Hello and welcome back to our regularly scheduled programming. Last week we delved into a not-so-often explored topic of discussion on this column: drafting. Now, I know I made a lot of controversial decisions during that draft, including first picking a manafixer, but I am still under the impression that Green is the best color to draft. With that said, cards like Narcolepsy are clearly more powerful than Ondu Giant, but sometimes you have to figure out your long game as opposed to what's the best pick for a particular pack. A lot of people don't believe in signaling, and especially so that early on in the draft, but I can guarantee you that if I am ever passed a pack containing Narcolepsy and Domestication, I will almost assuredly move into Blue, regardless of my first pick. While not everyone may agree with what I'm saying, it is what I believe and regularly practice in draft. That is the beauty of drafting: rarely do people do it exactly the same way. Certain players tend to lean on certain strategies, and not even the same card pool will yield the same 40 card deck most of the time. We, as players, tend to do better when we get to see these different ideas in progress, learning from others whose opinions differ from our own. This is why I love drafting.
With that said, this is Constructed Criticism. This week we'll be diving right back into Standard with a Grand Prix: Washington D.C. tournament report, where I was ever-so-close to making Top 16 and qualifying for Amsterdam. The weeks leading up to the tournament were full of me testing both Standard and Block, cementing myself in Blue-White as long as I could get the cards for it. While I can't really talk much about Block, I will say that Standard is pretty diverse at the moment. The Top 8 of the GP doesn't really do it justice, but at least Jund is not 75% of the winning metagame, so that's probably a step up from Pre-ROE. After testing on Magic Online, I had decided that Blue-White Control was the best deck in the format, and can handily beat Jund with a good draw. It also has a solid chance against GerryT's Vengevine Naya deck that swarmed the tournament, making it a really strong contender and eventually winning in the hands of Brad Nelson. Here is the 75 I played (much inspired by the great __ShipitHolla):
Before this tournament, I was pretty confident that this 75 gave me the best chance of winning. However, if I had to go back in time and change something with the knowledge that I would play against Vengevine Naya more than 4 times, I would probably maindeck a full four Path to Exile, and probably three Day of Judgment. Negate was pretty solid in the maindeck considering the number of times I battled the mirror (or against Super Friends, which is pretty much the same deck), but could easily be delegated to the sideboard in order to help out against tougher matchups containing Vengevine. The sideboard was solid, but the Kor Firewalkers never came in, as I don't think they really deserve to see play against Jund. It doesn't block Putrid Leech, which is your deck's biggest problem. Celestial Purge would have been fine in the Firewalker's place, and I would have used it a lot more. And now, onto the report!
I woke up on Friday morning and got a ride to the airport from trusty ol' Blair, who has helped me out on more occasions than I can count. We joke about his driving me around being like the "good old days" where I was 16 and didn't have a car, so Blair would pick me up on the way to our local Sunday tournaments or FNM. After arriving at the airport with about two hours before the flight, I grabbed a book about Megalodon sharks from a little bookstore to pass the time, and sat at the terminal when torrential rain began to pour. Hmm... not good. My flight got delayed an hour, so I sat there for about two and a half hours, enveloped in a tale about giant sharks devouring people. This was going on all while "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes was playing over and over in my head, due to hearing it at a party the previous night while my friend Daniel played a 90's mix on his XBox radio station. Sigh. This is going to be a long weekend.
After the plane finally arrived, we boarded in a hurry, but I was already going to miss my connecting flight unless it too was delayed. Upon arriving in one of the Carolinas, I was told by a flight rep that I was going to be stuck in that airport until 4pm. Mind you, I've been in airports since 9am already, and my flight was about an hour long thus far, meaning I was going to spend three times as much time in airports than actually flying. After grabbing some lunch from a restaurant in the airport, I refueled and began "sharking it up" again. I arrived in Dulles airport in Washington D.C. around 5:30pm, and awaited the shuttle to my hotel. Unfortunately, we discovered that the shuttle only leaves the hotel once an hour, so I set in to wait. Luckily, LSV and a few other people were there to talk to. We discussed drafting ROE, and I found out that he was also staying at our hotel. Finally the shuttle arrived, and took us the 10-minute journey to the hotel.
After arriving at the hotel around 6:30, I decided it wasn't worth it to go to the site, and just grabbed some dinner with friends. Kenny Ellis and __ShipitHolla were staying with us, as well as another guy whose name I forgot countless times (sorry!). I'm really bad with names. By the way, if you don't know who __ShipItHolla is, his name is Michael Hetrick, and he is an MTGO Shark. His favorite deck is Blue-White, which he's been crushing with lately, and I took a lot of his words to heart when building my deck for this tournament. Four Baneslayer Angel was where I wanted to start, but we argued a bit over the Day of Judgments in the main (he wanted to play zero, while I wanted two or more). After agreeing to disagree, we set upon getting dinner with Matt Nass and a few other guys from California. I won the Credit Card Game against Matt Nass, netting a free New York Strip in the process. However, the service at Longhorn was pretty awful, but the food was fine so I'd still call it a win.
After getting my 75 sleeved up and ready to go, we drifted to sleep after battling some Block on MTGO 2-mans. I woke up a bit earlier than everyone else because I still needed to register. I showered, got dressed in my StarCityGames.com shirt, and headed out the door to grab a shuttle. Unfortunately, the shuttle wasn't going to leave for a while, so I hoofed it the mile to the site with Kitt Holland and company, stopping along the way to grab some Red Bull from a local store. I got to the site to find out that they had, in fact, run out of the Promo Umezawa's Jittes, mostly due to the 1200 pre-registered players the previous day. Awkward. Maybe it would have been worth it for me to make the trip up there at 6:30 last night.
I joined the 200-person line already in progress, but the wait was fairly short. I signed up, bought some new sleeves, and got to work grabbing the last two cards I needed for the deck, as well as some sweet Unhinged basic lands from friend Chris Carnesworth. After getting everything ready, the player meeting began. We had over 1900 players, by far the largest North American tournament in history, and only beat out by a few tournaments in Europe. This was going to be quite the challenge, a full 17 rounds of play followed by Top 8. The first day consisted of 9 rounds, while the second day was 8 rounds followed by Top 8, making it a sick 20 rounds of play over the course of two days (excluding byes, of course). I grabbed some Chick-fil-A with my two byes, and battled a bit with some friends, birding a draft in the meantime. After three hours of waiting for two rounds to finish (20-30 minute delays between rounds), my first round of play finally started.
Round 1 & 2 - Bye*
Round 3 against Danail Garmon playing Vengevine Naya
This game was pretty convoluted, but consisted of him playing an early Lotus Cobra and Cunning Sparkmage, followed by a few other dorks. I played a Gideon and forced him to attack into my Wall of Omens, to which he obliged. After killing a few guys, he played the deck's signature card: Vengevine. I "dealt" with it by blocking with a manland, but he was holding "the goods" in Scute Mob and Wild Nacatl to bring it back and bring the pain. I was dead shortly after. In this game, my opponent played incredibly slowly, but he had a lot of decisions to make, which kept me from calling a judge. In hindsight, I should have, because it ended up costing me big time.
In the second game, he had a few early Vengevines, but I was able to Path to Exile both of them, giving me plenty of time to set up. After drawing literally 16 lands and shuffling some away with Jace and Arid Mesa, I finally drew some gas in Baneslayer Angel. This guy pretty much went all the way, teamed up with Elspeth to pump, as well as Jace to bounce and replay on defense. Unfortunately for my opponent, he forgot that his Manabarbs could kill my Planeswalkers. When I showed him a Path to Exile for his next "alpha strike," he packed it in with only 2 minutes left on the clock. Neither of us could win, and time was called during his Turn 1, resulting in a draw. I made the biggest mistake I've made in a while not calling the Judge over early enough, but I don't know if my opponent was slow playing on purpose. He did play relatively slowly, but my deck doesn't usually win very fast anyway.
Round 4 against Conor Morran playing Vengevine Naya
Game 1 I played a few Baneslayers and a Path to Exile, while he didn't do much of anything. That deck cuts Path to Exile and Oblivion Ring in favor of more creatures, so he doesn't have many ways other than Cunning Sparkmage and Basilisk Collar to deal with the Mythic Rare. This is the main reason I wanted the full four Baneslayer Angels maindeck, because they just cold some people. Combined with Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge, you can shut your opponent off their "removal color," and Baneslayer can just take it home.
Game 2 I get a few Planeswalkers into play with an active Baneslayer Angel, making for good times. He attacks with a 6/5 Ranger of Eos into my Baneslayer Angel, which I happily block. I end up getting a few Baneslayer Angels in play, but they play defense to protect Jace since he has a Vengevine suited up with a Sledge, as well as a Noble Hierarch or four. I sit back and wait to draw some goodies, and start attacking with Baneslayers once I find an answer to his Vengevine.
Round 5 against Shane Kelley playing Super Friends
In the first game, he is manascrewed, and I land a Jace on turn 4. After he tries for an Oblivion Ring, I have a Ring of my own to get his, and Jace becomes active once more. I draw a few cards, then eventually my fourth Baneslayer Angel gets the job done after the previous three get nuked by Path to Exile and Day of Judgment. I had a clutch Negate to stop the last removal spell from killing my Angel, and an attack with Colonnade in the mix helped seal it.
Game 2 he ends up playing an early Ajani Vengeant, which I Negate. I Spreading Seas his Mountain, but he follows that up with a second Mountain, which I was not expecting, and his second Ajani Vengeant. I Oblivion Ring that Ajani when it is on 6 counters, and follow that up with a Baneslayer Angel. He is against stuck on lands, and I crush him over the course of a ground out game even though I didn't think it was close. The mirror (or Super Friends) matchup is weird sometimes. You can essentially win the game on the fourth turn, but often it will take upwards of 15 minutes to physically kill your opponent through their slurry of removal spells.
Round 6 against Steve Patton playing Vengevine Naya
Game 1 I keep a fairly loose hand and get punished. He wins the die roll, and has a turn 3 Vengevine, followed by a turn 4 Bloodbraid Elf into more gas. I drew all blanks and died quickly, even with a Wall of Omens.
Game 2 he mulligans, while I play Elspeth and make a token. He decides to Pithing Needle naming Elspeth, which resolves. However, I deploy a trio of Baneslayer Angels, as well as a Gideon Jura, forcing him to lose his entire team and gain me a bunch of life. It was good times, to say the least.
Game 3 we play a long game where I land Baneslayer, and he can't deal with it yet again. A few attacks from Baneslayer Angel to recoup life lost from Vengevines, while having Oblivion Rings to deal with said Vengevines, and he's out of the race and out of the game.
Round 7 against Adam Koska playing Jund
I don't really know who Adam is, but he informs me he made ninth place at Worlds after I ask him where I've heard his name before. I draw an early Spreading Seas to shut off a Raging Ravine, as well as a few Path to Exiles for his early threats. He uses Maelstrom Pulse to kill an Elspeth, as well as my Everflowing Chalices, also having Terminate for my Baneslayer Angel. This lets my Wall of Omens protect me while I deal the full 20 damage with a Celestial Colonnade.
Game 2 he mulligans, and is able to deal with my first Baneslayer Angel via Terminate. He uses Blightning to keep me low on cards, but I have a follow up Baneslayer Angel, as well as a Mind Spring to recoup cards lost. He can't deal with the Baneslayer Angel, and I play a second to end the game quickly, holding a Path to Exile in case he draws a second Maelstrom Pulse.
Round 8 against Wu Tong playing Jund
This game was pretty easy, but mostly because I played a few Spreading Seas and he didn't play all that much other than Putrid Leech. I had an Oblivion Ring for it, as well as a few Wall of Omens and a Day of Judgment for his Bloodbraid Elf into another Putrid Leech. Gideon was on clean up duty, and Elspeth gave me a few blockers to keep from dying while the Angel finished the job.
Game 2 I mulliganed and he Duressed me on the first turn, taking a Spreading Seas. He had Doom Blade for my Baneslayer Angel on turn 4 from a Chalice, leaving me naked to his Alpha Strike with multiple Leeches.
Game 3 I decided to take out my Baneslayers, blanking most of his removal. I use Tectonic Edge and Spreading Seas to keep him off Black, and +2 Jace a bunch when he has no answer. I get Jace to Ultimate status, and he scoops.
Round 9 against John Marat playing Vengevine Naya
This was not a real match. Game 1 I drew no Blue sources off two Wall of Omens, but drew plenty of Chalices and Plains, as well as Oblivion Rings for his Vengevines and Knight of the Reliquary. However, I ended the game with a Mind Spring and Jace in hand, while he swarmed me with monsters.
The second game he mulliganed, played zero spells, and died to a turn 4 Baneslayer Angel.
Game 3 I stabilized the board with Day of Judgment when he has one card in hand and no Red sources due to Spreading Seas. However, he rips the Arid Mesa, casting Bloodbraid Elf into another creature, getting Vengevine back and attacking me for 7 from a previously empty board. I didn't have Path to Exile, so I was in a pickle. I played Wall of Omens, drawing into Elspeth, and passed after making a token. He plays a Sarkhan Vol (the OG), taking my token and bashing me down to 1 life. If he has nothing on the next turn, I can stabilize with a Celestial Colonnade, Elspeth tokens, and the Wall of Omens I just drew. However, he steals a token, shows me a Bloodbraid Elf, and I'm dead.
After Day 1 I was pretty pumped for doing so well, until that last round pummeling. I probably should have mulliganed the opening hand in game 1, but it had multiple Wall of Omens, as well as Chalice and a Turn 3 Elspeth if necessary. Sometimes you don't draw what you need, and that was definitely the case. After leaving the event site, I got some grub at a local Chinese place with JT Hendricks (my endboss) and friends from the Atlanta area. It was already 10:30pm, and we were very surprised they were open. Unfortunately, I lost this credit card game and got billed for $35, but I was still up on the weekend in games, because the bill from Longhorn the night before had been about $40. Luckily, this place wasn't super expensive.
After getting back to the hotel, I did some trading with people in the lobby, getting rid of some Judge foils for cards I need. I played some more MTGO, battling Block 2-mans like always. I get to sleep around 1am, due to everyone else buzzing around the room, talking about what they're going to do tomorrow. Kenny and I both made Day 2, while Hetrick failed to make the grade after starting off 6-0. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but he said that having Day of Judgment wouldn't have made a difference. I'm not sure where I stand on the argument, but I'm fairly certain I would play some number of Day of Judgment in the maindeck due to the increased popularity of the Naya deck.
Next week I'll conclude this tale, and soon you will get my report from San Juan. I feel comfortable drafting the format, but I'm still unsure about what deck I'm going to play for the Constructed portion. Hopefully, Brad Nelson will just ship me his 75 and I'll just win the whole thing. Apparently, he's a master. Thanks for reading.
strong sad on MTGO