Meddling Mage plus Negate in the sideboard.
I managed a 3-0 result with this deck. I played against Kibler’s Naya Zoo deck Hexmage Depths and Mono Red Burn. Saito said that we had a 60% edge against Kibler’s Naya Zoo and the games were fine. Hexmage Depths must be the best matchup ever since we play eight remove creature spells in this aggressive deck plus some extra counterspells in the sideboard to protect our own spells. The Mono Red match wasn’t easy and I got lucky in that one but it’s not an awful matchup. We can gain some time at the beginning with creatures and removal and later we have Umezawa’s Jitte Baneslayer Angel and Lightning Helix.
I intentionally drew the next round against David Reitbauer and told him “see you in the finals!”. My next round was another intentional draw against Bram Snepvangers and the round yet another draw intentionally against Marijn Lybaert. I drew against my three Top 8 opponents in reverse order.
I was really happy to make Top 8 at Worlds again. The last time I had an awful deck and it was my first Pro Tour so I was a newbie but this time even if I hadn’t practiced for the event at least I was more experienced. Unlike the Day 1 matches this time I cared about sideboarding properly versus my quarter-finals opponent so I built both decks and tried some sideboarding permutations with the help of my Portuguese friends.
No matter what I tried the matchup seemed pretty even. I knew that my role was to be the beatdown player and I started cutting expensive spells but it wasn’t giving me an edge since I was pretty much giving up on my midgame. I went to sleep and in the morning I woke up with a thought: “remove Wild Nacatl.” While Naya should be the aggressor most of the time this matchup is not about playing an early creature and try to get the opponent in burn range. Instead you play a threat that can't be handled instead and handling Wild Nacatl is the easiest thing in the Jund deck. Ranger of Eos is there to get Nacatls and Scute Mobs and to provide card advantage so I didn’t want that either. I didn’t want to get into any midgame attrition wars. Path to Exile is counterproductive since one of the post-sideboard strategies is to attack their lands.
My sideboard plan was:
If the matchup was close pre-sideboard it isn't after sideboard. Putrid Leech and Sprouting Thrinax lose value since now I don't have so many creatures that have problems with them and Celestial Purge is quite efficient against them.
Sure they add Terminate but it doesn't kill Great Sable Stag and an unmatched single Stag will be game quite often. The extra Ajani Vengeant will provide some extra burn add some redundancy to the Goblin Ruinblasters and it’s a must-handle threat. Goblin Ruinblaster is there to attack their manabase and a turn 2 Noble Hierarch followed by turn 3 Goblin Ruinblaster is good both on the play and on the draw. I tried some games post sideboard and they were clearly favorable.
In the quarter-finals I lost the first game and then was lucky enough to win the next three favorable post-sideboard games.
- 3 Elite Vanguard
- 2 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 3 Kor Skyfisher
- 4 Plated Geopede
- 4 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Steppe Lynx
This matchup seemed bad on the paper and I got an email from Mike Flores with his sideboard strategy. He recommended:
-1 Scute Mob
-2 Wild Nacatl
-1 Path to Exile
-2 Ranger of Eos
I was lucky enough to win game 1 and I sideboarded as Mike suggested for game 2. I lost game 2 and kept the same 60 cards but I realized that in game 3 there weren't rRd cards on Bram's deck and that he’d switched to some sort of midrange deck. I lost game 3 so it meant that I would start in game 4 and if I was right Bram would kept the midrange plan on the draw again. So I sideboarded out the Celestial Purges and added the fourth Ajani Vengeant as a Lightning Helix effect as it is pretty good against Boros. In the fourth game I thought that I had the match lost at some point but since Bram didn't have the second Bushwhacker I was able to win that game. In game 5 I had a Baneslayer Angel that Bram couldn't answer.
I've already lost two Grand Prix finals in my Magic career. I was hoping that my seventh premier level Top 8 appearance would finally lead to a victory!
The sideboard plan against this Jund deck was the same as against the one above and it worked well again.
It was quite hard to stay awake during the Top 8 since I usually work during the night. I slept for something like five hours the previous night and playing eighteen rounds of Magic over three different days was quite tiring so I was feeling a bit sick. I drank a ton of caffeine (coffee and cola) and it helped me stay awake.
Is Naya Lightsaber the best deck in the format? I don't know. If it was for Worlds it won't be anymore since there will be excellent sideboard options against it. Nevertheless it it should still be a competitive deck. The decklist was available to the public for a number of days before Worlds. Maybe you should start reading what Mike has to say about the format because he will be right (sometimes hehe).
Considering my lack dedication to Magic this year and my lack of preparation for this event in particular I didn't deserve to win. However I think that if we consider all the time I've dedicated to Magic over the past five years it might seem fair.
I will probably not have enough time to play all the Pro Tours next year but I will try to play some as I love to play Magic!
I'm very thankful to Mike Flores for the Standard deck to Tomoharo Saito for the Extended deck and to everyone that has supported me since I started playing Magic.
Thanks for reading!