Return to Ravnica had officially been released. Instead of going to my local shop to participate in a release event, I opted for a gathering of the best players available in Florida to play at my house. I wanted to make sure I had a leg up on the competition when the Pro Tour finally arrived. We ended up with three people playing in the Pro Tour, two people whom participated in previous Pro Tours, and a few guys whom have a lot of experience under their belts. We alternated between team drafting and eight-man drafting, preparing for both the Team Grand Prix and the Pro Tour.
I split the first draft with a subpar deck. The rest of the weekend doesn’t go so well. Every team draft I do until late into Sunday has me going either 2-1 or 3-0, but has my team losing 4-5 or 3-6. I’m learning a lot about the format and how to evaluate the cards so I don’t care too much that I’m not winning the drafts. At the end of the weekend I’m a big fan of Selesnya and picking combat tricks early. The format is weak on removal, so having as many combat tricks as possible allows you to attack fearlessly, and use those pump spells as removal.
I also was a fan of the “Wall deck”. Usually ending in the colors RUG, having three-plus Axebane Defender will allow for some silly interactions. I had one game where I played a Turn 2 Gatecreeper Vine, Turn 3 Axebane, Turn 4 Axebane, Axebane, and Turn 5 Hornchanter’s Call, Selesnya Guildmage, and then proliferate. Pretty silly, huh?
A Trip Like No Other
It’s Friday, Oct. 12.
I begin my morning rituals of getting ready for work. I take my 15-minute shower, put on my work polo and khakis, grab my premade breakfast and lunch then briskly head out the door to make it to work by 7:45 a.m. Normally I’m cashing checks and helping customers with their checking accounts until 5 or 6 p.m. I’ll go straight to FNM at Darkside Comic and Games, where I usually X-0 or X-1 for prize. But today I’ll be leaving around 3 p.m. so I can make my flight to San Jose, Calif., for the Team Grand Prix.
Before I go any further, let’s introduce my teammates for this event.
Julian De Los Santos. Like a lot of Magic players he goes to school full time, so making time for Magic can be a difficult proposition. Before he went to college he was near the top of competitive magic scene in Florida. We have team drafted more times than I can count, so we have a good feel for each other’s preferences.
Glenn Jones. A name you are likely familiar with. Glenn currently works with StarCityGames and does pretty much everything for them. Glenn is a very observant individual who has strong opinions and rarely thinks he is wrong. Before Glenn left for StarCity in Richmond, Va., he lived in Florida. We became friends via the PTQ circuit doing team drafts like Julian and I would. With other Florida players not making a trip, these two gentlemen offered me the best chance to do well.
I get to the Tampa airport about 90 minutes early and say goodbye to my girlfriend, Allie, and our friend Ashley as they head to a local gaming shop in Tampa, Fla. I get to my gate and find a disturbing fact. Our flight has been delayed! Normally this is just a minor inconvenience while you end up being late to your destination.
The issue here is that my connection in Texas has a 90-minute layover. My flight is delayed an hour. For those who don’t want to do the math, that gives me 20 minutes to reach my gate because they close it 10 minutes before departure. I ask the attendant on duty at the gate what flights are available tomorrow if I didn’t make the connection. “The earliest we have going out is 11:10 a.m.” Well that doesn’t help me much does it?
I luckily am sitting in the very front of the plane, and spend my time on the flight to Texas studying the layout of the airport to figure out the best course of action. As expected, the gate is on the opposite side of the airport.
There’s a small group of us in the same boat, and when we land and take off running we discover one of those carts you see in airports. The driver agrees to give us a lift and we dash through the airport at top speeds of 15 mph! Blistering fast, I know. We get to the end of the hall where an elevator takes the entire cart straight down to the next floor. We do this again and again. Finally we reach the correct terminal, but wait. They are closing the doors!
Screaming as we approach, we’re thankfully allowed to board uncontested. I land in San Jose and find Pro Tour Winner Charles Gindy at the baggage claim waiting for his teammate Tim Aten. We chat briefly, mostly about Modern, and then get our bags and go our seperate ways. I find a cab and head off into the night in search of my hotel and teammates.
Grand Prix San Jose
I’ve played in only one other team event, Pro Tour Charleston 2006. My teammates were Keith Mclaughlin and David Irvine and the format was Shared Deck Ravnica Block Constructed. We missed Day 2 by losing the last round after starting 0-3. But that is a story for another time.
Arriving at the venue, we found it more packed than anticipated. I spend my time before the tournament finding friends of tournaments past. My old roommates Megan Holland aka MTGMOM and Kitt Holland. Patrick Cox, Orrin Beasley and David Sharfman, whom were teaming together and are my testing partners for Pro Tour Return to Raving. After a half an hour of chatting we found ourselves getting prepared to seat and register product.
The card pool we obtained was probably the worst I have seen in this format. We were blessed with a Stab Wound, two playable rares and a plethora of Urban Burgeoning. We scrounged together the best three decks we could and waited around during the two byes I got from a Grand Prix Trial at Armada Games in Tampa. I spend the downtime getting cards I need for Modern, getting cards signed, and grabbing a bite to eat.
Round 3 of 11: Yeah that’s right, three of ELEVEN. What a nightmare. We sit down across a group of players wearing what can only be described as Koopa Troopa Hats. We quickly dispatch the bad guys with spells and creatures, not mushrooms or fireballs.
Round 4 of 11: This time around we barely get the win, 2-1.
Round 5 of 11: We start playing against real decks and get dismantled easily.
Round 6 of 11: Ditto.
Round 7 of 11: Dead.
All right, that was fun. OK, not really. But it allow me to find “Pride Drafts” in preparation for the PT. I teamed up with Orrin and Pat against LSV, PVDDR and Paul Cheon. My teammates quickly went 0-5 where I went 2-0. Deciding to run it back, I found myself again 2-0, with Orrin and Pat dead at 0-5. Pretty rough, but seemed to be par for the course with my experience in this format.
I went back to the hotel early with Julian and we spent three hours working on my BG Vengevine deck. I was really excited about the deck as it was crushing Jund pretty easily. For reference, this was my list at the time:
My main concern was that it would have too many bad matchups against non-Jund, non-Scapeshift decks. Don’t get me wrong, that is what my team was expecting. However, just because you expect the field to be 40 percent of two archetypes doesn’t mean you are playing those decks every round. You’ll play against decks you are trying to avoid such as Affinity or RG Tron and just get crushed. I decided after playing those couple hours with Julian that I would not be playing the deck. It just couldn’t consistently beat the gauntlet, and I wanted to make sure I give myself the best chance to win.
Sunday arrives and I attempt to meet up with Pat and Orrin for breakfast. I say attempt because the following happens: I text Pat asking where they are going for breakfast, and he responds “It’s called Peggy Sue’s.” I call for a cab and tell the driver to take me to Peggy Sue’s. I arrive within five minutes of texting Pat. When I walk inside to find no Pat or Orrin I’m a bit confused. I call Pat, and he ensures me that they are at Peggy Sue’s. I look at my phone for Peggy Sue’s in the area. Of course there is more than just the one. Why wouldn’t there be?
After landing in Seattle on Monday afternoon, Sharfman and I spent the night drafting 8-4s on MTGO. My limited rating online started at 1872. By the end of the night it was 1800, and pretty much the same deal with Sharfman. The decks we were drafting were good, but we just couldn’t win. Being a little frustrated we went to bed hoping tomorrow would bring better fortune.
On Tuesday we decided it was time to test the RUG Scapeshift deck against the gauntlet I brought. My gauntlet — UW Midrange, RG Tron, Jund, Affinity, USA Delver and Naya Pod — clearly isn’t everything, but it gives us a pretty good idea because these decks are all fairly different. We play for about four hours, and the only deck putting up a fight was Affinity.
Sharfman decided to stick with the deck and work on tuning the numbers because it showed such promising results and is the only deck he brought. I was indecisive because the six games it played and beat Jund was because I never drew a Liliana. For reference, here is what Sharfman and Orrin ended up playing at the Pro Tour:
Modern RUG Scapeshift
The list was originally designed by Antonino De Rosa. I’ve been working with Ant for the last three PTs. For whatever reason, Ant abandoned the list above and went with a Boom/Bust Zoo variant that the majority of the Italians played. Pat was set on playing Jund, and the only deck advice I gave him was to include Deathrite Shaman somewhere in his 75. He ended up only playing two, and wishing that he probably played four. I was still indecisive on what to play. After testing with Sharfman, we spent the rest of the night drafting some more, plummeting down to 1750. Through two nights neither one of us had won an 8-4 draft.
‘A’ for Affinity
After an hour or two passed Wednesday morning while grinding games, Gabriel Nassif walks through the front door. I know Nassif through Kitt and Megan and he came in to say hi. We all chatted before I asked him what he is playing. To my surprise, his response was Affinity. I’m sure by now you know how much I love me some Affinity. If it’s good enough for Hall of Fame member Gabriel Nassif, it’s good enough for me. Plus as Sharfman so accurately pointed out, “You can’t not play a 100 percent foil deck.”
I start playing the deck and trying to figure out what I want to do with the 75. Nassif is on the blue version containing Thoughtcast and Master of Etherium. I’m currently on the red version with Galvanic Blast and lots of red cards in my board like Blood Moon and Ancient Grudge. After debating on playing Nassif’s list or my own, I ended up playing the following:
The main difference from my prior lists is increasing the Arcbound Ravager count to four and completely cutting Shrapnel Blast. This will allow for an increase in board threats and a decrease in bad hands where they contain too much removal and not enough board threats. In the sideboard, you will notice a lack of Whipflare in particular. Normally used against Soul Sisters and USA Delver, I didn’t expect these decks to come in large numbers so I opted against them
After spending some time with Nassif and the guys we met up with Gerard Fabiano and with the Italians. They all seemed to be playing that Naya Boom/Bust concoction. I played about 10 test games with the Scapeshift deck against Orrin playing USA Delver before birding Nassif and Sharfman doing MTGO drafts. An uneventful dinner passed before I spent about four hours drafting, finally breaking through to win two straight. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this format.
It’s the last day before the Pro Tour. I woke up and did a draft before anything else. Degeneracy at it’s very finest. I take the draft down again with little resistance from the opposition. A victory shower was in order and a brisk 15 minutes later I’m ready to go downstairs to meet in the conference room to run back some more testing. Sharfman and I decided the rest of the day would be best spent working on our drafting since we had already decided on what we were playing. If we played any more with our decks we may get the second-guess jitters.
The draft archetype that had been putting up the best online results for me was the Izzet aggro deck. A deck full of two- and three-drops with Pursuit of Flights was a great combination and having counter backup once you have a stronger board presence generally means quick victories. I do about five or six more drafts before heading to bed, winning all of them and boosting back up to 1888. Feels good.
It’s finally here. All the days of preparation have come down to this. It’s the first day that I wanted to sleep in longer. Go figure. Still groggy after my shower, I was hoping the fresh cold air would awaken me. Our morning breakfast did the trick instead. A sausage, onion, and pepperjack cheese omelet with a side of hashbrowns hit the spot.
The drive to the event site was a unique experience. Normally such events are held at large convention centers in the middle of famous cities or near famous monuments. This time it felt like we were about to join the Navy. Coming up on Pier 91, we had to fill out an entry card before they let our vehicle in. The ocean breeze was strong, the waves choppy, and the seagulls cawing. There are no signs to where we are going and large cargo ships fill the pier, but we find Magic players and know we are in the right spot. It’s very cold out as we scurry inside as fast as possible.
Round 1 — UR Storm (Pascal Putter)
I have a fast draw in Game 1 and he is forced to go off prematurely and is unable to find a way to win. In Game 2, I mulligan into a zero-land hand with a Mox Opal and Memnite. I also have the important Thorn of Amethyst and Relic of Progenitus. I keep the risky hand and brick the first three turns. I finally get a land and dump out four artifacts including the Relic. Pascal immediately casts Seething Song and Shattering Spree for four. I draw land and continue dumping permanents onto the field. Four turns later he was facing lethal infect and unable to go off.
Overall: 1-0 (2-0)
Round 2 — Jund (Cesar Soto)
Overall: 2-0 (4-0)
Round 3 — Jund (Jonathan Paez)
I mulligan to six and win pretty handily in Game 1. I don’t get him below 12 in Game 2, and he beats me down with some above-average Tarmogoyfs. I have the nuts in Game 3 and attack for lethal on Turn 3.
Overall: 3-0 (6-1)
Round 4 — Blue Affinity (Alex Majlaton)
I’m on the play in Game 1, and he casts Thoughtcast. Ravager against Ravager, but with three extra cards mine is no match for his and eventually I fall victim. In Game 2, I have Ancient Grudge and Dispatch in hand with Mox Opal as my only colored source. What do you think is going to happen? If you guessed my opponent legend ruling my Opal and me never drawing a colored source, you would be right.
Overall: 3-1 (6-3)
Round 5 — RG Scapeshift (Alexandre Darras)
I have an early lethal attack and my opponent plays Turn 1 Mountain before studying my board on Turn 2 and scooping to try keeping his archetype in the dark. I put him on either Scapeshift or Storm because Jund never plays a basic land on Turn 1. I board accordingly, and find out Game 2 he is on Scapeshift. I kill him pretty quickly via Infect.
Overall: 4-1 (8-3)
I felt pretty good after finishing the constructed portion at 4-1 while only losing to a mirror match.
My day 1 draft pod included the following players: Marco Cammilluzzi, Matt Sperling, Pascal Maynard, Melvin Chew, Davide Quagilla, Anthony Berlingieri, Mike Sigrist, and myself.
Two big names in my pod with Maynard and Sperling meant I had a solid pod, but nothing I couldn’t overcome. I ended up with an awesome Golgari deck, just lacking rares. This is what I registered:
Return to Ravnica Draft No. 1
Round 6 — Pascal Maynard
Wizards has a much better explanation of our feature match.
Overall: 4-2 (8-5)
Round 7 — Matt Sperling
Lucky me, both the big name players of the draft. But no big deal. He has a much worse version of Pascal’s UWr deck. I draw my Guildmages and Stab Wounds this time to quickly dispatch him.
Overall: 5-2 (10-5)
Round 8 — Davide Quaglia
I’m facing a Selesnya deck this time with two Azorius Justiciar. His lack of removal spells proved my Guildmages too much to overcome.
Overall: 6-2 (12-5)
A good finish after a possible derailing means my Top 8 dreams are still intact. I needed a 6-1-1 record on Day 2 to lock it up. It’s something that would be possible if I can sweep my draft because I have all the confidence in the world when it comes to my Modern list. Everyone in our group makes day 2, with Orrin and I leading the pack.
A different kind of feeling awaits me when I awaken Saturday morning. I was a near repeat performance away from my first Pro Tour Top 8. Arriving back at the pier, I look at my draft pod, another with some very recognizable names: Marco Cammilluzzi, Bo Li, Eric Froehlich, Pedro Carvalho, Mario Pascoli, Jarvis Yu, Orrin Beasley, and me.
I hoped for a deck like Day 1, and at very worst a 2-1 record keeping my Top 8 hopes alive. Unfortunately I had a plethora of mixed signals and couldn’t find a clear direction — or curve, for that matter. I ended up with the following:
Return to Ravnica Draft 2.0
With a curve that realistically starts at four, I wasn’t very happy. I did have a lot of powerful cards, and if I could get past the start of the game at 14-plus life I thought I had a good chance of stealing a match or two.
Round 9 — Eric Froehlich
Efro was on Azorius evasion deck. I put up a fight in Game 1, but Civic Saber and Vassal Soul was too much to overcome. I got a Turn 5 Necropolis Regent in Game 2 and he didn’t have an answer. My confidence peaking for Game 3, I kept a reasonable seven-card hand only to get curved out against with the top end being his Trostani’s Judgment meeting my Necropolis Regent.
Overall: 6-3 (13-7)
Round 10 — Li Bo
Li was on a Bant deck and I had him at nine life, dead on board if I made it to my next turn. Lo and behold, a Cyclonic Rift off the top of his deck has me dead. In a very similar fashion in Game 2, a side boarded Mind Rot empties his hand and threatens a lethal attack next turn. What would he draw but a Cyclonic Rift, which removes my team and lets him hit for exactly lethal. This was a very heartbreaking way to end my chances at Top 8.
Overall: 6-4 (13-9)
Round 11 — Jarvis Yu
It just wasn’t my day. Another match where the odds were in my favor and I fail to win. I needed to keep focus if I want to cash. I have to cash. You don’t start a Pro Tour 6-2 and not cash.
Overall: 6-5 (14-11)
Round 12 — U/W Midrange (David Shiels)
This could easily have been another feature match if we were not sitting at 6-5. Shiels is on the U/W midrange deck popularized by Kibler and Finkel. It’s a bad matchup for Affinity postboard, with even some Game 1s being hard. I managed to dodge the hate and win in a close three games.
Overall: 7-5 (16-13)
Round 13 — Soul Sisters (Yoshihiko Ikawa)
He gets to 29 in Game 1, but he concedes once I lay my second Cranial Plating. He has Stony Silence in Game 2 and I end up being six damage short. In Game 3, I get an active Steel Overseer with a Torpor Orb in play that goes unanswered.
Overall: 8-5 (18-14)
Round 14 — USA Delver (Shahar Shenhar)
I needed to keep my focus against another big-name player. A really close and exciting Game 1 finds me going “all in” on an Etched Champion for lethal via Arcbound Ravager modular. Putting him to three via Lightning Helix buys him another turn but not a way to deal the last five points. After side boarding, he plays Game 2 like a control deck but Ravager and Champion are too much. At the end of the game, he reveals his hand with Gifts Ungiven and Elesh Norn.
Overall: 9-5 (20-14)
Round 15 — U/W Midrange (Tomo Takebayashi)
I mulligan to five and keep about the best five-card hand I could conjure. But being on the draw means he can Spell Snare my Turn 1 Ravager and I could only manage 12 damage without him. Game 2 was a grindy game. I got him to five and just needed my Memnite or Blinkmoth Nexus to push through so my Galvanic Blast could finish him off. With the five mana open and two cards in hand I went for it. He had a Path of Exile for my Nexus and flashes in a Restoration Angel. I have to Blast the Angel to put him to four. I have one draw step to hit another Galvanic Blast because his Geist of Saint Traft will be lethal by then. Sure enough, I brick and fall victim to the Geist.
Overall: 9-6 (20-16)
Round 16 — Jund (Matt Griffin)
Matt is another MTGO PTQ winner, and we are playing a match for essentially $1,000. I win the die roll. After we both mulligan to six, I put lethal on board Turn 4. Game 2 was about as crazy as you get. He mulligans to five and keeps as I again mulligan to six. I play a Turn 3 Etched Champion to meet his Turn 2 Tarmogoyf. I followed my Champion with a second, and then a third. There isn’t anything Jund can do. At the end of the game, Matt revealed his hand to show double Jund Charm and Ancient Grudge. Phew!
Overall: 10-6 (22-16)
That should lock up a cash finish because I was in 80th entering the final round. A few minutes after announcing the Top 8, they post the final standings and a mob of magic players gather as to see if they had made that Top 25, or Top 75 for cash. I finished 62nd, which is good for $1,000. A disappointing start to day 2, but I finished strong and I’m proud of what I accomplished.
My future has me heading to Chicago in a couple of weeks for a Modern Grand Prix where I most likely will be packing Affinity again. Posting an 8-2 record with the deck at the Pro Tour has given me more confidence in the deck than ever. I’ll be staying with Kitt and Megan again and an looking forward to spending more time with them.
Assuming I ever book my flight for the TCG Player invitational, I’ll play that later in November to finish off my year in Magic. Next year offers Pro Tour Montreal, which I qualified for thanks to an MTGO PTQ win. There is much to look forward to in addition to the PT including a Florida Grand Prix in Miami, the very first Modern Masters Grand Prix in Las Vegas, and another Team Grand Prix in Providence.
I’m very excited to see what 2013 brings. But until then, I’ll see you in Chicago.
Gosu. On MTGO
@JCuvelier on Twitter
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