At 1-3, you begin to lose all hope. I had spent so much time and effort to get here. All those hours spent testing with our deck, all those drafts we did, all the money spent: all wasted.
I had nothing to lose, because I felt like I had already lost. And the man with nothing to lose is the most dangerous man of all.
I had “The Ice” again. While there has been much Magic discussion about “The Fire,” (a mindset of wanting to win more than anything), much less has been said for the mindset of having nothing to lose, of not caring, a very Zen state of being where reality does not exist, and the tournament doesn’t matter. Gerry Thompson said in a recent article “The tournament meant nothing to me, but making the best decisions every single turn did; that’s the perfect mindset.” I totally agree, and find that when I can somehow disconnect from the reality of a Magic tournament, when each round, each game, becomes its own little universe, I have by far my best results.
As perhaps you know by now, I ended up winning the tournament, not dropping a single match after that point. I still don’t know if it was real or not, because I didn’t experience a Pro Tour win. I only experienced playing and winning Round 5, playing and winning Round 6, playing and winning Round 7, and so on until the tournament was done.
However, I do remember each moment of the tournament, and will describe the most interesting and emotional of those moments to you.
David Caplan and I had really met for the first time just prior to Worlds 2011, and we hit it off right away. Something about the way he plays Magic, and the way I play Magic just clashes in the right way. We both look at the game from very different perspectives, and I find thats its very important to surround yourself with people whose ideas contradict your own, so you have to use logic and reasoning to figure out what is correct, causing you to learn.
Our collaboration at Worlds had ended with him placing 4th both in the main event, and the Magic Online Championship Series, and a top 64 for me that I felt could definitely have been a Top 16 had I made some better decisions. One of which was to play the Mono Red deck that I had given Caplan and my other teammates Noah Long and Marc Anderson. Coming into Barcelona, I had brewed and had major hands in creating many successful tournament decks, yet I had never played a deck that I had made in a tournament before. I was always insecure in my own creations, and afraid that they were not up to scratch despite always testing well, and I would continue to see others who would gladly pick up my creations and smash tournaments with them.
So Caplan and I, both invited via the old Level 3 Invite, had decided to travel by cruise ship to Barcelona rather than by plane, since we had to pay ourselves. After the various cruise ship disasters, the prices were rock-bottom, and a 2 week all-inclusive cruise was approximately the same cost as a flight. A cruise ship also seemed like a perfect place to test, and besides, how many people can actually say that they crossed the Atlantic by boat?!
On April 20th, we set sail out of Puerto Rico towards Barcelona, a week before the spoiler for Avacyn Restored was complete. While we engaged in other activities on the boat, we also spent lots of time looking over the Spoiler, and refreshing and thinking of new ideas. We also tested established decks like RW humans, and RUG midrange.
Meanwhile, back home, the rest of the team was sending us ideas and trying things themselves:
While Caplan and I both agreed that this list was pretty awful (with him not perhaps using that exact language), one line from Noah caught our attention, regarding Entreat the Angels. “It’s like Broodmate Dragon for 1 more mana!”
Broodmate had been a very playable card during its time in Standard, and of course Entreat was MUCH better when Miracled. It could also scale from hand, being an Air Elemental to a giant winged army. We even tested the above abomination, and found that both Entreat and Bonfire were ABSURDLY powerful when Miracled, and just alright when hard cast.
The problem?: Miracle is a very high variance mechanic, and one of the first things I look for in the Constructed decks that I make is consistency. How could you consistently do powerful Miracle things?
Only play Miracles. When your whole deck is Miracles, every draw should be miraculous. (though you may want to play lands in your deck) Just like Cascade, the mechanic rewards careful deck construction.
I started with a build playing a red splash for Bonfire, but the mana was too rough. You needed to have all the right colours untapped on the right turns, and after some testing we decided that the red splash was not worth it.
The point of this deck was to just go over the top of the whole format. You could actually answer everything, and you had an almost combo-like finish going into the end game. None of the decks in the format could compete with the raw power of this deck, and sometimes you just got free wins.
At the same time, I had come up with a Mono Red list that was also promising, splashing blue with 4 Sulfur Falls for 2 Desolate Lighthouse and playing 4 Bonfire and 4 Thunderous Wrath. The “Miracle deck”, as we called it, was struggling with fast aggressive strategies. Silent Departure, a tweak by Caplan that seemed excellent in theory, had been proving mediocre at best. The aggro decks could flash in a creature end of turn (Wolfir Avenger, Midnight Haunting), or have a haste creature (Strangleroot Geist, Hellrider), and often you would have to play Silent Departure instead of trying to hit the miracle lottery with a cantrip. What I felt the deck really wanted was a 2 or 1 mana instant that interacted with our opponent.
Then came the Hallelujah Moment. I was on the balcony of our room, headphones jacked in, on my laptop, watching the waves in the dark while Caplan was inside sleeping. I glanced at the assembled spoilers of the block, starting once again with Innistrad, and the song Hallelujah by John Cale began playing. Then I saw it.
Feeling of Dread.
I don’t know how I hadn’t seen it before. Perhaps I had passed it by, thinking “That’s just a draft card, you don’t play that in constructed!” But it was immediately clear at that moment that I had just plugged a giant leak in the boat that was our deck.
I immediately went back inside, and roused Caplan.
“Cappy! Feeling of Dread! That’s what we were missing!”
“Feeling of Dread in the Silent Departure slot. If you play a cantrip and miss, you should be able to cast it as a backup since you always keep WU open. You can mill it with Thought Scour, since it flashes back, which also gives you 2 turns. And its insane with Tamiyo’s second ability!”
“Oh wow yeah…”
Satisfied, I tried to sleep. Caplan said “Why did you have to tell me that! Now I can’t sleep, I’m too excited!”
And rightfully so! Feeling of Dread started as a 2 of, replacing Silent Departure, but it was so good, we added more!
The Deck was now known as Hallelujah, for Feeling of Dread proved to probably be the best card in the deck The following days were spent testing all sorts of decks, and every matchup we tried, Hallelujah was winning. We tried building lists of RW aggro with 4 Reckless Waif, 4 Stromkirk Noble, 4 Champion of the Parish with Thalias, and Hallelujah was still beating it about 50% of the time. Even when we docked in Barcelona and began testing with the other members of the team, the deck was still beating everything we threw in its path more than 50% of the time. Pascal Maynard even made a UR Delver deck(playing such hits as Lost in the Mist) to just try to find something that would beat Hallelujah more than 50% of the time, but that deck was very bad against everything else. We all felt like we had broken the format.
Adam Yurchick, our honorary Canadian, was playing a match, and I was watching haphazardly. His opponent had a bunch of creatures on board, and Adam drew and scooped. I asked “were you dead on board?”, because I was unsure about life totals. Adam smiled, lighting up the room, and replied “Huh, I guess with this deck you are never really dead on board.”
Matt Mealing, our aggro specialist, a member of our team who I had not talked to before this trip but who proved to be absolutely invaluable, suspected the RW deck would not be as popular as we suspected.
His early suspicion looked to be correct, as on the day before the Pro Tour, the dealers were practically sold out of Wolfir Silverhearts. The whole team practically jumped for joy. The RW matchup, which was just about a coin flip, was much worse than the big midrange matchup, since they had less reach to burn you out, and their creatures, while larger, were also much slower.
“It’s too bad,” I said after one playtest session, “that the top 8 is draft, because this would definitely be the most exciting deck to watch ever.”
“The top 8 is Block, ” said Pascal, “They changed it.”
We all immediately went online to check, and they indeed had changed the top 8 to Block Constructed. You could feel the excitement in the room as we all envisioned someone (probably ourself) under the lights playing this deck in the top 8.
We spent the last couple days hammering out a sideboard. Caplan and I had come to the conclusion that the maindeck 60 was perfect, though some players disagreed and played only 59 cards the same. Francis Toussaint was our MVP for this stage of deck design, as he put in tons of work and voiced his opinions loudly on the deck and its matchups. While the sideboard wasn’t perfect, we would have had a much, much worse sideboard and side boarding plan had Francis not been there.
Everyone on the team, besides Mealing, who was playing a sweet mono-white concoction, and Robert Smith, who decided to use my Mono Red deck, was playing the Miracle deck. While in some ways I was pleased that I had come up with something that everyone felt was strong enough to play at the Pro Tour, I was also very nervous.
As we walked home from the event site, I began to doubt. Fear sprang unbidden into my mind, and began to cloud my judgement. “What if the deck is just absolute garbage? Not only am I hurting myself by playing a terrible deck, but even worse is that I let the whole team down.”
I had never played my own deck before mainly because of these 11th hour jitters.
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”
Thanks to my Bene Gesserit training, I finally locked myself into the deck, and abandoned my worthless fears. I went to sleep, and slept better than I have the night before any previous Pro Tour.
Of course, after the 5 rounds of constructed Day 1, with the team all at 3-2 or worse, and myself at 2-3, I thought that perhaps my fears had been justified. But looking back now, I can see where we screwed up, and why we all performed poorly on Day 1.
Our deck was impossible to play. We had all jokingly said that it should be classified as its own archetype as “Puzzle Control”, but the deck really was like a giant puzzle every turn. Caplan and I had made the comparison to Doomsday in Legacy, and like that deck, it was probably too hard to play for too little edge. I had made at least a couple of game-losing mistakes with the deck in 2 of my losses, and having talked to my teammates who piloted the deck, they also say that they could have all won between 1-2 more matches on the first day. We came in having played the deck in testing mode, where we were allowed takebacks, and could take time to think through various plays, and would often have other players looking over our shoulder.
The tournament itself didn’t work like that, and the deck, while very powerful, was very unforgiving, because there were a certain percentage of games where you simply couldn’t win, just by virtue of how the deck works. Sometimes you never hit a miracle and die. It was something we had all accepted playing the deck, just like a casino accepts that it too will occasionally hand a large payout to some lucky customer. The games that are close, however, are very difficult and require quite a bit of finesse to win, and a single mistake can turn the deck’s positive percentages into losing ones.
I felt very confident for the draft portion. In all our practice drafts, the worst I had gone was 2-1, and I had tried basically every possible archetype. I had found that, contrary to most people, I really like Black in the format. I had never failed to 3-0 with a Black deck, and I also like Red and Blue, while didn’t like White and Green as much, mainly because they seemed overdrafted. I find that Blue is the best support colour, and it goes well with all the other colours.
After my 6-0 in draft, I was dreading playing constructed again. I felt like the deck was garbage, and that I was unworthy to be playing it at the necessary level. Of course, who would my first opponent be but Jeremy Neeman. I expected to be crushed, and was fairly surprised when I ended up winning. Our pre-match conversation, as he also mentions in his article, went something like this:
Me: “How did you do in limited?”
Him: “5-1, you?”
Me: “6–0. But now I have to play constructed again, and my deck is terrible!”
3 more rounds after that, with 3 more wins including one very undeserving one against Yuuya Watanabe, where he played me like the master he is, and sprung a trap into which I gladly walked in. Good thing for me that after we reached board parity, I drew an Entreat the Angels for 10.
We checked the standings, and I drew into top 8. While I was excited, my friends were much more so, because I was still in tournament survival mode. Kill or be killed. There was no time to rejoice on making top 8, locking up top Canadian Pro, and getting Platinum in the player’s club, when going into the tournament I had but hoped to get top 75 to hit Gold. I still had 3 matches to win.
When top 8 pairings were posted, I pumped the fist. While many people either spoke or messaged me, they would invariably say a variant of “Sucks that you have to play against Finkel first round.”
They couldn’t be more wrong. I don’t play Magic for the fame, the glory, the money, or even the competition. For me, besides being an awesome, fun game, Magic is a road to perfection. A way to measurably improve oneself, and to continually face greater challenges and overcome them. I don’t just want to win, or to be good or even the best: Perfection is what I seek. And while I realize that it is an impossible goal, a pipe dream, I want to get as close as I can. And what better way to improve than to play against the very best there is, and to learn from the experience?
When I woke up in the morning, I wasn’t worried about whether or not I would lose. I really just wanted to learn something, and experience Magic on the Sunday stage. But I also didn’t want to disappoint anyone back home. While I slept, my loyal team, headlined by Greg Dolan, David Caplan, Noah Long, and Adam Yurchick, had pulled an all-nighter, testing what seemed at the outlook to be a nightmare matchup for me against Finkel’s deck.
After being briefed over breakfast, we headed to the site, where I managed to beat Jon in a set of 5 games. I was totally relaxed in the top 8, so much so that in game 5, I presented a 65 card deck. While shuffling his deck, I remembered the 5 cards I had boarded in, and didn’t remember boarding out. I looked at my sideboard, and sure enough, only 10 cards stared back at me. I immediately called a judge, and told them what had happened. Jon, the epitome of sportsmanship, said that he was fine with me just taking out the 5 cards and shuffling up again, considering that I had called it on myself before we had even drawn our opening hands. While I had respected him as a player for quite some time, that moment was when I really began to respect him as a person as well. Such a classy move! However, it seems like I would not have received a game-loss in any case, because I called it on myself and before I could gain an advantage.
At that moment, though, all I could think of was “So this is how it ends.” I was sort of disappointed, but also so in the zone that I felt calm, and would have accepted any decision by the judges. As I said to Jon, of all the mistakes I thought I would make, that was not one of them.
In the semifinals, against Josh Cho, I handed him game 3 on a silver platter. Game 1, while many people have asked me about, I know I played correctly. With this deck, you have to play to win, not to not lose. I put myself in a position where I could draw practically any spell to stop his Huntmaster from flipping and race in the air with Angels, but I didn’t, so I had to Terminus or allow his Huntmaster to flip and then to pair with Wolfir Silverheart, In game 3, I simply had not thought of Resoration Angel blinking his Zealous Conscripts in my calculations, and had basically tunnel vision-ed into a poor line of play when I could have afforded to play around everything. Cho was a fun opponent to play against, and I’m sure you will see more of him (I mean, top 8ing your first Pro Tour, that is pretty impressive!)
In the finals, playing for 20 000$, the trophy, and the invite to the player’s championship, I again felt nothing, no pressure. While Gaudenis was clearly feeling it, and I even considered reminding him what we were playing one game of Magic for, for me, I was just playing a match of Magic, like any other. Only in the final game, where I tapped his Avacyn’s Pilgrim in his upkeep with Feeling of Dread, and he passed without playing a second land, did the thought cross my mind that I could actually win the Pro Tour. When I finally Entreated the Angels for 5, I crossed off a mental checklist of potential ways for me to lose the game, and saw that there were none. I had actually won the Pro Tour! I had beaten the SCG teams Black and Blue!
The lights blazing, the cameras rolling, my friends singing Hallelujah, and I just wondered when my next match of Magic was, as I was brought to the winner’s interview. “This couldn’t be real, could it?” I thought. I had dreamed this dream before. Over the next few days, I would occasionally pinch myself to make sure it was all real.
While Block Constructed’s main value is in predicting the future Standard format after rotation, there is still a Grand Prix this weekend with the format. While I would recommend against playing this deck, as it is extremely hard to play properly without much practice (you need to be able to figure out all your outs and play to them on the fly), I would definitely make some changes. Like I said in my post victory interview, the Cathedral Sanctifiers were terrible. I would still not change a single card in the maindeck, and you really can’t without changing all the math that went behind the deck, and each card is a cog in a spinning gear that if you take out will stop the whole thing from functioning.
Here is the maindeck and updated sideboard:
Hall-eh-lujah! by Alexander Hayne
With the mirror becoming more prevalent, as well as Sam Black’s Bant Spirits deck, having the 4th Geist seems appropriate. The 2 sideboard Snapcasters were always good, and without the Cathedral Sanctifiers, you need them and the additional Angel’s Mercy from the sideboard to combat the faster decks. The Midnight Hauntings, while not fantastic, are necessary as a nod to potential Lilianas in the format, as well as other “Draw, go” style decks. Dissipate is by far your best card against other control decks, and also good against the slower end of the midrange spectrum, like the reanimator decks. The Urgent Exorcism is a nod to Nevermore, a card we thought of as a potential way to hate our deck(and as a potential sideboard card), but didn’t realistically expect anyone to play. I expect people to play it now, and the miser Exorcism combined with Thought Scours and Snapcasters and Devastation Tide should allow you the window to Entreat the Angels for enough.
I am not going to leave a sideboarding guide, because I don’t believe in such things. I board differently depending on how my opponent plays the game, their exact list, and whether I am on the play or draw. The Snapcasters come in against basically everything, along with whichever sideboard instants/sorceries are good in the matchup. They aren’t good enough in the main because there aren’t enough things to flashback, but are often your best card after board.
What is next on the horizon? Well, now that I am Platinum, and qualified for the Player’s Championship, I will be trying to travel more for events. I love travelling, and hopefully I will get to visit some more awesome places because of Magic. I still plan to work with Canadians and continue to try and help the community. I have discussed this with Pascal and Caplan, and they both feel similarly, that when we were starting out in the community, there was nobody there to help us. The previous generation of Canadian pros did not show up to local events or try to help us get better by playing with us. For awhile, I was a bit angry, but I definitely understand their position much more now. However, I feel that is why there has been a long time where Canadian Magic was silent on the global scene, because the previous generation had all retired, and the current generation wasn’t good enough yet.
Well, we are good enough now. Expect to see more from Team ManaDeprived at future events. As of now, Caplan and I have collaborated for 3 events, and we each have a top 8 from those events. This year has been very good for Canadian magic, with Pascal making back to back GP top 8s, Robert Smith’s GP win at Seattle, Marcel Angelo Zafra’s GP top 8 in Salt Lake City, Matt Mercier’s top 8 in Lincoln (piloting Francis Toussaint’s insane Jund build), not to mention solid performances like Marc Anderson’s top 16 at worlds and Kyle Duncan’s 9th place at GP Baltimore. If you look at the number of Canadians playing events compared to how many top 8, you can see that we are now a force to be reckoned with. One of the main reasons why there has been this spike in results, this sudden surge of strength, is because of all of KYT’s hard work here on ManaDeprived, as well as his work with the community. Canadian Magic was a house divided against itself, with each province and even each city having its own insular testing group. Now we are one, and ideas spread freely across the land, and all the top new (and old) minds of Canadian Magic are now working together to continually better results. I am very proud to be part of the second coming of Canadian Magic.
Thanks for reading, and I definitely will not be afraid to play my own decks in the future!
I asked a bunch of people for their funniest or coolest story with Hallelujah. Here are the best ones:
On turn 9, my hand is Temporal Mastery, land, Feeling of Dread, with 8 lands in play. I draw Temporal Mastery for my turn and Miracle it, play my land, and hardcast Temporal Mastery from my hand, giving me 2 turns after this one. I untap, and draw Entreat, and make 7 Angels, then proceed to take my second extra turn.
It’s game 2, and I have boarded in 2 Snapcasters. I have to play all 4 of my Thought Scours early on to dig for land drops, and I mill all 4 Entreats and both Snapcasters. I then realize that with all my Thought Scours gone, Tamiyo can’t actually win me the game, so I have 0 win conditions left in my deck. By turn 4.
Game 1, I punt because I thought I had a 4th Temporal Mastery in my deck (he only played 3 and 2 Dissipate main), which I now realize not having was a mistake. So I played into the Temporal Mastery, except it wasn’t a Temporal Mastery, it was a Dissipate, so I couldn’t get past double Sever the Bloodline. So I board into the Geist plan and go turn 2 Snapcaster, turn 3 Geist, turn 4 Feeling, end step Feeling and just win the game. That game was super aggro, like 3 minutes. Then game 3, I use my extra sideboard card(from having a Dissipate maindeck), Faith’s Shield, to protect Tamiyo from Sorin’s Ultimate. I proceeded to win the match next turn with Tamiyo’s Ultimate.
I was against this European pro, and I lost game 1, and I go on about how the deck suffers from a lot of variance, and explain how some of the people were 2-0 with the deck, while others were 0-2. Then in our second game, on my 3rd turn I flip a Temporal Mastery, he chuckles, and I make a comment about how this is like Vintage. Then on my extra turn, I flip another Temporal Mastery and say “This is a little better than Vintage.” Then on my second extra turn, I flip an Entreat the Angels for 2, play land and pass. He had 2 lands to my 5 lands and 2 4/4 Angels. Needless to say, I won that game.
Against Charles Gindy, I had Tamiyo out, I went Temporal Mastery off the top, hard cast Temporal Mastery, next turn Temporal Mastery off the top, ultimate Tamiyo, untap make 4 Angels and return Entreat to hand, and do the same the next turn.
Against Estratti Game 1, I’m on the draw, and he comes out really fast with 4 or 5 creatures in play by turn 4, and on his turn 5 he hits me down to 3 with just 4 land out. I cast Think Twice end of turn and hit a Temporal Mastery and Miracle it, then untap and play Tamiyo and lock down his Clifftop Retreat, take my extra turn and cast Terminus, and lock down his other Cifftop Retreat. So he untags only the 2 plains and says go, and then I hard cast Temporal Mastery from my hand and get Tamiyo up to ultimate, keeping both of his red mana tapped once again.