On Friday morning, we (Pascal, Dan, Paul, Phil and I) headed to the venue. It was a bit of a walk but close enough for it not to be worth waiting for a cab. We joked around while walking there, but I wasn’t super happy. I felt like I was going in less prepared than I wanted to be. I didn’t feel like I knew the draft format as well as I’d like, and I wasn’t confident in my deck choice. I resigned myself to do the best I could, with emphasis on “resigned.” I just felt there wasn’t much to be done at this point, and there wasn’t.
I probably should have prepared more for the Draft portion, but we didn’t have enough people for real drafts, and I had been so incredibly busy with work leading up to the Pro Tour that I had only gotten some six or seven drafts in before going to Brussels. Some were with Ben Stark, and it always helped to at least see what kinds of decks he was building and how he did with them (he wins-with basically anything), but that was obviously not enough to have everything figured out. We did some MTGO drafts as a team, discussing the picks, but that wasn’t really what I felt I needed help with. I think I am reasonably good at spotting which cards are good and which aren’t, but I need more context. I needed to see how games played out. I needed to see what a white-black deck generally looked like or what kind of blue-red deck I should be shooting for if I get stuck in those colors. I wanted to just build ten two-color limited decks and jam those against each other a few times, but despite bringing a bunch of draft fodder, it was basically all used for proxies.
This is not to complain about our testing: I think we chose what was best for the majority, but it just wasn’t going to help me much, and I didn’t feel like I was in a position to make demands just to further my personal agenda. Obviously, in the end, we’re all competing on our own, but when you prepare together, I think you do what’s most effective for the most people. I might be wrong, but hey, it’s my first PT-what do I know?
Back to that Pro Tour. After the player meeting, I was seated at the same draft table as Dan, in draft pod 46. These were all the players in the draft, with their seating:
2 Darrow, Elliot
4 Calcano, Christian
8 Lybaert, Marijn
7 Lansdaal, Jay
6 Hao-Shan, Huang
5 Lanthier, Dan
1 Ikawa, Yoshihiko
3 Baldrati, Enrico
That’s three players whose name I recognize (Lybaert, Calcano, and Dan), with the rest being unknown to me. Could’ve been worse, I guess? There were 160+ “new” players at this PT, out of a little over 400 total competitors, but I doubt I’d recognize everybody who’s been there more than once, so it’s hard to tell how strong this pod is. Before I got to ponder about this too much, Marijn Lybaert was taken away from the table to form another table with people who were late or something like that. We now had a seven man pod, which at the very least meant I couldn’t go 0-3. (Whoever went 0-2, would get the bye in the third round.)
The draft started with a first-pick Dragonlord Silumgar-a [card]Mind Control[/card] on a big flier with five toughness and deathtouch, meaning it blocks and kills just about everything while surviving most removal spells. A clear bomb, and I was happy to pick it up. The second pack, the best card was [card]Tail Slash[/card], and there was also an Aerie Bowmaster and a [card]Minister of Pain[/card]. I knew that Pascal (probably the best drafter in our group) likes blue-black a whole lot, saying that a lot of “insane” other decks still lose to mediocre versions of the blue-black deck. Minister is a decent card in that deck, and while I don’t think it’s better than the other two, I picked it up, hoping that blue-black would be open. I picked up a [card]Youthful Scholar[/card] and two more black creatures, but then black dried up and I got passed a bunch of good green cards. I guess Dan or maybe Calcano is cutting black hard? I scooped up the green cards, and while I wasn’t really set-up for either green-blue or green-black, I hoped to figure it out along the way.
I knew green-black generally wants big green creatures and black removal, but so far I had black creatures and some green tricks and smaller creatures. As for green-blue, I didn’t even know what I was shooting for. I guess I want [card]Epic Confrontation[/card]s and tricks or an aggressive deck with flyers? But I have Youthful Scolar and a [card]Sidisi’s Faithful[/card]… this second pack better give me some direction.
The second pack, I saw barely any green at all and picked up mostly blue and some black cards, including a second [card]Youthful Scholar[/card] and a second [card]Shambling Goblin[/card]. I now had a bunch of creatures I wanted to exploit, but I hadn’t seen a good creature to exploit with yet, and there are none in Fate Reforged. This deck was going to be one heck of a train wreck unless I magically got shipped the goods in pack three.
Pack three, I mostly got some more green and blue cards, but still no good removal and no bombs. Just reasonable creatures, some tricks, and a [card]Dragonlord Silumgar[/card] with no fixing except for a [card]Map the Wastes[/card].
As I later found out, to my right, both Dan and Calcano were in blue-black (but Calcano splashed red and white if I recall correctly), and to my left, Ikawa was in red-green, Elliot in green-white, and Baldrati was on an aggressive black-red deck. I think Huang was also on a black-red deck, but I’m not completely sure. Regardless, I really screwed myself by picking up black cards first and green cards late, because of what everybody around me was doing. I noticed it during the draft, but I couldn’t figure out how to save myself. In retrospect, I think if I had picked up [card]Tail Slash[/card] P1 P2, I might have been able to go red-green before Ikawa moved in and would have been way better off. That’s in retrospect though, and I had to play with the pile I drafted. I sat next to Owen Turtenwald during deck construction, and he had a pretty reasonable blue-black deck. I looked at my deck, and I had… A blue-green deck with creatures and a splash for [card]Dragonlord Silumgar[/card]? No real removal? Yeah…. This is going to go great.
My first opponent was Ikawa, and while I won game one off of [card]Dragonlord Silumgar[/card], he brought in removal for fliers in games two and three. Though one of the games was close, his deck full of green and red big monsters backed by some removal beat my Sultai deck.
The second round, I got utterly destroyed by Baldrati, who seemed to have a great black-red deck. I still wonder how he lost round one. He had a bunch of different tricks, good creatures-including [card]Sidisi, Undead Vizier[/card] and Pitiless Horde-and enough removal to clear blockers out of the way. My deck wasn’t good, but even with a good deck I think this would’ve been rough. Thanks, 0-2, here’s a bye for your efforts.
A good start is half the work, the Dutch say, which means I still had a whole lot of work to do, with a deck I wasn’t too confident in. I did have time to eat a very overpriced hamburger, thanks to the bye, so I at least had some time to digest before starting the first round of constructed. I de-sleeved my Limited deck and inspected my Standard deck once more. Bant Heroic-it should crush green decks, struggle against control, and beat up on most other aggro decks. This was generally true the first day, and I won my first round, then my second, then my third… Hold on-I made day two already? For real? I’m feeling a lot better about my deck now!
For reference, this is what I played:
Bant Heroic by Jay Lansdaal
4 Flooded Strand
4 Mana Confluence
2 Temple of Enlightenment
1 Temple of Mystery
1 Temple of Plenty
4 Windswept Heath
2 Ajani’s Presence
1 Center Soul
4 Defiant Strike
4 Dromoka’s Command
4 Gods Willing
2 Ordeal of Heliod
4 Ordeal of Thassa
2 Treasure Cruise
4 Favored Hoplite
4 Hero of Iroas
2 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
2 Monastery Mentor
4 Seeker of the Way
2 Aqueous Form
1 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
3 Stubborn Denial
2 Disdainful Stroke
3 Encase in Ice
1 Ordeal of Heliod
2 Treasure Cruise
Round four I sat down across from Yuuya Watanabe, who was playing Jeskai Tokens (as I expected). I made him laugh with the bit of Japanese I know, and we split the first two games. Each was long and interesting, with [card]Treasure Cruise[/card]s flying left and right and a couple of big Heroes taking it down the first game, and a [card]Dragonlord Ojutai[/card] taking the second. We started the third game with only about five minutes on the clock and were playing fast, trying to make sure the game finished in time. On Watanabe’s fourth turn, I had a [card]Hero of Iroas[/card] with a +1/+1 counter on it and a [card]Seeker of the Way[/card] in play; he had nothing. He was at ten and tapped out for an [card]Ojutai Exemplars[/card]. I played the [card]Dromoka’s Command[/card] from my hand.
“Put a counter on Hero. Hero fights your Exemplars, trigger.”
I put a counter on my Hero for the Heroic trigger, and Watanabe moved his Exemplars to the graveyard. I moved my Command to the yard, then moved the counter up one more for the Command. Watanabe then stopped me, and said something like “No, no,” so we called a judge. The judge came over, and Watanabe explained he thought my Hero should die.
I explained my side of the story, which was: “We were rushing and I moved my Command to the yard before putting on the counter, so I did it out of order because I was in a hurry, but I thought it was crystal clear what was happening because he also put his Exemplars in the yard.”
The judge confirmed my story with Watanabe and ruled in my favor, though I misresolved my Command, and I got a game rules violation warning. I was content, but Watanabe was not. He asked for a translator, and the translator explained the ruling. Watanabe appealed, and we got the head judge involved. The head judge asked me to explain myself, asked me to replay the turn the way it went and discussed things with the other judges. All the while, Watanabe was sitting there in silence. At some point, the head judge asked me, “If you were rushing, why didn’t you immediately put on two counters?”
I was slightly baffled. “Eh,… I was rushing? So I wasn’t exactly thinking in advance about how to most efficiently resolve my card, I just wanted to do it fast. I did not stop to think of faster options.”
The head judge then asked Watanabe if he remembered if I announced my heroic trigger, and Watanabe shrugs his shoulders: “I don’t know.” Ah, yeah, that’s great-no way to check that as he hasn’t really confirmed or said much at all during the entire ordeal nor during the actual games. The head Judge then ruled I missed my heroic trigger and resolved my [card]Dromoka’s Command[/card] properly, which pissed me off quite a bit. It was a big moment in the game, and the ruling basically came down to “We can’t really verify your story or his, so, ehh, we’re just picking one, and it happens to royally screw you.” I lost my Hero and thus the lethal attack with the [card]Ajani’s Presence[/card] I had in hand. I am very meticulous with my triggers, verbally announcing everything (often even to my detriment), so I felt pretty bad about this whole (17 minute long) judge call.
Thankfully, my deck decided to make it up to me, and I drew a [card]Monastery Mentor[/card] to replace the Hero. After a fight over an [card]End Hostilities[/card] on Watanabe’s sixth turn (with me pumping my Mentor and then using [card]Stubborn Denial[/card] to counter the [card]End Hostilities[/card]), I could swing in for lethal with a bunch of Monks. I thank Watanabe for the game and tell him I feel lucky to have played him (which I really do, as he is one of the best players currently playing the game). Then I moved on to the last round.
I had only a second to gather my wits before the round started, and even though I was slightly shaken from being both star struck and pissed at the ruling, I managed to pull out another win. Now I was 6-2 going into day two. Woohoo! Undefeated in Standard! Bant Heroic is insane, it’s the best deck in the format, I can’t lose, why didn’t you all play this?!
My mood was a lot better and got even better when we went to dinner. We walked with Alexander Hayne because he “Knows a place, or actually the only two reasonable restaurants in Brussels,” which is probably super wrong. Hey-I didn’t know of any alternatives. Hayne then picked up a bunch of Channel-Fireball guys, and the group we walked towards the restaurants with was quite the collection of Magic players: Cheon, Hayne, Wrapter, PV, Shenhar, Stern, and a bunch more. We split off from most of the big guns, but in the restaurant, we ran into Brad Nelson, Ari Lax, and Brian Braun-Duin on one table with a couple of other guys, and LSV and Efro (among others) were seated at a table on the other side of the restaurant, so I had plenty of stars to stare at from a (small) distance.
It’s kind of funny, thinking back to Pro Tour Amsterdam, a few years ago, where I went as a spectator. I got PV to sign my [card]Bitterblossom[/card]s, as I was (and am) a big fan. He asked if I was playing in the tournament too, and I told him I wasn’t-I was very much a mediocre Magic player and couldn’t dream to play with guys like him, and told him exactly that. Yet now we were playing in the same tournament, and we almost went to dinner together.
The next day, I found out just how mediocre I still was at Magic. My second draft pod consisted of the following people:
2 Wafo-Tapa, Guillaume
7 Cuneo, Andrew
5 Chung, Jason
8 Lansdaal, Jay
1 Yue, He
6 Nakano, Shinji
4 Seibold, Christian
3 Holiday, Nathan
Now that’s a pod-two control masters in Cuneo and Wafo-Tapa, as well as three more names I recognize! People that I talk Magic with probably know how fond I am of Cuneo’s streams and how much I appreciate how he builds decks, and I was excited to get a chance to play against him (even though I’d probably lose).
The draft went a little better this time. I got some more advice from Adam Fox, one of the stronger players in South Florida, and while his plan of drafting either red or black removal and pairing it with green or white (depending on which was open) didn’t quite work out, it set me on the right course. I picked up a ton of black *and* red removal, and of the premium kind too. No [card]Defeat[/card]s, just [card]Bathe in Dragonfire[/card]s, [card]Flatten[/card]s, [card]Douse in Gloom[/card], [card]Twin Bolt[/card], [card]Pyrotechnics[/card], that kind of stuff. The only thing I noticed was that I was light on creatures halfway through pack two, but I really just hadn’t seen many playable ones from that point onwards, and I ended up with a deck I thought was fine, but not spectacular. Hopefully the removal could carry me.
The first round, I played against Wafo-Tapa, and his deck looked like a steaming turd. It was blue-black, but he played a lot of mediocre cards and seemed creature light for the amount of [card]Whisk Away[/card]s he cast against me. It’s really not a great tempo play when you have nothing on the board yourself. I crushed him game one. Game two, he was on the play and played a [card]Jeskai Infiltrator[/card] on turn three. I stared at the [card]Douse in Gloom[/card] and [card]Twin Bolt[/card] in my hand, thinking, “Well that’s a nice 2/3,” before succumbing to the advantage the Infiltrator gave him, despite killing it after the second time it hit me. The third game I kept a two lander and didn’t see a third until it was far too late. I lost.
Rats, I could’ve won that one…
The next round, I played against Cuneo and his red-black deck. Turns out, he picked up red removal first, while I picked up black removal first; then he got a fifth- or sixth-pick [card]Flatten[/card] and moved into black. He had less removal than I did, but he did have better creatures, and I lost 2-0. The first game, I leaned hard on my [card]Deadly Wanderings[/card], which went very poorly. In general, [card]Deadly Wanderings[/card] isn’t as great as I thought it would be (I compared it to [card]Homicidal Seclusion[/card] form Avacyn Restored), but it’s passable with the amount of dash guys I had (and my low creature count). It still didn’t match up well against Cuneo’s [card]Palace Siege[/card], and once he built a board big enough to race me even through the lifelink, I had to make some desperate attacks to get myself out of the bind. Cuneo was prepared with a trick, and I lost. The second game, Cuneo’s creatures outmatched mine at every point, and he played the game such that I was forced to play my trick first. Then a removal spell blew me out, and I lost shortly after.
Oh well, it was fun to be in contention for a while.
The third round I beat up on a poor GW player who got manascrewed in games one and two, and I posted another 1-2 record in draft. If I wanted to requalify, I now had to go 4-1 in Standard, which felt doable, but I ended up going 2-3. I lost two very lopsided games against a UB Control deck that was well equipped to dismantle Heroic (he had four [card]Ultimate Price[/card]s main and two Ugins as win conditions). To make matters worse, I mulled to a mediocre five game one and flooded out horribly in game two. (I think I had a combined 13 lands in play and my hand when he tapped out for an Ugin?) He then mentioned he thought the matchup felt pretty good for him, and with my draws, there wasn’t much to do but agree. Maybe when I don’t draw like doodoo we can try and play again.
I also lost to a weird Naya deck after making a pretty stupid mistake, ordering my actions wrong and accidentally letting an Ordeal fall off with God’s Willing because I rushed through my attack as soon as I figured out the line I was taking. It cost me ten life and an extra +1/+1 counter. My opponent mulled aggressively to playable hands against my deck, and with a little help from my misplay, he pulled the match out 2-1. I believe he ended up requalifying, so good for him. The third match I lost was in the last round: in both games, playing against Gr Devotion, my draws kept being just short of killing him, always needing a God’s Willing or Aqueous From to get through, and finding it on top after taking lethal. The second game I messed up, though, by not noticing a Courser on a cluttered board. I used my [card]Dromoka’s Command[/card] to put a useless counter somewhere, instead of making my opponent sacrifice the Courser. Of course the second card from the top was the Nykthos that let my opponent make *just* enough mana to kill all but one of my blockers and get in for *just* lethal, once again with a lethal [card]Gods Willing[/card] on top. Enjoy the $1,000, friendly Italian guy!
I was pretty bummed to end up going 9-7 after a 6-2 start, but I won more than I lost, and I played against some of the best players in the world. They tell me I should be proud, but all I want now is to do better next time. I’d better qualify for Vancouver really soon…
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