Preparing for a Small Field
The Magic Online Championships is like no other tournament in Magic. It spans three formats and uses a unique scoring system seen nowhere else. Beyond that there are two key elements that force MOCS players to approach it differently from other tournaments. The first is that the field consists of only twelve players.
Imagine you're preparing for a Grand Prix and you expect Mono Red to be five or ten percent of the metagame. You may decide to put Circle of Protection: Red on your sideboard if you need it badly enough but if the card is useless in all other matchups then you have a tough decision on your hands.
Now imagine you're preparing for your ten-player FNM and you know from last week that both Andrew and Steve will be playing Mono Red. The choice becomes clearer.
And now imagine your FNM pays out $100000.
When you prepare for a large tournament you prepare to face archetypes: Mono Red Tempered Steel Blue Control etc. For a small tournament you prepare to face players. At the GP it's possible you could go the whole tournament without facing Mono Red but at FNM if you can't beat a particular person your chances of winning the tournament plummet. A cutthroat player should come equipped with “Circle of Protection: Andrew” “Sword of Fred and Anthony” and “Slayer of Oliver.”
Part of my initial preparation for the MOCS was researching my competition. I learned what Jun'ya Iyanaga's favorite movie is I learned who Ricky Sidher took to his senior prom and I learned that Bing Luke isn't a Pink Floyd fan. While that stuff wasn't particularly helpful what was important was getting a feel for people's deck preferences. I guessed that two or three of us would play control no matter what two or three of us would play suicidal aggro no matter what two or three of us would gravitate towards midrange and as always there were a few loose cannons whose decisions I couldn't predict.
Leading up to the tournament I knew how valuable it would be to know what even a single MOCS competitor would be playing. Consequently I tried to be as secretive as I could. As the MOCS was even more important to me than the main event I considered using decoy decks in the World Championships and saving my best for the MOCS. However I quickly rejected that idea because of a second key element of the event: the results from the World Championships can influence the MOCS metagame.
For each format the Worlds rounds preceded the MOCS rounds and I knew that they had the potential to change everything. What if I planned to play Tempered Steel in the MOCS and a team of players successfully broke out the deck for the main event? Fresh in their minds my opponents would add extra sideboard hate for Tempered Steel through no fault of my own. Worse yet what if a team of players successfully broke out a deck that was very good against Tempered Steel? Some of my opponents would be likely to copy the breakout deck and again I would have to reconsider my deck choice.
I decided that my best course of action would be to learn the formats on the whole as best I could and gravitate towards solid decks that were difficult to hate out. I would play my first choice deck in the main event and have six rounds of tournament practice to fine tune it. Hopefully I'd be able to scout the MOCS players over the course of the day to get a better guess of what the metagame might be. I would have strong backup decks in case something went wrong for me in the main event or if I found any attackable trends. With this in mind I eventually settled on Wolf Run Ramp for Standard with Mono Red as a backup and Big Zoo for Modern with Affinity Jund Rock and Domain Zoo as backups.
My preparation led me to Plan A decklists that I was happy with. It also put me in a good position to incorporate new information from the Worlds rounds which proved to be key.
Day 1: Standard
The deck I played in the Worlds rounds was a W/G/r Wolf Run Ramp deck that featured Day of Judgment Elesh Norn Grand Cenobite and two Birthing Pods in addition to all of the typical cards you expect to see in a Primeval Titan deck. The only person who played a similar deck was fellow MOCS competitor Bing Luke (Prolepsis9). We had gotten the idea from our mutual friend Jarvis Yu but taken our decklists in slightly different directions after that.
Day of Judgment is a powerful all-purpose answer whose presence completely turns around some of Wolf Run's bad matchups. In particular it's quite difficult to win any game against W/G Tokens when you don't draw Day of Judgment but it's comically easy to win when you do. It's also generally useful against any decks with creatures like Mono Red and the mirror match and provides insurance against some less-popular strategies like Tempered Steel and Angelic Destiny decks.
While I wouldn't describe it as a “Birthing Pod deck” I came to really appreciate having the Pods as a side theme. After some bad experiences with Birthing Pod in the past I refused to add any silver bullet creatures that I wouldn't be happy to actually draw. However Wolf Run conveniently plays a chain of value creatures anyway—Solemn Simulacrum Acidic Slime Primeval Titan etc. The Pods are remarkably powerful in some matchups and generally provide more options and room to play around. The biggest selling point is the ability to find Elesh Norn in the late game which is simply an amazing card for the format. It completely dominates the game against any opponent without a Doom Blade and black decks are few and far between in today's Standard.
I went 3-3 in the Worlds rounds which was a little worse than I had been hoping for. Nevertheless batting .500 at the World Championships is respectable and I still finished the day with enthusiasm about the deck. I lost one very close match to Bloodline Keeper out of Shouta Yasooka's Tezzeret deck. Aside from that there was one clear place where I went wrong. I faced Mono Red three times over the course of the day and only came out with a 1-2 record. The fact is that Mono Red is an easy matchup for Wolf Run if you put in just a little effort during deck and sideboard construction. My mistake was that I underestimated how popular Red would be and consequently took chances with that matchup that I didn't need to.
Bing pulled off a gentleman's 4-2 with the Ramp Pod deck making a positive record between the two of us. After scouting that four or five of the MOCS players had chosen (and done well with) Mono Red in the main event we held a strategy conference and decided to play the same deck for the MOCS but this time gear it very strongly for the Mono Red matchup. Here's what I settled on myself:
- 1 Palladium Myr
- 4 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 3 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Blade Splicer
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 4 Viridian Emissary
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
The MOCS (Day 1)
Bing and I felt very comfortable going in as sure enough there were five aggressive red decks and a Tempered Steel which would all be very favorable matchups. However there were two players that we were particularly scared to face. Gainsay (Andrew Cuneo) had gone undefeated in Worlds with his completely rogue U/W Control deck and blue control is the only archetype that I feel can be favored against W/G/r Wolf Run. SEVERUS (Jun'ya Iyanaga) also finished 6-0 with his unbelievably powerful Wolf Run Ramp list which I was afraid could simply outclass Bing and I in the pseudo-mirror.
Wouldn't you know it the very first round comes reiderrabbit vs. Gainsay and Prolepsis9 vs. SEVERUS. This was particularly bad for me as Mr. Cuneo's rogue decklist had not yet been published on the coverage page and I had no replays to watch so I was completely in the dark. Luckily for me though my opponent had mana trouble in both games which I unmercifully rubbed in with my Acidic Slimes.
Round 1: reiderrabbit vs. Gainsay
Dominating the game with Birthing Pod against a color-screwed opponent I still managed to make an obscure mistake which nearly allowed the indomitable Gainsay to make a comeback. After drawing my card I decided that I wanted to do two things on my turn: cast a Solemn Simulacrum and sacrifice the Solemn Simulacrum that I already had in play to fetch an Acidic Slime with Birthing Pod. Briefly shifting to autopilot I attacked with the existing Solemn and then sacrificed it to the Birthing Pod before casting my spell.
Under normal circumstances this is the technically correct sequence. Sacrificing the Solemn allows me to draw a fresh card and the general rule is to make the plays that reveal new information first in case that new information changes your mind about the way you want to play the rest of your turn. Unfortunately I was not playing under normal circumstances because my opponent was missing blue mana and his lands were two Plains and a Ghost Quarter. As soon as I was asked to choose my target for Acidic Slime I realized my mistake; no matter what land I chose he could use the Ghost Quarter on himself to get an untapped Island. I followed through with the play and when I afterwards cast the Solemn Simulacrum from my hand Gainsay was able to Mana Leak it.
After that he was forced to tap out frequently for Day of Judgments and Oblivion Rings to try to claw his way back into the game. It would have been easy for me to make his permission dead if I hadn't given him the free window to use it that turn. What I should have done was to cast my Solemn before using my Birthing Pod because if he wanted to use his Ghost Quarter for an Island right there he would no longer be able to respond to my Slime and he'd find himself down two lands.
After my mistake there was a possibility of me losing if I flooded out. Luckily that didn't happen and I was able to resolve a Titan and put away the game and the match. My brother-in-arms was not so fortunate—Bing got roasted alive by Jun'ya's Inferno Titans and Devil's Plays. The win extended Jun'ya Iyanaga's win streak to seven and further increased the tension when I saw the next round's pairing.
Round 2: reiderrabbit vs. SEVERUS
Game 1 went exactly as I feared it would. I found myself with a dominant board presence when I got Devil's Played for an ungodly number. I untapped stared at the board and realized that I was short of killing him and had no way to avoid dying to the flashback on the following turn.
Initially game 2 was similar. I felt a sinking feeling in my heart as I counted over and over again that I could attack SEVERUS to only nine poison and that he could end the game the following turn if he had Devil's Play. To make matters worse I could even have gotten an extra attack in with Inkmoth Nexus if I had played my lands in a different order in the early game. I mentally prepared myself for a fiery death and passed the turn but by some miracle he wasn't holding Devil's Play and I sent the match to a decider.
By this point I had seen quite a bit of my opponent's deck and knew that he had multiple Sphere of the Suns four Solemn Simulacrums four Inkmoth Nexuses and possibly Sword of Feast and Famine as well. I brought in my Ancient Grudge and my Viridian Corrupter in addition to leaving in the Acidic Slimes. SEVERUS led with two Inkmoth Nexuses and a Sphere of the Suns which I destroyed with the one-of Corrupter. He continued playing colorless lands and by the time he finally drew a Mountain I had reached Acidic Slime mana. Mana screwed is not where you want to be in a Wolf Run mirror and I won an anticlimactic game 3 to finish what was otherwise an epic match.
Believe me when I say that I felt great at this point. I had vanquished my two most feared opponents and was sitting at 2-0 with two other players—both Mono Red.
Round 3: reiderrabbit vs. Toffel
The little gnomes who decide the MTGO pairings were not on my side that day though and I got paired down against Toffel with Illusions. I consider Illusions a favorable matchup—I had practiced it quite a lot—but it's close and certainly not as easy as Mono Red.
I won a very close game 1 which was a good omen as things get significantly better after sideboard. For game 2 I kept a hand on the draw that contained Viridian Emissary Green Sun's Zenith Solemn Simulacrum and Day of Judgment—the perfect hand. Perfect except that I only had a single land with a Birds of Paradise. Toffel lead with a Phantasmal Bear and repeatedly Vapor Snagged my Birds while I missed land drops. By the time I was finally able to get moving it was too late.
In game 3 I had a hand with a bunch of mana and multiple Day of Judgments but not much else. The reason I generally like this matchup from the Wolf Run side is that you're in good shape if the game goes long. You have a dozen game-ending topdecks and it's typically fairly easy to play them around permission. Unfortunately if those dozen cards fail to show up things are bad for you as Illusions has a lower land count and annoying card advantage from Snapcaster Mage and Moorland Haunt. I played conservatively with my Wraths and dragged things out as long as I could but I failed to get lucky when I needed to and Toffel took a hard-fought win off of me.
Round 4: reiderrabbit vs. goobafish
In the final round I was paired up against the 3-0 goobafish also known as David Caplan who was currently 9-0 on the day with his hyper-aggressive Mono Red build. However this was the matchup I had been planning for and things went perfectly for me with Elesh Norn putting a stop to all Goblin shenanigans. When I won the other ten players cheered me on for not allowing goobafish to run away in the standings on Day 1. There were no 4-0 players so there was a five-way tie for first. It was still anybody's game.
I was beaming as I left the venue. No one can complain about standing in a tie for first place and I had snapped three undefeated streaks in the four rounds of the MOCS. When the whole weekend was said and done I would be the only one to have defeated Jun'ya Iyanaga in Standard as he finished 6-0 in the main event 3-1 in the MOCS and handily won the Top 8 on Sunday with his amazing Wolf Run Ramp list.
Please tune in later in the week for Part 2 of the MOCS report where I'll describe the Innistrad draft day briefly and the Modern days in detail. Hopefully I can show that there are more ways to build a Tarmogoyf deck than you may have seen in the main event coverage!
In the coming weeks I'm hoping to write primers on the decks I used over the course of the World Championship weekend. I'd really appreciate feedback in the forums so that I can know how much interest there is in Modern and in the W/G/r Wolf Run Standard deck that I described today. Thanks for reading!