Captain’s Log #12 – Lucky Numbers

I am on the plane from Detroit to Montreal as I write this. All in all, despite not repeating our collective success at Grand Prix Vancouver, I had an extremely fun-filled weekend with two of my best Magic friends in Alexander Hayne and Jon Stern.

Above the Sky
Above the Sky

For the past few weeks, I had been wanting to write an article on everything that has been going on in my Magic life, but things like planning the many ManaDeprived events for Grand Prix Montreal got in the way.

For this article, I am going to focus mainly on Standard and the new technology my team came up with for the Mono Black Devotion deck. Of course, I am also going to talk a bit about the awesome time I had in Cincinnati with one Jonathan Medina because that guy is totally legit, DUDE.

Post-PTQ Thoughts

Two weeks ago, I played in a PTQ in Toronto. Despite constantly thinking Mono Black Devotion was no longer as strong as it once was, it was still my weapon of choice as it was the deck I was most familiar with. After all, I finished 11th at Grand Prix Vancouver with it.

Here’s the list I registered:

[deck title=Mono Black Devotion]
[Lands]
4 Mutavault
18 Swamp
4 Temple of Deceit
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Pack Rat
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
2 Bile Blight
2 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
2 Ultimate Price
4 Underworld Connections
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Bile Blight
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Doom Blade
3 Duress
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
4 Lifebane Zombie
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I did not do so hot, dropping the tournament with a record of 2-3. Usually I would have played every round of the tournament but there was a Standard side event where the winner would be receiving a Modern Masters box, so I decided to sign myself up for that.

I started the tournament off with four straight wins, locked up top seed, but ultimately lost my first elimination match to Uw Devotion. Uw Devotion was also one of my losses during the main event courtesy of Mike Vasovski.

One of the lessons I took away from this PTQ was that if Uw Devotion was going to become a major force in the metagame, Mono Black Devotion would then certainly become a poorer deck choice for future tournaments. Splashing white for [card]Revoke Existence[/card] or splashing green for [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] would become a necessary adjustment in my opinion.

I would also like to say that from my perspective as the Mono Black player, I did not find Ephara too impressive. I am reading many articles where authors share the same view, suggesting versions of the deck that only include one copy of the blue-white God.


Another takeaway for me was that I was starting to dislike Erebos as a sideboard card. This is because control decks have learned to adopt [card]Revoke Existence[/card] as a solution from Born of the Gods.

There’s also the fact that it is a challenge to get Erebos to become a creature against the splash versions of Mono Black. In all of these Black-based showdowns, a lot of removal is being brought in by both sides for the post-sideboard games. That is why in the straight mirror, [card]Underworld Connections[/card] is the card that is able to provide the devotion needed for Erebos to attack, but against splash versions of Mono Black, Connections might not have the luxury of sticking around when it hits play.

The PTQ didn’t go as planned but Scott MacCallum still made it one heck of a weekend for me, letting William Blondon and I stay at his place. I think he’s got the cutest daughter and I will admit that I absolutely love how instead of calling me KYT, she calls me T-Rex.

Grand Prix Cincinnati

I wasn’t planning to go to Grand Prix Cincinnati but Alex started telling me how cheap the flights were and top of that, Jonathan Medina offered us a place to stay in Ohio. Medina has been a big part of my Magic life, so I wasn’t about to turn down an opportunity to spend time with him in person.

Scry Seven

On the way to the venue from the airport, Alex questioned Jon and I on the number of scry lands we planned to play in the main event as he felt it was something that Mono Black Devotion players didn’t really bother to analyze. He desperately wanted the two of us to play exactly seven scry lands.

I’ve actually asked people about this topic before but the answers were never backed by any real testing and no one I know ever brought up the idea of playing seven in Mono Black. Everyone just felt for whatever reason that the ideal number of scry lands was between four and five.

The problem with testing with Alex is that he is a master troll to anyone he is fond of. Or perhaps to anyone period. I had to ask him repeatedly if he was being serious in his recommendation of seven scry lands for the Mono Black deck.

When we arrived at the venue, Shahar Shenhar sat down to discuss Mono Black with Jon and Dan Lanthier. I sat to the side, laying out the number of scry lands I was potentially going to be playing at the main event.

“Seven? This is a joke right?” – Dan Lanthier

It had to be a joke, right? One of the most ideal starts from the Mono Black deck is to be able to go turn one [card]Thoughtseize[/card], turn two [card]Pack Rat[/card] followed by playing a third untapped land in order to make a Rat token.

But Alex reminded me of all the times that the Mono Black deck can tend to flood out due to its high number of lands. It does play twenty-six and recent decklists I have seen online have decided to go down to twenty-five. Playing more scry lands would allow us to find [card]Underworld Connections[/card] faster than our opponents in the mirror and it gives us a higher chance of finding threats against the control decks.

When we got back to Medina’s house Friday night, Jon and I decided to test the scry lands idea. Jon had the idea of testing the deck with eight so that we could get a better feel of how much the tap lands could hurt. He had me pilot the Jund Monsters deck as it is one of the more aggressive decks in the format. He soundly beat me 7-1 and I just couldn’t believe it. I actually had good hands in some of the games, but it’s like he was able to somehow find the right answer every single time…

-light bulb-

Alex jumped in to help out by piloting the Mono Blue deck against Mono Black. After another set of games, all Jon had was praise for the scry lands to the point of actually feeling like eight might be the right number and not seven.

Ultimately, to better figure out how many scry lands we wanted, Jon created a spreadsheet to see the odds of getting X scry lands in our opening hand based on how many copies existed in our deck. As it turns out, even if it was just a number Alex came up with on the spot, seven gave us the highest chance of having specifically one scry land in our first eight cards of a game.

Testing at Medina's
Testing at Medina’s

After discussing the deck with Jon, I decided I would play his 75 because he shared my opinion on essentially every aspect of the deck (e.g., not cutting [card]Nightveil Specter[/card]s, not being as high on Erebos as other Mono Black pilots).

Here is the 75 Jon Stern put together:

[deck title=Mono Black Devotion v7]
[Lands]
4 Mutavault
15 Swamp
4 Temple of Silence
3 Temple of Deceit
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
2 Lifebane Zombie
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Pack Rat
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
3 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
1 Pharika’s Cure
4 Thoughtseize
4 Underworld Connections
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
4 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

One of the other more glaring aspects of Jon’s list is the fact that it plays zero copies of [card]Bile Blight[/card]. Playing zero copies was an idea I suggested when the three of us first arrived in Cincinnati. It’s not very good against the Monsters deck and in the mirror, your opponent is going to respect [card]Bile Blight[/card] regardless of whether you actually have it in your hand or not.

It was also on my mind that the RW Burn deck would be popular at this event. The exact eight creature version popularized by James Fazzolari was picking up steam. I’ve seen multiple copies of that deck finish well in tournaments and against that deck, [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] can be a more powerful tool.

However, both Jon and I lost a game during the Grand Prix because we didn’t have access to [card]Bile Blight[/card] in the mirror. On the other side of the coin, we also both won games were [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] saved us against Burn. If I were going to Grand Prix Phoenix, I’d be looking to fit both in somehow.

I have to give special shout-outs to Matthew Ratajczak and Alex Bianchi. I had actually forgotten to bring my Mono Black deck to Cincinnati and these guys came through big time for me by making another copy out of the cards they owned.

Jon’s Playbook

As I have written about him before, Jon is a preparation fanatic and for all of you looking to play this deck in a tournament, I have decided to publish his sideboarding playbook right here.

The mirror

Out:
[draft]
4 Desecration Demon
2 Hero’s Downfall
2 Lifebane Zombie
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
3 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Orzhov Midrange

Out:
[draft]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Hero’s Downfall
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
2 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
[/draft]

UW/Esper

Out:
[draft]
2 Desecration Demon
3 Devour Flesh
2 Hero’s Downfall
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
4 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
[/draft]

RG/Jund Monsters

Out:
[draft]
1 Pharika’s Cure
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
2 Lifebane Zombie
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Burn

Out:
[draft]
4 Hero’s Downfall
3 Thoughtseize
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
4 Duress
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Mono Blue Devotion (on the play)

Out:
[draft]
2 Lifebane Zombie
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
1 Duress
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Mono Blue Devotion (on the draw)

Out:
[draft]
4 Pack Rat
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
1 Duress
1 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Hexproof

Out:
[draft]
4 Hero’s Downfall
3 Underworld Connections
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
4 Duress
1 Doom Blade
2 Lifebane Zombie
[/draft]

Slaughter Games

A few of you might want to ask me what I think of the different splash versions of Mono Black. The red splash for [card]Slaughter Games[/card] was a popular choice for this weekend as from what I hear, Team ChannelFireball members and Shahar ended up selecting that specific version as their weapon of choice. Jon and I just didn’t hate the control matchup that much and we really didn’t like having to twist our mana base to accommodate the red cards.

Number 13

I ended the tournament at 6-3 at the end of Day One, losing to two mirrors and Mono Red Aggro. Jon made Day Two with a record of 8-1 but he was 2-3 on Day Two before conceding to LSV in the last round. Neglecting byes, our list had a collective record of 11-7 (61%). Nothing too impressive, but we remain pleased with the deck we piloted. Moving forward, both of us are more likely to play seven scry lands than four in Mono Black Devotion. You win, Alex, you win.

Since my Grand Prix streak of making Day Two nine times in a row snapped, I played in the Super Sunday Series (Sealed). My pool was average but I was able to start things off at 5-0 largely due to play errors from my opponents. I proceeded to 0-3 before winning my last round.

Due to my results in Grand Prix Vancouver (11th) and Grand Prix Montreal (12th), many of my friends made the joke that I would finish 13th at Grand Prix Cincinnati. Well, I did, but in the Sunday Super Series…

After collecting my prize from the Sunday Super Series, Alex, Jon, and I went back to Medina’s house that night to drown our sorrows over games of Ascension. It was a huge bummer to see Alex finish 9th after such a strong start.

Playing Ascension
Playing Ascension

Steak ‘n Shake

Best Place on Earth
Best Place on Earth

Steak ‘n Shake was one of the bigger revelations for Alex, Jon, and I this past weekend. A lot of people love to joke about how Americans are fat because they serve delicious unhealthy food at a cheap price, but to a Canadian, an amazing burger for $4 is a concept that is inconceivable.

Of course, the service is slower than snails and the fries taste like utter garbage, but we loved the place so much we actually ate there Saturday night AND Sunday night. Jon was opposed to any criticism I had for his new Best Place on Earth. I got the Royale burger both times because for whatever reason, I have a thing for burgers that come with a fried egg.

The Grind Continues

Despite my disappointing performance, it’s already time to get back on the saddle for another chance to qualify for the Pro Tour. This weekend, FacetoFaceGames is hosting a PTQ in Montreal, so I plan to port over some of the success I had in Limited at Grand Prix Montreal to this tournament.

Grand Prix Cincinnati will always be a fond memory. I got to hang out with THE Jonathan Medina, who was a host and a half for us. I had missed him tremendously since his departure from the game and re-experiencing the chemistry we shared was indescribable. Seeing Mark Sun again was a welcome treat as well.

I also got to spend time with Alex and Jon which is a less frequent occasion these days as they are usually spending their time flying around slaying Magic tournaments. How long will it take for me to join them?

The Canadian Trio
The Canadian Trio

As always, thanks for reading!

KYT
@kytmagic

Captain’s Log #10 – The Tournament Thanks You

Once again, I didn’t do very well, but I enjoyed myself and I loved everyone. Actually, I don’t think I should classify finishing 11th at the Grand Prix in the didn’t do very well category. It’s my highest individual finish at a Grand Prix and is definitely going to be a huge source of motivation moving forward.

I had missed the previous Grand Prix Vancouver and I had to pass on the last two Canadian GPs because two of my friends somehow planned their weddings on the exact same dates. Attending GP Vancouver in 2014 was therefore important to me as I want to support Canadian Magic events whenever I can.

As a bonus, I was also elated to find out that two of my high school friends, Barry Hum and Ricardo Rambarran, were interested to fly across the country with me. Our fourth was Kenny Fung, a long time friend I met outside of the game.

No Snow in Vancouver

Beautiful Vancouver
Beautiful Vancouver

We landed in Vancouver on Thursday and it shocked all four of us how warm the weather was compared to Montreal and how there was a complete lack of snow. We thought winter would be miserable everywhere in Canada, but clearly, we were mistaken and began to fantasize about living the rest of our lives in Vancouver. The city is simply beautiful and clean.

Time to Grind

Because of my six month hiatus, I did not have the necessary Planeswalker Points to get me even one bye. I had made seven Grand Prix day-twos in a row up to this point and I knew how key byes were to my streak. I had made the decision before the trip that I was going to spend the Friday playing trials in an effort to earn myself two very important byes.

I was confident in the list that allowed me to clinch the top eight of the Toronto PTQ the weekend prior, so I just sleeved up the following once again:

[deck title=Mono Black Devotion by Brad Nelson]
[Lands]
18 Swamp
4 Mutavault
4 Temple of Deceit
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Pack Rat
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Underworld Connections
3 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
4 Thoughtseize
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
3 Lifebane Zombie
3 Dark Betrayal
2 Doom Blade
2 Pharika’s Cure
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
3 Duress
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Ultimately, I managed to win the five rounds needed to claim the byes. I remember feeling a huge sense of relief when my opponent in the finals conceded and extended his hand. Last weekend marked my seventh top eight without a win and I think it was important for my psyche to know that I had the ability to close a tournament regardless of whether it was just a trial or not.

Sushi!!!

Ever since the last Grand Prix Montreal in 2011, Kenji Egashira, better known as super streamer NumotTheNummy, and I have been close friends. I first met him in real-life when I got him a very sweet place to crash at for that event and he constantly reminds me of how appreciative he still is for my gesture.

He arrived Friday night and decided to hang out with my crew. We went out to a fancy Japanese restaurant named Ebisu. I commented on how beautiful the city of Vancouver was earlier and I also have nothing but praise for the food options that the city provides, especially if you are into Asian cuisine.

Sushi
Sushi!!!

Subscriber Karaoke

After dinner, Ricardo put forth the idea of karaoke as our last activity of the evening.

Kenji: I’m in!

And just like that, it was decided. Kenji had actually been taking singing lessons recently and you can see the fruits of that over on his YouTube channel. You will definitely get to experience another dimension of NumotTheNummy.

After leaving the restaurant, we walked along Robson street and saw a karaoke place called Fantacity and let me just say that this is the cleanest karaoke place I had ever been to. You get to have your own individual room and the room itself comes with two tambourines that we definitely heavily used during our partying.

One of the most popular aspects of Kenji’s stream on Twitch is when someone becomes a subscriber, he screams NEW SUBSCRIBAAAH in a high pitch voice and begins to flail his arms like Kermit the Frog.

The Subscription Dance
The Subscription Dance

Kenny, Ricardo, Barry, and I went a little crazy when it came to taking this New Subscribaaah thing to a whole new level. All of us changed the lyrics of many songs just to fit the word subscriber in. We probably went a little overboard as Barry was convinced that Kenji was going to kill us all before the night was done.

Here’s a few examples of the songs we did to embarrass Kenji, but feel free to come up with your own lyrics!

I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys
You are… My fire. The one… Subscriber.

U Remind Me – Usher
You remind me of a subscriber that I once knew.

Wonderwall – Oasis
And after all, you’re my subscriber!

We stayed up fairly late but there were certainly no regrets on my part. With Kenji being from Seattle and me being from Montreal, you just don’t get that many opportunities to hang out. What we planned to be a quick one-hour karaoke session turned into a full-fledged three-hour party.

Road to 11th

Thankfully, I wasn’t that tired on day one of the Grand Prix. I managed to cap the day off with an 8-1 record losing only to Matt Sperling who was also armed with the Mono Black Devotion deck. Sperling would go on to finish in the top eight of the event.

In the second game against Sperling, I misjudged the state of the game. My mind was too focused on the card advantage plan of having [card]Underworld Connections[/card] and [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card] in play that I neglected how fast Sperling’s clock on me was. He had Specters and [card]Desecration Demon[/card], so wasting time tapping out for an Erebos was a mistake. I should have dug deeper with Connections to find removal spells as soon as possible.

Still, with a record of 8-1, I made my eighth day two in a row and I felt extremely good about my overall play throughout the day. I have come a long way since that Syracuse PTQ where I had to play standing for three consecutive rounds.

Day Two

Day two started off poorly as my first opponent of the day Ben Seck would tell you. I just mulliganed into oblivion against his Mono Blue Devotion deck but I didn’t let that affect my confidence. I was determined to finish strong and I accomplished that task with a record of 4-2 for the day, giving me a total record of 12-3 for the entire tournament.

I finished in 11th place and earned myself $600 along with 3 Pro Points which brings my lifetime total to 8. Despite coming so close again and not quite reaching the ultimate goal of qualifying for the Pro Tour, I walk away with the utmost drive to continue this quest. Even right now, I’m reflecting on mistakes I made in order to give myself a better chance of winning at my next event.

In my game against Paul Dunn on day two, I had an Erebos and an [card]Underworld Connections[/card] already in play. Paul, on his side, had a number of creatures, one of them being a [card]Nighthowler[/card]. He was playing a saucy version of Mono Black Aggro.

[deck title=Agent of Fates Aggro by Paul Dunn]
[Lands]
4 Mutavault
20 Swamp
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Agent of the Fates
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Nighthowler
4 Pack Rat
4 Tormented Hero
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
3 Gift of Orzhova
2 Hero’s Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
3 Underworld Connections
4 Wring Flesh
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
4 Dark Betrayal
4 Doom Blade
3 Duress
4 Pharika’s Cure
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

At this point, I knew Paul had a least one [card]Dark Betrayal[/card] in his hand from an early discard spell that I had casted. He was tapped out. I played a Gray Merchant and passed the turn. Now because Paul was the one putting pressure on me, all my mind was focused on was to mitigate damage. Blocking was the only thing that I thought I could do.

My mistake was of course that I should have attacked with Erebos if I knew Paul had [card]Dark Betrayal[/card] for my Gray Merchant. Losing the two black devotion from the Merchant meant that Erebos would cease being a creature on his turn. If I wasn’t going to be able to block with it, then I definitely should have attacked.

This is the type of error I see myself making from time to time and maybe it’s just inexperience with certains cards or specific situations that cause these moments of tunnel vision. Jeph Foster and Jeremey Schofield were about to talk to me about my mistake after watching my game, but I told them what it was before they could. I just need to improve on spotting these mistakes when they matter.

This game actually ended up getting pretty crazy. I won the game with both of us being at 1. At one point, he was at 14 while I was at 1. He had two [card]Underworld Connections[/card] and you surely would have said that I was doomed. Of course, when he conceded, he showed me a grip of discard spells.

The turning point of the game was when he decided to chump block my Erebos with a [card]Pack Rat[/card] which allowed me to [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] the last one. If he had thrown away a [card]Nighthowler[/card], then it was going to be impossible for me to fend off his ability to make two [card]Pack Rat[/card]s a turn with one of his [card]Underworld Connections[/card] and six lands.

The Tournament Thanks You

The title of this article is inspired by one of the stories from Grand Prix Vancouver centered around my friend Kenny Fung. Throughout the week, we had been suggesting deck choices to Kenny, but ultimately, he opted to select Esper Control, a deck that he felt he was the most comfortable with due to his experience with the deck.

Now, I don’t think the deck is horrible. In fact, I helped him test his matchup against my Mono Black Devotion deck and the results seemed to indicate that he had a slight edge pre-board, but I was more than fine post-board. My issue with this type of deck is the propensity to receive draws, especially against the mirror. Kenny finished Day 1 with a record of 4-3-2.

At the end of the day, he started saying that he had the Blast-Off record because he was also given 1 warning, his first ever at a sanctioned tournament. It was handed to him during round 8 in the 3-2-2 bracket. Kenny was in game 2 in a match against another control deck. He was pondering on a decision he had to make from having cast his [card]Sin Collector[/card] until the following happened:

Judge: I’ve been hovering around your match and I am going to have to give you a warning for slow-playing.

Kenny: What?

Opponent: For what it’s worth, I don’t think he’s slow playing.

Judge: I’m about to give you a warning for slow playing.

Woah!

After the warning had been assigned, both players played the next couple of turns at a quicker pace.

Judge: I have to go look at another match. Your performance has improved. I thank you and the tournament thanks you.

Ouch!

Kenny was taken aback by the judge’s words. It did allow us to keep poking fun of him throughout the rest of the trip as we created variations of the judge’s final words. We also made fun of him because we caught him keeping a hand of one [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and six lands in one of his games.

Ricardo, Kenny, and Barry
Ricardo, Kenny, and Barry

Up Next

I am not sure about my plans for the weekend as Thursday marks the Chinese New Year and that usually means family dinners that must be attended to for fear of being disowned.

Hopefully, I am able to squeeze in at least one prerelease so that I can give you guys my thoughts on the format next week and also at the same time, it’s essential preparation for Grand Prix Montreal in March.

Again, if you are considering going to a Grand Prix this year, I couldn’t recommend Grand Prix Montreal enough. It’s my birthday weekend and we are having Spruke DJing the biggest Mana Deprived party yet. Come have a blast!

I also have my eyes set on the Ottawa PTQ taking place on February 15th. Odds are I will be playing Mono Black Devotion again though I am not sure if Bile Blight helps or hurts it. It certainly gives the Shouta Yasooka deck a better weapon to deal with [card]Pack Rat[/card]s. Previously it had to play [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card]s and I think Bile Blight is almost a strict upgrade.

[deck title=UB Control by Shouta Yasooka]
[Lands]
1 Dimir Guildgate
7 Island
4 Mutavault
5 Swamp
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Watery Grave
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Master of Waves
2 Prognostic Sphinx
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
2 Devour Flesh
2 Dissolve
2 Domestication
2 Doom Blade
2 Essence Scatter
2 Hero’s Downfall
2 Opportunity
3 Ratchet Bomb
4 Syncopate
1 Ultimate Price
[/Other Spells]
[Planeswalkers]
3 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
[/Planeswalkers]
[Sideboard]
1 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Negate
2 Pithing Needle
3 Thoughtseize
4 Tidebinder Mage
3 Wall of Frost
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Thanks

I want to thank everyone for their support. Trust me when I say that I read all your Tweets and fed off the positive energy. Knowing that the families of Scott MacCallum and Kyle Mathers were excited to see me on the live stream was definitely an awesome feeling.

I would like to thank Marshall Sutcliffe for giving me a chance to be part of the live streaming coverage. It was an absolute honour and pleasure to be in the booth with him. Check out my interview from the live stream at around the 6:00:30 mark here.

I want to congratulate Alexander Hayne and Jon Stern for the nth time. They have proven to be at the top of their game right now and I expect nothing less come Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Pick these guys in your Fantasy Pro Tour drafts!

Jon Stern vs. Alexander Hayne
Jon Stern vs. Alexander Hayne

As always, thanks for reading!

KYT
@kytmagic

Captain’s Log #9 – Top 8 in Toronto

The third weekend of 2014 saw me play my third PTQ, this time in the great city of Toronto. There was definitely a closer PTQ that I could have attended instead in Catskill, New York, but I could not give up an opportunity to catch up with two of my closest friends in Scott MacCallum and Dave Lee.

For the first time in 2014, I was going to go alone. I was going to be without my dear friend Frankie Richard, but I promised him that I would play all of the rounds in his name. I chose the VIA rail as my method of transportation, and I have to mention that the train’s Wi-Fi is noticeably stronger than it was two years ago.

Two years ago, the Wi-Fi was really bad and I regret trying to play MTGO on it. I remember playing Zoo vs. Ben Stark who was on Valakut in an eight-man. I feel really bad that I took forever to kill him when he was dead on board, because of the poor Wi-Fi connection. I wonder if he thought I was trying really hard to slow-roll him?

Even with the stronger signal, though, they will not let you stream video using their connection, which turned out to be a huge bummer since I had planned to watch some Mono-Black Devotion videos by Brad Nelson and Adam Yurchick.

Nightmare PTQ Part 3?

Some people actually mentioned that they didn’t want to see me at the Toronto PTQ after reading about my escapades in Syracuse and Connecticut. I couldn’t really blame them. Playing games of Magic while standing. Wizards Events Reporter crashing. What kind of bad luck was I going to bring to Toronto?

I put my entire faith in my friend Kelly Ackerman who has been known to organize some of the biggest PTQs in North American history and, thankfully, he did not disappoint. At the end of registration, the tally of registered players was 341, and I can say now that everything PTQ-related ran silky smooth.

The venue was at one of Ryerson University’s gyms, and it’s an excellent choice for a tournament of this size. One issue I didn’t mention concerning the venues in Syracuse and Connecticut was that there weren’t enough aisles to get you from point A to point B. It wasn’t super comfortable, but in Toronto, you had all the space in the world to maneuver.

The only extra thing I would want—and it’s more a good-to-have than a must-have—is to provide pairings on Twitter. If Wizards Event Reporter could just do that for the tournament organizer by simply being given credentials of a Twitter account, then it’d be a dream. As it stands, the Toronto PTQ was still the overall best PTQ experience I have had in 2014.

The Toronto PTQ
The Toronto PTQ

Road to Top 8

I had messed around with Saito’s UW decklist and believe it to be one of the best versions of UW available. Here’s the list:

[deck title=UW by Tomoharu Saito]
[Lands]
5 Island
5 Plains
4 Azorius Guildgate
3 Mutavault
2 Temple of Silence
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Hallowed Fountain
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
1 AEtherling
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Last Breath
4 Detention Sphere
2 Azorius Charm
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Dissolve
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
3 Syncopate
4 Supreme Verdict
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
4 Archangel of Thune
3 Gainsay
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
1 Opportunity
3 Dark Betrayal
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Lucas Siow piloted a tweaked version of the deck and started off 4-0 only to lose the next two because of missed land drops.

“Guess that’s what I get for running UW without [card]Divination[/card]s.”

He did later tell me that he would definitely run his list again, citing that he felt the deck gave him a chance to win any game.

Despite having more success online with UW than Mono-Black Devotion, I chose to stick to my plan of playing one deck this month and selected Mono-Black Devotion as my weapon of choice for this PTQ.

I did deviate and opted for Brad Nelson’s list over Jon Stern’s, though it had nothing to do with my thinking one list was superior to the other. I just wanted to see how the different main deck removal suite would perform for me. I do want to mention that Brad’s list is just two cards off of Owen Turtenwald’s tournament-winning list from SCG Indianapolis.

Here’s what I chose to run:

[deck title=Mono Black Devotion by Brad Nelson]
[Lands]
18 Swamp
4 Mutavault
4 Temple of Deceit
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Pack Rat
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Underworld Connections
3 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
4 Thoughtseize
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
3 Lifebane Zombie
3 Dark Betrayal
2 Doom Blade
2 Pharika’s Cure
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
3 Duress
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I finished 8-1 after the Swiss rounds, landing me in third place. To give you an extremely small picture of the metagame, I ended up playing against Rw Devotion three times, Mono-Black Devotion twice, Rw Burn once, UW Control once, GW Aggro once, and finally Mono-Black Devotion splash Blood Baron once.

To be honest, despite losing most of my die rolls, I felt I ran well above average, rarely having to mulligan my hands during the Swiss rounds. I also certainly committed fewer mistakes than I did in Syracuse and Connecticut. And like many of my friends have said, everyone makes mistakes; all you can hope to do is make less important ones than your opponents.

In a post-sideboard game, one Mono-Black Devotion opponent showed me a hand of five lands and a [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] on turn one after a [card]Thoughtseize[/card] from my side. Another round, my GW opponent destroyed me in game one, but she sideboarded in [card]Unflinching Courage[/card], which gave the edge back to me because my removal spells were now potential two-for-ones, and that’s exactly the reason why I took down the next two games.

I’m learning more and more that experience with a deck and its matchups is simply very important, especially if you do not have a lot of time on your hands to prepare for a tournament. Lack of experience is the reason some of my opponents lost to me, and it’s the reason I lost to my opponent in top eight.

My opponent in the top eight was playing WWb, and I was just confused because it wasn’t the mainstream version that I had seen before. This one ran [card]Judge’s Familiar[/card]s, which somehow was enough to induce me into taking lines that didn’t really make any sense. In retrospect, I wish I had more experience in that matchup.

I also wish I had been more like Jon Stern near the end of the Swiss rounds. In the later rounds of a PTQ, Jon would take the effort of jotting which deck every potential top eight contender was playing. I had no idea what my top eight opponent was playing and, had I known, I would not have taken a mulligan in game one. My tournament came to a quick abrupt end, but I am still content to know what I can work on to improve my game. My results are trending upwards and I am feeling like my old self again.

Derf selling playmats
Derf selling playmats at the event!

Of course Scott, being the awesome Dad that he is to me, attempted to cheer me up by bringing me to a restaurant called Barberian’s Steak House. Once again, he succeeded. The garlic bread was incredible, and the steak was beyond tasty. I ended up crashing at Scott’s for the night, and let me publicly say that he goes out of his way to be a great host. Thanks again, Dad.

Porter Steak!
Porter Steak!

WWb Preparation

If I want to constantly improve myself a player, I cannot just sit and be happy with my top eight performance or my 8-2 record. There is a lot of work that can be done. In order to fill in gaps of my knowledge, I asked Twitter to see if anyone owned a WW deck that I could test with.

More than a few people were ready to answer the call, and I managed to get a couple of matches versus Drew Chandler (@drklutch). I’m thankful I am able to test online because assembling a real-life gauntlet is just too time-consuming, not to mention expensive.

After our series, I realized the matchup is way more simplistic than I thought: you just try to trade one-for-one and let your bigger spells in the mid-to-late game take over. The only tricky guy that is annoying to deal with is [card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card]. [card]Devour Flesh[/card] and [card]Desecration Demon[/card] do not look so good facing down a Necromancer.

The series also allowed me to see that I sideboarded poorly in the top eight. Maybe I was too nervous, but I remember keeping some [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s in, and just like that, I committed the same mistake as one of my opponents in the Swiss. I sideboarded poorly and got punished for it.

[card]Thoughtseize[/card] is bad because the WWb deck has so many redundant threats. Sure, you can take away a [card]Precinct Captain[/card], but they can just cast a [card]Daring Skyjek[/card] the next turn. And because the mana curve of the WWb deck is so low, you lose so much tempo casting [card]Thoughtseize[/card] when you should basically be casting a removal spell turns 2-4.

Reid Duke has written one of the most critically acclaimed articles on [card]Thoughtseize[/card]. I read it, but the lessons clearly hadn’t seeped into my brain yet.

My new plan is as follows:

– 4 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]
– 3 [card]Underworld Connections[/card]
+ 2 [card]Doom Blade[/card]
+ 3 [card]Lifebane’s Zombie[/card]
+ 2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]

Inspired by Persistence

It is always a disappointment to finish so close yet so far. Magic contains a great deal of variance, and all you can really do is give yourself as many opportunities as possible to succeed.

Over the past year, it seems many of my friends are qualifying by sheer persistence, and I can’t help but be inspired by that. Let’s start off with Mario Pavel Rodriguez Renteria, who had been playing GB Mutilate during the entirety of the last Standard season. He lost in one finals against Pascal Maynard only to win his very next PTQ after the crushing defeat.

Glenn McIelwain and Jared Boettcher have also both had recent runner-up finishes, but they continued to grind and were able to use their strong finishes at Grand Prix Washington as invites to Pro Tour Born of the Gods.

Heck, this Standard season, Jared was the runner-up at the Connecticut PTQ I attended over a week ago only to win an invite this past Saturday. His Broncos also beat the Patriots the next day, so someone has been running really hot.

And even more recently, Robert Vaughan, the Eh Team listener I have mentioned in my last two articles, finally broke through with a win after a few near-misses this season.

It’s impressive that these guys didn’t let disappointment discourage them from continuing to fight for their goal of making it to the Pro Tour. Good job guys. You all deserve what you worked for.

Up Next

To complete my journey of playing a PTQ/GP every weekend of January, I fly to Vancouver to play a Standard Grand Prix. My streak of seven consecutive Grand Prix day-twos is on the line, but let’s hope I do more than just day-two.

This will actually mark the first time I am heading to a Grand Prix with zero byes, largely due to my hiatus. However, I fully intend on playing the Grand Prix Trials all day. Hopefully, they will actually fire.

My Captain’s Log Series

Alex Hayne and Andy Robdrup have both told me that they very recently read my entire Captain’s Log series from beginning to end. Andy had a critique though; he mentioned to me in person at the PTQ that every article in my series comes off the same. I think Mathew Schmaltz, the self-proclaimed Commander of Face to Face Games, described it the best:

“Your articles are always like, ‘I didn’t do very well, but everybody loves me.’ ‘I traveled 5 hours to a PTQ in Connecticut, the entire tournament crashed, but the tournament was awesome because we got free stuff! I love everyone!’”

Maybe one day I will win an important tournament. Until then, I will keep littering my near-misses with my inhumanly positive attitude and my genuine love for the game and its community. Special shoutout to 5K Rich 😉 !

Of course, if there’s a particular topic you guys would love to see me tackle, let me know in the comments below!

As always, thanks for reading!

KYT

Captain’s Log #8 – Real-Life PTQ Crash

First off, I would like to thank everyone for checking out my article last week. From what I can see, it was well-received everywhere. Worth Wollpert even complimented me on my positive attitude despite the crummy situation I was put in. And this positive attitude is what I brought with me as Frankie Richard, Vicente Alvarez, Barry Hum, and I headed to Connecticut for yet another Standard PTQ.

Fun at the Border

Getting across the border is always interesting. We can never predict the border officer’s reaction as we reveal that we are driving more than a few hours to play a card game called Magic: the Gathering. Last week, on our Syracuse trip, we quite enjoyed the replies that we got on our way to and back from the U.S.

Aren’t you guys too old for this?

Heroes of Might and Magic? Ça existe encore? Je viens de le downdloader hier soir. Je comprends rien!

Translation: Heroes of Might and Magic? That still exists? I just downloaded it last night. I don’t understand anything!

This time around, we were pulled over at the border on our way to Connecticut Friday night. I’m not entirely sure on the minute details, but Vicente, a Venezulan, mentioned that for him to cross the border, he had to pay a small fee every single time. During the short interview with one of the border officers, he was asked:

Mr. Alvarez, have you murdered anyone outside of the game of Magic?

Border officers definitely seem to have a sense of humour! After the interview, we all jumped back into the car, drove for five hours, and arrived at the Clarion Inn & Suites. Thankfully, Francis Rickard did not decide to check into the same hotel again, and we were able to quickly set ourselves off for a decent rest before the big day.

Best PTQ Experience Ever

Honestly, before showing up for the PTQ, we did not really know what to expect. The card store name was the first thing that threw us off. Ice Imports. Not exactly the type of name I would expect a hobby store to have. On top of that, there was no go-to Facebook or landing page for the event, but hey, we weren’t going to let speculation stop us from going to this PTQ.

Since then, I have learnt from others that Ice Imports was not a Magic store to begin with. They are a store that sold a bunch of different stuff including knives and swords. At some point, they decided to add Magic to their product line, and from what I understand, they have really been trying to push the game hard ever since.

When we finally arrived at the tournament site early in the morning, we couldn’t help but laugh at the presence of a barn. It added to the whole “we are in the middle of nowhere” feeling.

The Tournament Site
The tournament site
The Barn
The Barn

Once we got in, though, it didn’t take long for our group’s minds to be collectively blown away. At the entrance, there were girls selling cupcakes with Magic symbols on them. An Ice Imports representative was near the registration table giving out free Sunny Ds, water bottles, apples, and bananas. That’s right… FREE. We were also given a small gift bag with a concierge sheet. It was as if we had all been given free VIP packages for this PTQ.

Free fruits for all!
Free fruits for all!

And if that was not enough, there was free Wi-Fi, which is completely unheard of. Well, at least up here in Canada. The free Wi-Fi access was made even more valuable as the tournament organizer was able to get the pairings each round available online via their Twitter account. Seriously, it was unbelievable. And just to add an additional smile to my face, the name of the Wi-Fi network was BARN.

Free Wi-Fi courtesy of the Barn
Free Wi-Fi courtesy of the Barn

Being in the middle of nowhere meant that food options were going to be sparse, but to everyone’s delight, a Lucky Taco food truck was slated to come near the event during lunch time. However, because the PTQ ended up registering 308 players, the line-up for this Lucky Taco truck was massive. I didn’t end up getting any tacos, but I appreciated the TO’s efforts.

The Lucky Taco truck
The Lucky Taco truck

Still Rusty

To remind everyone, my first PTQ since coming back from hiatus was a disappointing 3-5. I had every intention to improve on that record in Connecticut. Keeping with my plan, I stuck with Jon Stern’s list, making one change that he suggested, which was to go all the way up to four [card]Temple of Silence[/card]s. After the tournament, I think I would certainly play four again. Even Owen’s latest list featured four [card]Temple of Deceit[/card]s.

[deck title=Mono-Black Devotion – Jon Stern]
[Lands]
18 Swamp
4 Mutavault
4 Temple of Silence
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Pack Rat
4 Nightveil Specter
1 Lifebane Zombie
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Thoughtseize
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
1 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Underworld Connections
1 Whip of Erebos
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
3 Duress
1 Dark Betrayal
2 Devour Flesh
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Doom Blade
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Shrivel
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

My first five rounds went as follows:

W vs. Mono Black Devotion
L vs. Mono Blue Devotion
L vs. GB Scavenge
W vs. White Weenie splash [card]Boros Charm[/card]
W vs. Mono Green Ramp into Fatties

I easily beat Mono Blue Devotion game one using [card]Pack Rat[/card], but games two and three, my opponent was able to dominate the board with an early [card]Domestication[/card]. Against GB Scavenge, I made a midgame mistake by not playing a land, which led to a [card]Golgari Charm[/card] killing my [card]Pack Rat[/card] while I was tapped out with a [card]Mutavault[/card] in play.

PTQ Crash

With my record at 3-2, a 20-minute dinner break was announced due to technical difficulties. After a half hour had passed, really bad news was announced. At that point, it was roughly 5 p.m. and the tournament organizer announced that Wizards Event Reporter had crashed and that there was no way of recovering the tournament. They would need to painstakingly re-enter all the results manually. Therefore, the tournament was scheduled to resume at 8 pm with four rounds of Swiss to go.

Frankie Richard: I paid for nine rounds?!
Frankie Richard: I paid for nine rounds?!

Frank’s reaction tells it all. At every tournament, Frank loves to emphatically tell everyone how many rounds he paid for because that’s the number of rounds he planned to play regardless of his record. Frankie paid for nine rounds, but the news made it very unlikely that he was going to get his money’s worth this time.

Frankie, Barry, and I were all at 3-2, which meant that we were all out of top-eight contention. Vicente was still in the run, but there was a car from Montreal staying an extra day for the SCG IQ the next day, so he was safe to stay. For the rest of us, the idea of playing on for Planeswalker Points was not that appealing if it meant getting home at 5 a.m., so we decided to leave. It was a huge bummer for us since we were all coming off two wins and just felt like playing more of the game that we love oh so much.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Wizards Event Reporter has crashed in my presence. Just this past December, at a Montreal PTQ, WER decided to crash after round one, and players were given an early lunch break as the tournament organizer rushed to fix the issue.

As someone with a degree in software engineering, I just can’t help but wonder what the main cause of the crash was. Could the old software be less compatible with today’s latest hardware and operating systems? I can’t help but wonder, but I do know this: at the very least, the program should have a feature that MTGO itself has long been missing-the ability to quickly restore a given state of a tournament. I hope this is a top priority for Wizards moving forward.

Major kudos to you, Ice Imports. It is sad that the main takeaway from this tournament is that Wizards Event Reporter ruined everyone’s tournament experience, but I won’t forget that outside of that, you guys gave me the best PTQ experience I ever had and I am certainly looking forward to you guys hosting more tournaments in the future.

Unlike many of my friends, I still have faith in Wizards. I am just waiting for my…

Faith's Reward

Mono Black vs. Mono Blue Devotion

One of things some people wanted more out of my article last week was more strategic content, which I was unable to provide because of my rustiness. For in-depth information, you are best served checking out Jon Stern’s primer or Owen Turtenwald’s numerous articles on the deck he has been championing with a large degree of success. I’m just going to try to provide little nuggets of knowledge that I pick up on the way.

Everyone I have talked to evaluates the Mono Black versus Mono Blue matchup as roughly even. Some give the edge to Mono Black; others believe Mono Blue has a higher win percentage in the matchup.

In my summary, I had mentioned getting completely blown up by [card]Domestication[/card] in games two and three. I don’t think there was much I could have done game two, since I followed up a [card]Thoughtseize[/card] with a [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] only to have it stolen with a [card]Domestication[/card] he must have topdecked. In game three, I didn’t have a discard spell, but felt I had to drop threat, only to have it stolen once again by [card]Domestication[/card].

Frustrated by [card]Domestication[/card], I talked to Max Brown about the matchup and he told me that he likes to side in a number of Duresses when he plays against Mono Blue Devotion. He believes the key cards to worry about are Thassa, Bident, and [card]Domestication[/card], and Duress can deal with two of those cards.

According to him, the key is also to recognize that there are some games that will go super fast, but in the slower ones, you can afford to sit back on your [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] until you draw Duress. He also mentioned that he has been having success siding out a land while being on the draw with Mono Black Devotion.

I am definitely going to try to jam more games against Mono Blue Devotion and see if I like his approach more.

UWr Control

I have to do a quick mention about UWr Control which is a deck I mentioned last week. Eh Team listener Robert Vaughan top 8ed with it at the Syracuse PTQ and shipped his list to my friend Jared Boettcher who finished in 2nd at the conclusion of the Connecticut PTQ, losing to Ben Friedman in the finals. Ben was playing Rw Devotion. If I was looking to play control, it would certainly be one of my starting points, so I hope you guys appreciate me including Robert’s list here.

[deck title=UWr Control – Robert Vaughan]
[Lands]
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Steam Vents
2 Sacred Foundry
2 Temple of Triumph
2 Temple of Deceit
2 Azorius Guildgate
2 Mutavault
5 Island
3 Plains
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Supreme Verdict
1 Quicken
4 Detention Sphere
3 Counterflux
3 Azorius Charm
2 Izzet Charm
2 Last Breath
1 Turn // Burn
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Elixir of Immortality
3 Divination
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
1 Blind Obedience
2 Assemble the Legion
1 Last Breath
1 Celestial Flare
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Negate
1 Pithing Needle
3 Gainsay
2 Wear // Tear
2 Archangel of Thune
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Next Stop

My next stop is the home of Scott MacCallum and Dave Lee as I head all the way to Toronto for my third PTQ weekend in a row. I expect this to be the biggest PTQ I will ever attend, but I really hope that fact will not trigger some of the issues I have experienced in my last two PTQs. Don’t let me down, Kelly Ackerman!

Spoiler

One more thing. Wizards was kind enough to send us a spoiler from Born of the Gods and we will be revealing this special card next Tuesday. I’m going to be working extra hard to spoil this card in a unique way. To remind everyone, our previous spoilers were [card]Appetite for Brains[/card], [card]Slaughter Games[/card], [card]Luminate Primordial[/card], [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card] and [card]Fabled Hero[/card].

As always, thanks for reading!

KYT

Captain’s Log #7 – The Curse of Syracuse

As stated in Captain’s Log #5, I had planned to take a short hiatus from the competitive side of the game from the middle of June last year all the way until the end of 2013. My goal was to give myself room to re-prioritize my life and I am glad that I did. Mentally, I am as sharp as ever. Physically, I now weight under 180 lbs, which puts me at my lightest in roughly a decade.

With my health now in check, I decided that I would want to return to Magic in a major way. I packed my January with a tournament every weekend (3 PTQs ending with Grand Prix Vancouver). It wasn’t hard to plan rides to some of these PTQs as one of my regular drivers, Frankie Richard, had told me how much he missed bonding with me. He always gave me top priority.

The Curse of Syracuse

The first stop was Syracuse, New York. Our car consisted of Frankie Richard, Francisco Leon Valencia, Tobias Rosman, and myself. When thinking of Syracuse, I don’t exactly have the fondest of memories of that place. In my first and only tournament in the city, I was playing GR Tron and had just won what I believed to be a “win-and-in”, but the tournament organizer decided to cut away the tie-breakers when displaying the standings before the last round.

Without the knowledge of the tiebreakers, my opponent in the last round decided it was in his best interest to play against me to lock up his spot in the top 8 and I don’t blame him. Unfortunately for me, I ended up losing to his [card]Tooth and Nail[/card] deck. Shortly after, the tiebreaker hiding was made known on Twitter and it was quickly confirmed by officials from Wizards that the tournament organizer did not have the right to do what he did.

Ultimately, Alexander Hayne helped me find some solace in this whole ordeal. He told me he probably would not have been Pro Tour Champion if this had not happened to me. And why is that, you say? Adam Barnello won the PTQ and Hayne would beat Barnello en route to becoming Pro Tour Avacyn Restored Champion. Butterfly effect, people, butterfly effect.

As we drove towards our destination Friday night, I was just hoping for nothing out of the ordinary to happen. Frankie had told me that there was a 200 player cap for this tournament and that he had to pre-register everyone in the car during the week. Surely, if there’s a cap, nothing can go wrong, right?

Frankie Richard or Francis Rickard

When we arrived at the Baymont Inn & Suites, it was late and we were ready to just jump in our beds, but the whole checking in process took over half an hour. It was actually unbelievable. They could not find Frankie’s reservation and then realized their colossal mistake.

Some dude named Francis Rickard had checked in a few hours before us and basically took our rooms. The receptionist thought that this Francis Rickard character must have misspelled his name during the online reservation process. She did note that she thought something was fishy when Francis had a different address and was staying for three nights and not one.

To cap it all off, the woman who was responsible for this mistake was at the end of her work shift and just left the whole mess to her coworkers which screwed us over even more because they had no clue what was going on.

Damn you, Francis Rickard, damn you…

Literally Standing for Four Rounds

The next morning, when we arrived at the venue and entered inside, the first thing we noticed was the sheer amount of people in the store. The tournament was to be held in one of the Play the Game Read the Story stores. My first reaction was that there better be more than one washroom, but no, to my disappointment, there was only one one-person washroom.

Before the tournament was scheduled to start, I saw judges rushing to take boxes of comics off of tables. Tables that were clearly not meant to be used to play a game of Magic. They were too high which would have meant that people would have to stand while playing. To my surprise, that’s what happened.

I don’t want to come across as judgmental because honestly, I have no clue what it takes to organize a tournament. I am bringing this to light in the hopes that things can be improved. With Magic growing in popularity, tournament organizers around the world have underestimated attendance to their tournaments. Not everyone prepares themselves for the worst like Kelly Ackerman.

We ended up with 213 whereas the expectation was probably more in the 150 range. The thing that did bug me was that I thought there was a 200 player cap and we had made sure to pre-register. From what I heard, it sounded like the tournament organizer caved and let in an extra 13 players. Why the pre-registration?

The end result was a very unsatisfying experience. We drove 4 hours to this tournament and I had to play 4 rounds standing up and I pre-registered! I remain optimistic though as I know that this has probably already gotten Hélène Bergeot’s attention and improvements will be seen.

Square One

As for how my tournament went, I ended up with an embarrassing record of 3-5, my worst PTQ record that I can remember. Some people might ask why I didn’t 0-2 drop. Planeswalker Points are actually important to me since there’s time to accumulate a significant amount for Grand Prix Montreal in March and if you ever travel with Frankie, you know he wants to play every round. Because he paid for them.

Frankie Richard: I paid for eight rounds!
Frankie Richard: I paid for eight rounds!

Like I stated on Twitter, I was going into the tournament with Jon Stern’s updated Mono Black Devotion list. I guess I can take this opportunity to let people know how highly our local community regards Jon. At the hotel, we felt the best sports comparison would be to compare him to Peyton Manning. Jon prepares more than anyone I know. You ask him for sideboard advice and he will write you an entire guide as a reply on Facebook. Insane preparation is what has made Jon a top 25 player. Watch out for him at the next Pro Tour!

[deck title=Updated Mono-Black Devotion – Jon Stern]
[Lands]
19 Swamp
4 Mutavault
3 Temple of Silence
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Pack Rat
4 Nightveil Specter
1 Lifebane Zombie
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Thoughtseize
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
1 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Underworld Connections
1 Whip of Erebos
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
3 Duress
1 Dark Betrayal
2 Devour Flesh
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Doom Blade
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Shrivel
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Anyways, I played his list and followed his sideboarding guidelines, but I was making too many fundamental mistakes to do well. I am currently a very bad player. [card]Thoughtseize[/card] is one of the most powerful cards in the format right now, but only if you use it right. In round 4, against Alex Bianchi (a writer for ManaDeprived.com), I double Thoughtseized him and saw 4 lands, [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], [card]Divination[/card], and [card]Dissolve[/card].

I believe my hand was [card]Nightveil Specter[/card], [card]Desecration Demon[/card], and removal spells. I was on the play and was going to need a land off the top to the Specter. I decided to discard [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and [card]Divination[/card] thinking that I could pray to draw a land to cast a Specter before Alex could hit [card]Dissolve[/card] mana, which in retrospect doesn’t really make much sense.

I missed my land drop but I did get it the next turn. My next two turns, he was able to [card]Dissolve[/card] both of my threats and won the game from that point onwards. As Alex and I analyzed the game together post-match, I realized that I had not taken into account what colour his lands could produce. He actually had 0 white sources during the double [card]Thoughtseize[/card]. In fact, I almost won this game because it took him a good while before he could cast a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] that he would draw later in the game.

This colossal mistake made me realize I am far from the player I was before the hiatus. I didn’t use all the information that was right in front of me, but I think the key for me now is just to keep being honest with myself, so that I can absorb as much as I can from my mistakes. I will likely perform far better next weekend.

Friends

Despite the laughable performance, as most everyone who grinds these events will tell you, the community is a big part of the fun. I got to see my American friends Bryan/Justin Gottlieb, Max Brown, Jared Boettcher, Bryce Menard, Amanda Stevens, Alex Bianchi, and none other than karaoke rapping god “It’s a Bonfire” Matthew Ratajczak. He ended up making top 8 with UW Control. I also met an Eh Team listener, Robert Vaughan, who was also able to make it to the elimination rounds with a UWr deck which primarily splashes red to play [card]Counterflux[/card] main.

Matthew Ratajczak: So powerful!
Matthew Ratajczak: So powerful!

Next Stop

The next stop this upcoming weekend is good old Windsor, Connecticut. See you guys there!

As always, thanks for reading!

KYT

Updating Mono Black Devotion

This was originally going to be a report for GP Dallas, where I finished in 63rd place. I got about halfway through ranting about airline incompetence before realizing that what people really want to hear about is what they should play in their next PTQ.

Before my travel plans were derailed, I had been hoping to try out a Black Devotion Splash White deck that Andreas Ganz played to a top-16 finish in Vienna. I was a little worried that the inconsistent mana and vulnerability of [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card] to [card]Rapid Hybridization[/card] and [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card] would prove costly in an already close matchup against Mono-Blue. When I checked in at 4 a.m. Saturday, I decided to just stick with what I had been testing and submitted a list very similar to Owen’s GP-winning Mono-Black deck. While the Orzhov deck did manage to win the tournament, I don’t really regret my decision. I played against Mono-Blue Devotion four times over the course of the tournament and was thankful to be playing the more stable version.

[deck title=Mono-Black Devotion – Jon Stern – GP Dallas – 63rd]
[Lands]
19 Swamp
4 Mutavault
3 Temple of Deceit
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Pack Rat
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Erebos, God of the Dead
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Thoughtseize
2 Devour Flesh
3 Ultimate Price
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Underworld Connections
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
4 Dark Betrayal
3 Lifebane Zombie
3 Pharika’s Cure
1 Doom Blade
2 Duress
2 Shrivel
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

My result may not have been spectacular, but I did learn a lot about the deck. After months of stability, we finally have some new players in the metagame. The control decks have adjusted, and an aggro deck has emerged without an inherent weakness to main deck [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card]s. We now have established lists of four or five tuned decks with a very real chance of winning any given tournament. As usual, PTQs will reward those players who are able to stay one step ahead of the local metagame and who master their particular weapon of choice. Based on my experience with the deck, I still believe that Mono-Black Devotion is a fundamentally sound option. Considering the diversification of the format, however, I do feel that some changes are warranted.

The first change I want to make is to the mana base. The scry lands are great, and I think three is the correct number, but I want to play [card]Temple of Silence[/card] instead of [card]Temple of Deceit[/card]. The original reason to play blue lands was for the occasional benefit of being able to play blue cards stolen by [card]Nightveil Specter[/card]. Unfortunately, most of these cards have multiple blue mana symbols or aren’t especially relevant to our game plan. Still, with no white decks being played, a small benefit was better than none. After Dallas, however, being able to cast stolen white cards suddenly becomes a lot more relevant. Attacking with your 2/3 flier against white weenie is a lot safer when you know that, roughly half the time, you’ll be able to cast a cheap blocker in your second main phase. And playing a free Blood Baron against an Orzhov Control deck is almost certainly backbreaking.

I think the core creature suite is pretty much untouchable. [card]Pack Rat[/card], [card]Nightveil Specter[/card], [card]Desecration Demon[/card], and [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card] are all great at what they do and fit perfectly on the curve. [card]Thoughtseize[/card] is my pick for best card in the format, so that stays as well. As tempting as it is to move [card]Underworld Connections[/card] to the sideboard because of how frequently it gets boarded out, I think it’s too essential to your game plan in the Black Devotion mirrors and against control. Hopefully, you can just discard them to [card]Pack Rat[/card] in the more aggressive matchups.

As far as removal is concerned, [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] is a great catch-all that I definitely want four of. I tend to view the remaining six slots as sort of an extended virtual sideboard. Spot removal is a priority, and you want the most versatile cards that still manage to solve the important problems you expect to face.

The first problem is the advent of [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card]. Generally speaking, you want some extra removal, but Blood Baron naturally evades all of the targeting spells like [card]Doom Blade[/card], [card]Ultimate Price[/card], and [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]. The only two-mana kill spell that even has a shot is [card]Devour Flesh[/card], but with all the [card]Mutavault[/card]s flying around, that’s unreliable at best. [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] and [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card] can also fight the good fight, but are more expensive and worse in other situations.

Another limiting factor is the threat of [card]Master of Waves[/card]. While not traditionally a great card against black decks, a big reason for that is the plethora of spot removal we have at our disposal. It does, however, require an immediate answer, and if we fill our ranks with [card]Devour Flesh[/card], we risk allowing this to become a real problem.

Finally, the emergence of an aggro deck as a real player in the metagame pushes us towards [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] to mitigate some of that early life loss. It can get outclassed by larger creatures but does an admirable job of killing white weenies, [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card]s, [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card]s, [card]Mutavault[/card]s, and early [card]Pack Rat[/card]s.

After careful consideration, I settled on the following six cards:

2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]
1 [card]Ultimate Price[/card]
1 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
1 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]
1 [card]Whip of Erebos[/card]

[card]Ultimate Price[/card] is a bit of a hedge in case anyone decides to show up with [card]Polukranos, World Eater[/card], [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card], or [card]Arbor Colossus[/card]. The choice of [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] over another removal spell is a nod to the creatureless Azorius Control decks. While you can’t completely avoid some number of dead draws in game one against them, you would prefer to minimize them. [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] mimics a removal spell against white and green decks, while pressuring [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card] and forcing the control decks to expend a removal spell. I don’t think there’s space for a full playset because you still need to worry about the aforementioned [card]Master of Waves[/card], but its stock is definitely on the rise.

[card]Whip of Erebos[/card] shouldn’t be a complete surprise as it featured in Paul Rietzl’s original list from GP Albuquerque. While I agreed with Owen’s decision not to run it at the time, I’ve been less and less impressed with [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card] in the maindeck. It’s definitely a great card, but I want something more versatile. [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] is a resilient threat against Azorius Control and Black Devotion while still providing functionality in the inevitable race against Mono-Blue. It’s a bit slow for the aggro matchups, but certainly more useful than the god itself.

I think it’s helpful to see why I decided to play certain cards in the maindeck, but I won’t bore you with my analysis of each sideboard slot. Building a tuned sideboard is a bit of an art form, but there is some science behind it. While that’s probably a topic for another article, I generally start by figuring out how many cards I want to board out in each matchup and then finding enough overlap in the cards to bring in to make the numbers work. There’s also a lot of value, however, in selecting narrow, high-impact cards over slight upgrades. The tension between these two goals is what really makes the process a challenging one.

In the end, I came up with the following fifteen:

3 [card]Duress[/card]
1 [card]Dark Betrayal[/card]
2 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]
1 [card]Doom Blade[/card]
2 [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card]
2 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]
2 [card]Shrivel[/card]

[card]Duress[/card] is an example of a narrow card that really only comes in against the control decks. That’s an important enough matchup that I think you went the best tool for the job. [card]Shrivel[/card] performs a similar function against White Weenie. On the opposite side of the spectrum, [card]Dark Betrayal[/card], while great, is not enough of an upgrade over some of the other removal spells to justify the four copies I played in Dallas. The mirror is still important, but it’s no longer one of only two good decks.

The other cards should more or less be self-explanatory. The specific mix of removal is mostly a question of making the numbers work in different matchups where only some of it is useful, though I do think having access to four [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]s is important. [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] is obviously good against white and green creatures, and it acts as an additional threat against control, as well as something to bring in when you cut [card]Pack Rat[/card]s on the draw. Although I cut it from the main deck, [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card] is actually better now since it presents an actual solution to [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card], negating the lifegain while hitting harder on the backswing.

Here’s the full list before we get into discussion of specific matchups:

[deck title=Updated Mono-Black Devotion – Jon Stern]
[Lands]
19 Swamp
4 Mutavault
3 Temple of Silence
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Pack Rat
4 Nightveil Specter
1 Lifebane Zombie
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Thoughtseize
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
1 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Underworld Connections
1 Whip of Erebos
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
3 Duress
1 Dark Betrayal
2 Devour Flesh
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Doom Blade
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Shrivel
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Versus Mono-Blue Devotion

As I mentioned, I played against this deck four times in Dallas. I started off with Owen’s plan of boarding out two [card]Pack Rat[/card] on the draw and two [card]Desecration Demon[/card]s on the play. As the tournament progressed, however, I became more and more convinced that [card]Pack Rat[/card] is just terrible on the draw. It’s either a 1/1 for two mana that’s too small to attack or block, or, worse, something that commits you heavily to a race you’re almost certain to lose. After scrying one to the bottom on turn 1 with no turn 2 play in hand, I decided to just board them all out. I also think [card]Desecration Demon[/card] is great in the matchup and want to keep all four in the deck, especially on the play.

With my updated version, I would board as follows:

On the Play:
-4 [card]Underworld Connections[/card]
-1 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]
+1 [card]Doom Blade[/card]
+2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]
+2 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]

On the Draw:
-4 [card]Underworld Connections[/card]
-4 [card]Pack Rat[/card]
+1 [card]Doom Blade[/card]
+2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]
+2 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
+2 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]
+1 [card]Dark Betrayal[/card]

As you can see, [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] fills the role of placeholder when [card]Pack Rat[/card] gets boarded out. It’s not great, but it does lend itself to racing, something Thassa often forces you to do. I was actually boarding in two [card]Dark Betrayal[/card] in Dallas because of how important it is to kill [card]Nightveil Specter[/card], and because, after deciding to board out all four rats, I didn’t really have anything else. I think boarding one copy is acceptable since, not only are they likely to scry into Specter at some point, but killing your own [card]Domesticate[/card]d Specter is quite a bit better than the alternative of letting it run unchecked. [card]Duress[/card] has a few good targets, but I think the likelihood of missing makes it worse than the other options.

Versus Mono-Black Devotion

The mirror is, first and foremost, about [card]Pack Rat[/card], which is why you want to keep most of your two-mana removal. In the non-[card]Pack Rat[/card] games, it turns into a card advantage war fought with [card]Nightveil Specter[/card], [card]Underworld Connections[/card], and [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card]. While I was boarding out all four [card]Desecration Demon[/card]s in Dallas, the shift away from [card]Ultimate Price[/card] as the removal spell of choice makes it a little more plausible.

-2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]
-1 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]
-2 [card]Desecration Demon[/card]
+1 [card]Dark Betrayal[/card]
+2 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
+2 [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card]

Versus Black Devotion Splash White

While this plays out in much the same way as the mirror, the presence of [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card] increases the value of [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]. It’s not a great threat once it’s in play, but it does add to your devotion and attack through [card]Mutavault[/card]s.

-2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]
-4 [card]Desecration Demon[/card]
-1 [card]Ultimate Price[/card] on the play OR -1 [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] on the draw
+1 [card]Dark Betrayal[/card]
+2 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
+2 [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card]
+2 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]

Versus Azorius Control

All of the two-mana removal is terrible and pretty much has to be boarded out. [card]Pack Rat[/card] is also underwhelming but can still be a reasonable threat as long as you’re careful not to overextend into [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] or [card]Detention Sphere[/card]. [card]Mutavault[/card] obviously helps in that respect, and discard can pave the way. Also, their [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s are overtaxed in the matchup, so allowing them to 2-for-1 your rat tokens is actually not that bad if it allows you to stick an [card]Underworld Connections[/card], Erebos, or Whip.

-2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]
-1 [card]Ultimate Price[/card]
-1 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
-2 [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card]
-1 [card]Pack Rat[/card]
+3 [card]Duress[/card]
+2 [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card]
+2 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]

Versus White Weenie Splash Black

The strategy here is pretty simple. All of your removal is great, and anything that forces you to lose life is not. [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] is reasonable, but probably worse than anything else you could board out. The removal and [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]s are too good not to bring in. I made a choice to include the second [card]Shrivel[/card] in the sideboard even though I didn’t really need an extra card for the matchup because of how much of an upgrade it is over other options. It basically took the place of a second [card]Dark Betrayal[/card]. The other removal spells are needed for other matchups and can’t really be shaved.

-4 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]
-4 [card]Underworld Connections[/card]
-1 [card]Whip of Erebos[/card]
+1 [card]Doom Blade[/card]
+2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]
+2 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
+2 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]
+2 [card]Shrivel[/card]

While those are what I’d consider the important matchups right now, here’s a basic guide for a few other matchups you might face:

Versus Boros Burn (Young Pyromancer version)

-1 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]
-1 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
-4 [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card]
-4 [card]Underworld Connections[/card]
+3 [card]Duress[/card]
+2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]
+1 [card]Doom Blade[/card]
+2 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]
+2 [card]Shrivel[/card]

As you can see, the sideboard was not built with this matchup in mind. [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] is not really doing what you want to be doing, but it does add to your devotion, and they will probably need to kill it at some point, especially if you have [card]Whip of Erebos[/card].

[card]Shrivel[/card] does some work against [card]Young Pyromancer[/card] but is really included as an answer to the four copies of [card]Assemble the Legion[/card] they’re likely to board in. While it might seem counterintuitive to board in a card that only gives you a one-turn reprieve, I theorized that games will eventually result in a stall of rat tokens and demons vs soldiers; a stall they will eventually win either through overwhelming forces or from drawing enough burn. [card]Shrivel[/card] gives you something else to build towards rather than just hoping against hope to get there with [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]s and Gray Merchants.

Versus Green Devotion Splash Red (Mihara version)

This deck sort of disappeared from the metagame before I picked up Mono-Black. As a result, I’ve only played against it a handful of times. That said, I would start with something like this:

-4 [card]Underworld Connections[/card]
-1 [card]Whip of Erebos[/card]
+2 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
+1 [card]Doom Blade[/card]
+2 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]

I’m advocating a hedge by leaving in two copies of [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] to kill mana dorks and [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card]. Minimizing Nykthos by keeping devotion in check seems important, though it’s possible that [card]Duress[/card] is just better. If both [card]Duress[/card] and [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] turn out to be good, I’d consider boarding out [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card].

Versus Red Devotion Splash Green (Channel Fireball deck from PT Dublin)

If I don’t have a lot of experience playing against Mihara’s list, I have virtually none here. I’m including plans for these matchups anyway since that’s what I would do if I was preparing this deck for a tournament. For the fringe decks, I like to come up with a base plan to use as a starting point. If I end up playing against it, I’ll look at my notes but also consider how the games seem to be playing out. You can’t always be fully prepared for everything, but I try to cover as many bases as possible while figuring the rest out on the fly.

On the Play:
-4 [card]Underworld Connections[/card]
-3 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]
+1 [card]Doom Blade[/card]
+2 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
+2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]
+2 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]

On the Draw:
-4 [card]Underworld Connections[/card]
-1 [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]
+1 [card]Doom Blade[/card]
+2 [card]Devour Flesh[/card]
+2 [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]

I’m not really sure about [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] and [card]Thoughtseize[/card]. Both seem pretty bad, but at least Lifebane can snag a [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] on the play.

Well, there you have it. People always ask me what they should play in PTQs and I usually don’t have a good answer, especially if there isn’t a relevant tournament for me coming up. I’m booked for GP Vancouver, however, and feel like I have a pretty good handle on the Standard format right now. While there are certainly other valid choices, this is the list I would play tomorrow and, therefore, feel pretty good about recommending.

Good luck!