I was in the booth during GP Madrid. I'm not a fan of Modern nor did I ever find a deck I really wanted to play, so I took a step back and hoped to find out what I should play at Worlds from a neutral perspective. Unfortunately there wasn't anything I really wanted to play; the Top 8 of the GP was very diversified and once again it felt like anyone could pick up anything and either win out or scrub out.
About a week later, Jérémy Dezani, Ivan Floch, and Stanislav Cifka arrived in Toulouse to prepare for Worlds. We had five days to go over four formats: Khans of Tarkir Draft, Vintage Masters Draft, Standard, and Modern.
There were two formats I didn't really worry about: Khans Limited and Standard. I had played a lot of Drafts to prepare for the Pro Tour in Honolulu and I loved my Standard deck. We were to play GP Strasbourg to Refresh our memories and remember the tricks.
Vintage Masters was something else. When Modern Masters came out last year, I didn't have any interest in the set: there no tournament I had planned to play (there was only one GP and it was in Vegas). So I just "skipped" it. I never opened a booster and I still don't even know what's in it at all. I thought I would do the same with Vintage Masters until they announced it would be played at Worlds. So I caught up by playing a bit back in August when it was still around and a bit when it got back in November.
We would wake up not too late in the morning, get in some Vintage Masters draft on Magic Online, and the rest of the time we would be testing Modern.
Jérémy and I tried to find a way to make our Martyr's Life deck work out. Ivan was sold on the delver deck he played in Madrid and did pretty well with. We figured out that the field would also see the potential the Delver deck had and play it.
Alex Habert and GP Top 8 competitor Elliot Boussaud played an interesting take on the Martyr's Life deck in Madrid. They both Day 2ed and Elliot cashed with something like this:
Elliot claimed the deck could beat pretty much everything except some impossible matchups like Tron, that it's very good against Delver, but that it definitely needed some tuning. Lingering Souls didn't quite work the way he wanted either.
The deck has a very good game one, but may have problems with game twos. In GPs it would often not matter too much as you would time your opponent out with a game one win. With the rounds untimed at Worlds that might become a real issue. Also, if we got to play a mirror match, it would become a nightmare for the organizers.
So Jérémy tried the deck and didn't like it that much. He liked the concept, the two-card combo that would win a lot of matchup on its own (Martyr of Sands + Serra Ascendant), but it had too many dead/useless cards in an opener, like Proclamation of Rebirth or all the lands that would be very unlikely activated in a lot of games.
So we worked on a list with green instead of black. We wanted to maindeck Rest in Peace which we felt was very well positioned in the format. It disabled all the Delve cards (Treasure Cruise/ Dig Through Time) as well as Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage. We also wanted more Silver Bullets main, so we added some Nevermore and Sphere of Safety. We also wanted a win condition. Something resilient that wouldn't be countered or die to removal. We found what we were looking for in Sigarda, Host of Herons and Cavern of Souls.
Here's more or less, the list we had:
This deck is far from perfect and has a lot of problems. The thing is, we had an almost perfect record on Magic Online, winning countless 8-mans in a row against pretty much every deck in the format, and tweaking the deck every time. However, every time we played against Ivan, or just a good player, we had a much harder time. We had a negative record against Ivan's list and weren't confident anymore.
Just for the record, here is Ivan's list (Stan played that at Worlds as well):
The problem was, we didn't quite have the logistics to push our testing much further, we went in many different directions with the deck (GW Life) but couldn't figure out a way to be 100% happy with it. We only tested on Magic online and were only four people in total. We ended up giving up on the deck and looked for other options.
We definitely saw the limits in playtesting on Magic Online. I never really played Magic Online that that much, but now that we needed it (at least for Vintage Masters), I would definitely side with the people criticizing it virulently. I'm not going to extensively express my feelings about it, I'm just going to address one message to the people working on it:
"Please, for the players' sake (and yours), fix it! A program that sells virtual stuff for real money (and not just a little money) can't offer that kind of miserable play experience."
Anyway, not trying harder to make proxies and play with paper Magic was a big mistake. We lost a lot of time, trading, building decks, restarting Magic Online, and just not playing enough games.
So we were back to square one. And I don't like square one where everyone says something different and no real direction to head to. You could go around and ask and you'd have a different answer for every different person you talked to.
"What should I play?"
...with no one being very confident in their answer. So we left the drawing board to try to break a format that seems very solid and tried the existing decks against each other.
In Modern, I've had bad experiences with pretty much every archetype that don't really make me want to play these decks again. I gave Ivan's deck a try. It seemed very hard to pilot and I only had a couple of days to catch up and play as many games with it as possible. Not making day two in Strasbourg allowed me to play for an extra day in Modern. The feeling I had with Delver was not the best. Patrick Dickmann lent me his Twin deck, but it didn't feel right either. Later that day, we settled on Scapeshift as we were slight favourite against Delver and didn't really have super bad matchups.
That's the list Jérémy and I settled for:
On day one of the tournament, I was quite confident with my Vintage Masters skills. I knew how to draft most archetypes; I had some preferences but could start with pretty much any colour. I liked starting with a blue base along with black removal spell like Chainer's Edict and Expunge, then adding card draw and Scriveners to top it up.
I was however happy to open a Battle Screech and go for White Weenie, one of the best archetypes in the format. I didn't get to see enough white cards for my deck and ended up with the following deck:
2 Battle Screech
1 Mystic Zealot
2 Noble Templar
1 Gustcloak Harrier
1 Pianna, Nomad Captain
2 Dauthi Marauder
2 Master Decoy
2 Soltari Trooper
1 Fledgling Djinn
1 Stoic Champion
1 Benevolent Bodyguard
1 Teroh's Faithful
1 Deftblade Elite
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Brilliant Halo
1 Spinal Graft
2 Radiant's Judgment
1 Akroma's Blessing
2 Secluded Steppe
1 Salt Flats
Relevant SB Cards:
1 Mystic Zealot
2 Urborg Uprising
2 Spinal Graft
2 Mesmeric Fiend
I started the tournament off by playing against Stan and his Goblin deck. We split the first two games and he managed a turn four kill on the play. How?
Turn 1: Mountain, Mana Crypt, Hulking Goblin.
Turn 2: Mountain, Beetleback Chief.
Turn 3: Mountain, Hulking Goblin, Goblin General.
Turn 4: Solar Blast.
That was a pretty bad start to my tournament, but I managed to get back into the winner's bracket by defeating Rookie of the Year Raymond Perez Jr. and Jacob Wilson in the next two rounds. (Third game against Jacob covered here and for the record, he did play Famine in game two of the match)
Vintage Masters Record: 2-1
Overall Record: 2-1
Then came the dreaded portion of Modern, and again, I had to kick off the format by playing a teammate (Ivan). We chose to play Scapeshift because it had a decent matchup against Delver. I took game one against Ivan, but failed to win the sideboarded matches. I then lost in three games to Yuuki Ichikawa, also playing Delver. Then I lost to Willy Edel playing Abzan in three games and I finally pulled out my sole win in Modern against Nam Sung Wook playing Burn.
Modern Record: 1-3
Overall Record: 3-4
Four losses in a tournament is already a lot and it feels like you've been losing the whole day. I was concerned about day one and Modern and I guess I was right to be. I went back to the room to get some rest and hoped the next day would be a little better.
At the beginning of day two, I'm 18th sitting at pod three of three with only PV at nine points. My tie-breakers are abysmal and they won't help me much at the end of the tournament.
Sitting on my left at the Pod is Jérémy Dezani. You'll sometimes hear before a draft, if you're sitting next to a friend of yours, him asking you what your favourite colours or favourite archetypes are, so that you don't draft the same colours. This conversation is legal as long as you're not yet sitting at the table, however I strongly advise you to never take part in these. It's the best way to mess up your draft. Being able to adapt to what you're being passed is one of the skills of the good drafter. If you tell your friend "stay away from that colour, because I'm going to draft it," you either commit to your colours even if they're not available, or you screw your friend because you draft something else and he's staying away from the colours you told him you would draft. When someone asks me, I usually answer: "I'm not telling you what I like, and I don't want to know what you like".
That conversation didn't happen with Jérémy, but it's a tip you should keep in mind.
I opened a pack with Herald of Anafenza, two other good white cards, and Mardu Heart-Piercer. While Herald might be a better card, I wanted to make sure Jérémy got the signal I was passing white. We both ended up with pretty good decks, and out of each other's colours. I was BR and he was Jeskai (UWr).
1 Nomad Outpost
1 Bloodsoaked Champion
1 Horde Ambusher
1 Leaping Master
1 Valley Dasher
1 Gurmag Swiftwing
1 Grim Haruspex
4 Bloodfire Expert
1 Canyon Lurkers
1 Mardu Warshrieker
1 Summit Prowler
1 Mardu Heart-Piercer
1 Molting Snakeskin
1 Tormenting Voice
1 Barrage of Boulders
1 Act of Treason
1 Bring Low
1 Arrow Storm
1 Debilitating Injury
Relevant SB Cards:1 Barrage of Boulders
2 Sidisi's Pet
1 Rotting Mastodon
1 Briber's Purse
1 Dragon Grip
I really liked the deck I drafted. I proceeded to beat PV in round one, and lost to Jacob Wilson in round two, playing a very good Mardu Token deck that looked very good against me (Mardu Hordechief is very good against my 3/1s). In the last round, I beat Nam Sung Wook to start Standard at a neutral record.
Khans of Tarkir Draft Record: 2-1
Overall Record: 5-5
A 5-5 record does sound very bad but I liked the deck I was running in Standard. Jérémy and I worked on the sideboard for a while and we were both confident we would do just fine. Ivan and Stan decided to play UB Control.
I extensively talked about this deck in an article I posted a couple of weeks ago and I made a deck tech with BDM. This deck is fine against most of the field - a little behind against Sidisi and Abzan, but nothing too bad. I expected a field a little more diversified, and a little more Mardu/Jeskai decks that this deck feeds on. Turned out, I was a little off and played two Abzan and two GB Constellation decks.
In my third match of the tournament against Jacob Wilson, I beat his Abzan deck in three games and finally got back into the winners bracket (end of game three featured here). Jérémy playing the same deck had won also, and I was totally pumped.
I then played Owen playing the ChannelFireball GB Constellation deck. With only one Bile Blight and one Drown in Sorrow in the sideboard, that matchup really isn't that bad. Unfortunately, I lost in a very close three game match. The exact same scenario happened on the next round against William Jensen.
Back into the loser's bracket, I got paired against Paul Rietzl who beat me in two games with Abzan.
Standard Record: 1-3
Overall Record: 6-8
Right after round 14, I suffered what I call "PTD": Post-Tournament Depression. It's a non-lethal mental condition that happens after tournaments, when you either did badly or not as well as you expected, when all the pressure goes down and there are no more matches to play. All the accumulated Fatigue from preparation, traveling and playing suddenly surges back and you're so tired that you don't feel like doing anything except rest. This is not a very serious condition; it usually lasts for 24 hours or a little more, depending on how much sleep you manage to bank.
I remember having been bummed after a tournament, but I have to say that this one was brutal. Not quite the result I expected, especially in Standard. Eight losses is a lot of losses, and you (usually) never get to that point in a tournament. I don't think I played too badly and even though our preparation wasn't optimal, it wasn't terrible either. But I guess "not terrible" is just not good enough for this kind of competition!
It was an incredible experience that I hope I can qualify for again. I got to realize the huge gap that exists between average/regular PT Players and the very best in the World.
I'd like to thank my sponsors TCGplayer and Max Protection as well as everyone who I borrowed cards from: Mikael Rabie, Paul Briceno, Laurent Gadchaux, Jakub Vojta, Magic Bazar, and Cartapapa.
See you in Milan!