Congratulations to Robert Berni for winning the Star City Games Standard Open and for representing Pat's Games.
Click here to read and discuss Robert Berni's tournament report .
Prepare for Pat's Games Modern 1K PPTQ being held on March 1st. Enjoy this article written by Pat's Gamer, Orry Swift. Thanks Orry for taking the time to write this up for us.
Spreading the Plague in Washington DC
The Pro Tour in Washington DC held on February 6th thru 8th, which marks the 4th one for me in as many years playing magic. I wasn’t able to test much for this one because the previous weeks were crunch time on finishing my dissertation. However, I was fortunate that the constructed format was Modern- Two of my previous PT berths were through playing Modern PTQs where I played burn and infect. I can say that one big advantage of playing in DC was that I didn’t have to deal with the jetlag issues like in PT Barcelona and Dublin. Getting a good night of sleep before the tournament goes a long way.
I felt that after the Birthing Pod and Treasure Cruise bannings, Infect was well positioned for a good finish. This is the deck I decided to play, a near carbon-copy of a PTQ winning list I had a few years ago:
This card has always been good, mainly due to the existence of Spellskite. It can give a creature one extra power after a Pendelhaven activation, It gives a creature +3/+3 with a Wild Defiance in play, and can kill off Spellskite, Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, Signal Pest, and Ornithopter all while cycling at worst. Twisted Image got slightly worse with the banning of Birthing Pod, but still good enough to leave 3 copies in the board.
This was a last-minute add, and something I wish I had been doing long ago. Sylvan Scrying is boarded in against any opponent with dedicated discard that cannot end the game quickly and is running Abrupt Decay or Liliana of the Veil as their primary source of interaction (Jund, Abzan, Black/Green). In short, Inkmoth Nexus is very hard for them to deal with, and I want as many copies post-board that I can.
This has always been the worst card in the deck, and is frequently boarded out. A case can be made that one may want Gitaxian Probes in this slot. However, I feel that Gitaxian Probe leads me to misevaluate opening hands more often than an Ichorclaw Myr would. There is always at least one match per tournament where I’m able to keep a hand because the Myr is my only creature and a probe would not suffice.
The first thing many players will notice when looking at this list is the lack of Become Immense, a card that several professional players were running as a 4-of this past weekend. I have two issues with Become Immense: (1) in game 1, I want to be as proactive as possible. Generating free wins become increasingly important when both players are highly skilled. Become Immense actually leads to slightly slower kills on average than Groundswell and Giant Growth (anywhere between half of a turn to a full turn slower) due to the need to fill up the graveyard before casting. (2) Become Immense, unlike Groundswell and Giant Growth, cannot protect a creature very early in the game from a Lightning Bolt. However, my real problem with Become Immense stems from its reliance on this card:
Gitaxian Probe seems amazing for infect. You get to look at your opponents hand, which, in this deck, is just as important as it is for Splinter Twin decks. It allows you to safely kill the opponent when you have perfect information. Additionally, it now provides the much-needed fuel for Become Immense delving. However, I chose not to run the Gitaxian Probe/Become Immense combo because, as I said before, Gitaxian Probe leads to misevaluation of opening hands (maybe I can draw my way out of this no infect-creature hand or all creature hand and get some spells?). It also makes you lose 2 to 8 additional life per game, which is certainly not a trivial amount! After fetching, we may give our opponents creatures pseudo-infect (that is, putting ourselves at 10 life). This becomes a much tougher race against any aggressive portion of the modern field- Affinity, Burn, Merfolk, and Zoo.
That being said, you can’t just be good at constructed magic and win a Pro Tour. They want you to be good at drafting too. For those unaware, here is a quick rundown of the Pro Tour schedule:
Day 1- 3 rounds of draft followed by 5 rounds of constructed play.
Day 2- 3 rounds of draft followed by 5 rounds of constructed play for those players with at least 12 match points from day 1.
Day 3- top 8 players elimination bracket, constructed.
The draft portion worried me. I wouldn’t classify myself as a strong drafter, and I literally got zero drafts in for Fate Reforged before the tournament. I drafted a Jeskai tempo deck with a very low creature count- about 12 creatures- and knew before play started that I was, at best, going to finish 1-2. I was running 2 copies of Great-Horn Krushok! Gross.
Opponent is playing Mono Red while splashing white for War Flare and Suspension Field. Very, very strong deck with 2 Goblin Heelcutters, a Flamewake Phoenix, 2 Horde Ambushers, a Hordeling Outburst, and some red enchantments. Was quite outmatched and died quickly with my 12-creature pile. 0-2
Tempo decks should have easy game against Sultai decks. They are a bit slow out of the gate, and once they play big creatures you can bounce them or tap them down. Game 1 I get crushed by his curve of real creatures (who would have thought that actually works?). Land screw costs him Game 2, and Game 3 he once again plays better creatures than I, and my tempo spells (Whisk Away, Force Away, etc.) aren’t enough as I can’t put pressure on with a lone Jeskai Windscout. An interesting thing I learned after this match: after playing Monastery Siege on turn 3 all 3 games, I found that I may have overvalued the card after quickly falling behind on board each time I cast it. If you cannot get a 2 drop down and spend turn 3 casting Monastery Siege to loot each turn, you may find yourself falling quickly behind because of a 2/2 morph from your opponent. 1-2
Opponent had a bad deck as well- running 4 1/3s at the 2 drop slot without much removal or action to follow them up. However, my creatures are still no match for 2 copies of Wardscale Dragon. Looted my entire deck game 2 through Jeskai Ascendancy and Monastery Siege, searching for a nonexistent answer to two 4/4 fliers. 0-2
Starting 0-3 is definitely the opposite of living the Pro Tour dream, but I was quite confident in my skills in modern and felt that I could still make day 2. Needed a 4-1 or 5-0 finish.
So normally when you’re 0-3 you are due for some “softer” matches. Unfortunately for me, that is true just about everywhere but the Pro Tour. I lose the die roll game 1 and quickly find out I’m against the dedicated UR Splinter Twin deck. I keep a creature heavy hand game 1, eventually rolling out 3 Glistener Elves by turn 3 (my turn 2 Blighted Agent was Remanded). I get my opponent to 9 infect with no pump spells, but he assembles the combo and steals game 1. In game 2, I mulligan into an interesting hand- Verdant Catacombs, 2 Noble Hierarchs, Might of Old Krosa, Twisted Image, and a Vines of Vastwood. I keep the hand planning on a normal-damage kill (i.e., fair magic). This has its advantages, as many players are liberal with their life loss through fetches and shocks against infect. He bolts my first Noble Hierarch but I find a Glistener Elf second from the top. On turn 4, he flashes in pestermite, taps a land, and surprisingly blocks my 2/2 elf from the exalted trigger. I cast Might of Old Krosa at instant speed to keep the elf alive with a board presence, then pump for the kill next turn.
In game 3, I am on the draw and keep another interesting hand: Verdant Catacombs, Glistener Elf, Twisted Image, 2 Groundswells, Mutagenic Growth, and a Dismember. This hand had not only a turn 2 kill with a land draw, but also the interaction I needed. I draw a hierarch turn 1 and am faced with a tough decision. Glistener Elf or Noble Hierarch? I play the Noble Hierarch, which is bolted next turn and I get to play the Glistener Elf but miss a land drop. I miss my land drop again on turn 4. My opponent flashes in a Deceiver Exarch end of turn looking to end the game, but it is met with 1 floating mana and 4 life to pay for Dismember. I hit a land drop on turn 5 and go in for the kill. Sweet, still alive! 2-1
Affinity is a good matchup, particularly post-board. We have access to 4 copies of Nature’s Claim and 3 copies of Twisted Image, in addition to 2 Spellskites on the draw. Opponent Mulls to 5 game 1 but kills me on T4 with a 5/5 Inkmoth Nexus via Arcbound Ravager. I had no interaction with modular in my hand (Vines of Vastwood) or a flyer to block (my Inkmoth Nexus). In game 2, I’m on the play and get a turn 3 win after clearing out his only blocker (Ornithopter) with a Nature’s Claim. Opp. dumps his hand on turn 2 of game 3 including a Spellskite, Arcbound Ravager, and a Master of Etherium. I squeak by, winning on turn 3 after a timely Nature’s Claim hits his Spellskite. 2-1
Normally, this is a very interesting match due to the deck’s removal overload and my creature-based “counterspells” like Apostle’s Blessing. Not much to say this time though, as a Turn 1 Noble Hierarch followed by a Turn 2 Wild Defiance locks up both games on the wings of an Inkmoth Nexus. Couldn’t have asked for 2 better hands. 2-0
In game 1, he is stuck on lands and dies to Inkmoth Nexus. Game 2, he opens with Grim Lavamancer into Eidolon of the Great Revel. It turns out that hand is nigh unbeatable for infect. Lavamancer can kill any of my creatures and out-stack my pump spells, and Eidolon of the Great Revel punishes me for playing every spell in my deck. Game 3 is very close- I lose with my opponent at 9 infect. I go in for lethal poison damage when he has a Sacred Foundry open and I have a Groundswell in hand to protect from Lightning Bolt. However, a boarded Path to Exile takes out my Inkmoth Nexus and I drop the match. 1-2
The mirror match is actually more fun than it seems on paper. There is a surprising amount of interaction: Vines of Vastwood, Twisted Image, Spellskite, Nature’s Claim, and Dismember can all disrupt the other player from pumping a creature for the lethal kill. Also, having blockers is king- a 1/1 infect creature can block a 10/10 pumped infect creature and still trade off due to the wither effect. In game 1, I simply do 10 infect before he does with a Blighted Agent. In game 2, he has an all-creature hand of 3 Glistener Elves, a Blighted Agent, and an Inkmoth Nexus. I have to manufacture a turn where I protect the Glistener Elf through all his green blockers, pump the elf for lethal, and kill an Inkmoth Nexus with Nature’s Claim before blocks to win. 2-0
What a recovery! Was very excited to make Day 2 after starting 0-3. At my previous Pro Tour in Dublin, I started 3-0 and finished 3-5, so it was a relief to turn things around this time.
This time I draft a very solid Mardu deck including Ponyback Brigade, Ankle Shanker, Take Up Arms, High Sentinels of Arashin, War Flare, and Harsh Sustenance. However, I drop round 9 to the exact same deck I lost to in round 1 of yesterday’s draft. In game 3, opp. opens with Monastery Swiftspear T1, Valley Dasher T2, Flamewake Phoenix T3, Arc Lightning me and my morph T4, win T5. An unwinnable game, and I try to stay focused and win the next two draft rounds to stay alive for another pro tour berth- I need to finish 11-5. 1-2
Played the same opponent again from round 3. This time he was running an Abzan deck. Close match where my 1/1 flier (Aven Skirmisher) is able to close out the game. 2-1
Versus Sultai Butt-fight
Opponent has lots of walls and butt fights (Grim Contest) with a solid Sultai shell, meaning the games are very slow and stalled out. The match ends in turns when I top-deck a Harsh Sustenance for 10 to the face. 2-1
Now back to the Modern portion, my wheelhouse. Need to go 5-0, so no room for mistakes.
This matchup is just plain hard. Hatebears are designed to have disruptive tools for many decks and can apply pressure at the same time. I lose game 1 due to Aether Vial into Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and can’t cast the spells I need to win, being stuck on 2 lands for the first several turns. He astutely vials-in a Flickerwisp to avoid lethal by floating one of my Inkmoths and blocking the other. In game 2, he opens with a Noble Hierarch which meets my boarded Twisted Image. I follow with a Blighted Agent, he hits a Spellskite, but has no answer to Pendelhaven and Blighted Agent. Game 3 is close- he is stuck on 1 land for a while but has 2 Aether Vials. My Twisted Image meets a Noble Hierarch again but then Spellskite comes (maybe I should save the Twisted Image? Seems wrong). He then vials-in 3 consecutive Restoration Angels and I can’t push through a wall of flying 3/4s. The 11-5 dream for another pro tour berth is dead, but I still have a chance at cashing and a decent amount of pro points. 1-2
Abzan can be a tough matchup, particularly if the infect player is not able to find the right cards. Typically, you will want to mulligan until you have an Inkmoth Nexus if you know you are against Abzan, due to the card blanking much of their removal (Abrupt Decay, Maelstrom Pulse, Liliana of the Veil). Opponent uses his Abrupt Decay on Wild Defiance instead of an infect creature game 1 and this proves costly as I had no targetable spells in hand. His Liliana of the Veil meets 4 of my creatures in play and doesn’t do enough. In Game 2, my boarded Sylvan Scryings take over and he can’t target my 3 Inkmoths with Abrupt Decay. 2-0
In game 1, a top-decked Apostle’s Blessing allows me to get through 2 Lingering Souls with my opponent at 9 infect counters. Game 2, I fetch up a boarded-in Dryad Arbor and get through with normal damage through a Liliana of the Veil. 2-0
This match was very close. It seems to be worse than the normal UR Twin matchup for me because of the addition of Thoughtseize to my opponent’s disruptive tools. I lose game 1 in the exact same fashion as my previous round against twin- I get him to 9 infect with a creature heavy hand and he combos off. I honestly can’t recall much of game 2, but I do remember him mulling to 5 cards so I believe it ended quickly. Game 3 was a sculpted dream for my deck against anyone with lightning bolts- 2 Noble Hierarchs, Breeding Pool, Inkmoth Nexus, 2 Wild Defiance, and a Groundswell. My next two draw steps are Mutagenic Growth and a Twisted Image, and I easily seal the game with a very large Inkmoth Nexus on Turn 3. 2-1
I find out before this round that I have a chance at top 75 (and subsequently $1000), but I know that the win will guarantee 6 pro points instead of 4, getting me one step closer to Silver level for the Pro Players Club (need 20).
I quickly find out I’m against Storm after 2 early Gitaxian Probes, a Serum Visions, and a Goblin Electromancer. With a quick look at my hand, my opponent knows he is done for on turn 3, so he goes for the kill and just gets there with a lethal Grapeshot.
In game 2 and game 3, I’m able to hold up a Nature’s Claim to slow down my opponent just enough and eke out a win. I can honestly say I made a mistake in constructing my sideboard after this match- I still need 1 or 2 spell pierces to interact with opponents that have the potential of “comboing off” before I can force lethal. 2-1
Things I learned from the Pro Tour:
1. Drafting is hard. Hard enough that previous drafting skills are not enough to rely on to do well in a new set. Cards that seem good on paper may not be very effective unless they are in the right deck (Whisk Away is only good when you are loaded on 2-3 drops and can put pressure on, Disdainful Stroke is very bad in an all-morph deck even though their cards may have high CMC) . Practice is always needed when a new set is released, because you need to actually see which cards do well in the game. Hypothesizing about cards is not nearly as informative as seeing them in action.
2. “Free” wins are very important at high level events. I ended up 2-1 in many matches where my opponent and I only played 2 real games of magic in which we split 1-1. The other game was usually just a shrug-your-shoulders infect kill that happened on turn 3 with my opponent tapped out. Generating these wins in an equal skill-level setting helps tremendously.
3. I needed some interaction in the form of counterspells in the sideboard. This is particularly true for any deck that can generate their own free wins such as Storm, Splinter Twin, and the Amulet Combo.
Overall, it was great to visit DC for the first time and do reasonably well at the Pro Tour. I was hoping for a slightly better finish, but I have nobody to blame but myself for the lack of draft preparation. I did continue to learn about both formats, which is something I strive to do every tournament I attend. I know it may sound cheesy, but I make a list similar to the list above any time I leave a tournament (even an FNM!). I may not write it down on paper, but I always try and think of what I learned from the night of playing magic. I would encourage the same from anyone else wishing to pursue MTG at a competitive level- winning or losing, always look for something to learn from and strive to be better than you were at your previous event.
Tiny Leaders Tournaments now at Pat's Games on Friday Nights at 7 p.m
Here is a list of Legendary Creatures that cost 3 or less mana, that would make good Leaders.
Isamaru, Hound of Konda Eight-and-a-Half-Tails Kataki, War's Wage Kentaro, the Smiling Cat Masako the Humorless Mikaeus, the Lunarch Sensei Golden-Tail Thalia, Guardian of Thraben Brimaz, King of Oreskos Kemba, Kha Regent Lieutenant Kirtar Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero Mangara of Corondor Opal-Eye, Konda's Yojimbo Orim, Samite Healer Oriss, Samite Guardian Pang Tong, "Young Phoenix" Pianna, Nomad Captain Soraya the Falconer Tivadar of Thorn Kami of the Crescent Moon Ertai, Wizard Adept Rayne, Academy Chancellor Thassa, God of the Sea Ambassador Laquatus Barrin, Master Wizard Kira, Great Glass-Spinner Lady Sun Muzzio, Visionary Architect Thada Adel, Acquisitor Vendilion Clique Zhuge Jin, Wu Strategist Kiku, Night's Flower Haakon, Stromgald Scourge Maralen of the Mornsong Toshiro Umezawa Xun Yu, Wei Advisor Maga, Traitor to Mortals Norin the Wary Ashling the Pilgrim Ishi-Ishi, Akki Crackshot Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer Brothers Yamazaki Mannichi, the Fevered Dream Squee, Goblin Nabob Tuktuk the Explorer Adamaro, First to Desire Balthor the Stout Feldon of the Third Path Jaya Ballard, Task Mage Starke of Rath Zo-Zu the Punisher
Sygg, River Cutthroat Eladamri, Lord of Leaves Thelon of Havenwood Melira, Sylvok Outcast Azusa, Lost but Seeking Isao, Enlightened Bushi Omnath, Locus of Mana Reki, the History of Kamigawa Rhys the Exiled Yisan, the Wanderer Bard Dosan the Falling Leaf Ezuri, Renegade Leader Seton, Krosan Protector Shizuko, Caller of Autumn Zuo Ci, the Mocking Sage Hua Tuo, Honored Physician Mirri, Cat Warrior Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant Nin, the Pain Artist Jhoira of the Ghitu Tymaret, the Murder King Lyzolda, the Blood Witch Grenzo, Dungeon Warden Skullbriar, the Walking Grave Varolz, the Scar-Striped Pharika, God of Affliction Glissa, the Traitor Anax and Cymede Radha, Heir to Keld Rhys the Redeemed Gaddock Teeg Saffi Eriksdotter Selvala, Explorer Returned Vorel of the Hull Clade Edric, Spymaster of Trest Sydri, Galvanic Genius Lady Evangela Merieke Ri Berit Anafenza, the Foremost Tetsuo Umezawa Animar, Soul of Elements Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest Doran, the Siege Tower Adun Oakenshield Xira Arien Alesha, Who Smiles at Death Marath, Will of the Wild Mayael the Anima Angus Mackenzie Derevi, Empyrial Tactician Ragnar Jenara, Asura of War Yasova Dragonclaw
Here are some examples of Tiny Leaders Decks
Land (18) 1 Bayou 1 Bojuka Bog 1 Command Tower 1 Dark Depths 4 Forest 1 Maze of Ith 1 Overgrown Tomb 2 Swamp 1 Thespian's Stage 1 Treetop Village 1 Twilight Mire 1 Verdant Catacombs 1 Volrath's Stronghold 1 Woodland Cemetery
Tiny Leaders Enchantress
1 Phyrexian Arena 1 Abundant Growth 1 Animate Dead 1 Bitterblossom 1 Bloodchief Ascension 1 Burgeoning 1 Elephant Grass 1 Enchantress's Presence 1 Exploration 1 Hidden Gibbons 1 Hidden Guerrillas 1 Hidden Herd 1 Mana Bloom 1 Mirri's Guile 1 Necrogenesis 1 Night Soil 1 Oath of the Ancient Wood 1 Pernicious Deed 1 Quest for the Gravelord 1 Rancor
Sorcery (1) 1 Rofellos's Gift
Creatures (12) 1 Argothian Enchantress 1 Baleful Eidolon 1 Courser of Kruphix 1 Gnarled Scarhide 1 Grim Guardian 1 Herald of Torment 1 Leafcrown Dryad 1 Oakheart Dryads 1 Pharika, God of Affliction 1 Verduran Enchantress 1 Yavimaya Enchantress
1 Bonfire of the Damned 1 Browbeat 1 Molten Rain 1 Pillage 1 Raze 1 Red Sun's Zenith 1 Rolling Thunder 1 Stone Rain
Sideboard (10) 1 Anger of the Gods 1 Blood Moon 1 Earthquake 1 Elixir of Immortality 1 Kaervek's Torch 1 Pyroblast 1 Red Elemental Blast 1 Rolling Earthquake 1 Shattering Spree 1 Slagstorm
Tiny Leaders Burn
Creature (12) 1 Ash Zealot 1 Eidolon of the Great Revel 1 Goblin Guide 1 Grim Lavamancer 1Guttersnipe 1 Keldon Marauders 1 Magus of the Moon 1 Monastery Swiftspear 1 Vexing Devil 1 Young Pyromancer 1 Zo-Zu the Punisher