Pro Tour Dublin Report- 5th
French Magic Player
Top 8 of 6 GPs
Winner, Pro Tour Yokohama
Top 8 Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur
Top 8 Pro Tour Amsterdam
Top 8 Worlds 2010
Top 8 Pro Tour Dublin
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Writing has never been one of my strong suits and it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. I wouldn’t say I dislike it but I have a hard time doing it. I’m a perfectionist at heart and since writing can always be improved, it is a frustrating experience for me. However I’m never going to improve if I never practice and last weekend I joined the awesome team of MTG Madness and along with it was given this opportunity to write again. Hopefully you guys like it and I will write again.
I first thought about doing a detailed report of the tournament. Unfortunately I didn’t take any notes and my memory is pretty bad. Luckily as Patrick Chapin explained to me, much more interesting than a recap of the rounds is the accounting of the time leading up to the tournament, the process of deckbuilding and the card choices explained. And so without further ado, here it is.
During summer, Raphel Levy contacted me to join the recently formed team Revolution (Melissa DeTora, James Searles, Raphaël Lévy, Miguel Gatica, Rob Castellon, Mike Castellon, Louis-Samuel Deltour, Pierre Dagen, Jérémy Dezani, Yann Guthmann, Timothée Simonot, Stéphane Soubrier, Paul Ferret and Guillaume Mauger) to test for Dublin. Then spoiler season came around and really got me excited. I really like the flavour of Theros and I find it a very well designed set. Our plan was to meet in Dublin on the Sunday two weeks before the event, which would leave us ten days to prepare. It might look like a reasonable amount of time but it’s really short now that PTs require us to prepare for multiple formats.
Not everyone could afford to get there two weeks early. I don’t know if it was planned this way but it turned out that we were just eight people to arrive on the first day! This allowed us to get started on drafts right away. My limited preparation resulted in drafting twice a day until the event and of course discussing with other team members, which is all you can ask for.
Constructed was more tricky. Looking back our testing process was a little disorganized (some would even say there was no process whatsoever) and we will definitely work on that next time. The team is still young though so it’s understandable. Basically people built stuff and jammed game after game. Since I would rather play control if possible (and even when not) I naturally started looking at the options to do so. Louis was the only other player on the team that was really invested in making the best possible control deck. We had a lot of discussions about the deck and he was instrumental in many of the conclusions we reached.
Building a control deck in a new format can seem like a daunting task. What I like to do first (aside from building aggressive decks to have a gauntlet) is a list of the options at my disposal or more precisely the lack thereof. In this case there were three major limiting factors. First: manabases looked good in two colors but the third color came with a real price. M10 duals worked perfectly with Ravnica duals. This was not the case with Theros duals which have basically the same drawback as the Ravnica ones (coming into play tapped). Second there were only two standard legal sweepers : Anger of the Gods and Supreme Verdict. And third, card drawing existed only in blue and black, meaning you had to be Azorius, Izzet or Rakdos based with an optional third color.
I always proceed via elimination, that is I start by testing the weaker looking options first to discard them. In this case blue-white seemed to have it all. Not only did Supreme Verdict look better as a card (with all the non-creature threats we have to worry about nowadays, it’s also a good thing to have an unconditional wrath so you at least have the creature angle covered) but Azorius also seemed to have all the better options (Sphinx’s Revelation among them). So I started trying Anger of the Gods decks.
The one thing lacking about Azorius was the ability to interact on the opponent’s turn. The deck was very “tapout” with Azorius Charm and Detention Sphere (when used on a guy, Azorius Charm is in fact close to a sorcery). By definition tapout decks lack reactivity. That makes them predictable and makes it easier for opponents to slip through the cracks which are more numerous and more obvious due to the tapout thing. It’s no secret that the most powerful control decks play mostly at instant speed. There’s just so much inherent value to be gained from playing what we have come to call now a “Flash game”. That’s where I thought the seemingly weaker red tools could stand to gain. Anger of the Gods went along well with the prospect of packing a large amount of countermagic because it’s easier to both sweep and keep mana up on the same turn. Most importantly instant speed card drawing has always been hard to come by in magic history and. I was curious to see what Steam Augury‘s worth.
Steam Augury turned out to be very disappointing. To cut to the chase, it’s usually slightly better than Inspiration (not bad but not exciting either) except when it’s not and then it’s terrible. Playing control is about being behind and catching up. Card drawing is your mean of finding the right answers. Steam Augury is sort of like card drawing that won’t draw you the cards you need. I wouldn’t discard the card completely because it is possible to use it more profitably if you don’t care about the cards you draw (if you use your graveyard, say with Think Twices or Snapcaster Mages for example) but it’s fallen pretty low on my card drawing scale (and it’s a big scale).
Izzet quickly became Grixis because red didn’t have the tools for dealing with either big guys or planeswalkers. And soon after I swapped my Steam Augurys for Jace, Architect of Thought, I eliminated Grixis as a worse version of Esper. I then spent a little time working on Rakdos builds. There was definitely options and maybe something good could come out of it. From the feel I got playing them though, I was certain there was a better Revelation deck though (no bias here) so I didn’t spend long on it.
That’s when I joined the team in Dublin. Prior to that I had just been testing in my hometown. From now on, you can assume that « we » means Louis and I. We started testing Azorius builds (the real stuff). The red splash was discarded without even trying it because why would you even play red? There were just no red cards we wanted access to. I gave the green splash a spin because I didn’t want to miss some sort of Bant flash deck if it could exist (Advent of the Wurm is just so sweet) but as expected the tools were not there to make it work.
This left us Esper and straight UW to work with. At this point it’s important to mention the metagame we expected. Considering Sphinx’s Revelation is very strong showing at the last Pro Tour, everyone agreed it would still amount to a large part of the field this time. With that in mind we were already firmly in favour of Esper from the beginning to have an edge in the control mirrors. Most people also tried their brews against Esper or UW to see how they fared first (that’s how we almost discarded the monoblue devotion because it was having a hard time against it). That worried me a little because it looked like everyone wanted to beat on control and maybe then control is not a good place to be. That’s another reason I liked Esper better: UW’s tools were more limited which was bad news if people prepared for it. Esper’s main concern was the manabase but the more I played with it the more it grew on me. I was really impressed with the scry lands. What I first thought was a slight upgrade of the gates turned out to be so much more. There’s many a time when you ship a card to the bottom where it feels close to drawing an extra, especially for a control deck. I quickly reached a point where I would rather cut down on shocklands rather than scry lands.
Our first step for Esper was to determine how good was Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. I had high hopes for the card, it’s a three mana planeswalker after all. The first let down was when I realised I could not use it as my sole win condition. It’s always been a problem for control deck that you have to dedicate slots in your deck to actually kill people. Those cards are usually expensive and spend a lot of time rotting in your hand and losing you games. Last year we had Nephalia Drownyard which is one of the best win conditions I have ever seen but no luck this year. We are stuck playing stuff like Aetherling. But back to Ashiok. I quickly realised it could not do the job alone. It was simply too slow mostly because you could not stack multiples like Drownyard. This meant I still had to use slots for closing the game. Against aggressive decks, not doing anything the turn it enters play means it can easily turn out just gaining you a few life which is terrible. Even worse sometimes it’s not even that because they can just ignore it if you miss on revealing a guy. And when it gets going it’s just decent. It was simply way worse than any kind of removal. Against control deck it was also not as good as I thought it would be. It is slow and it does not effectively do anything except if you’re lucky enough to hit all of their winning conditions. It reminded me of how Jace, Memory Adept plays out. Its most used ability is not the milling one although Jace mills cards ten at a time! The truth is you are more likely to win the game by getting ahead on cards. Ashiok cannot do that. It can stick a few turns, ends up being dealt with and you really did nothing. There again I would not dare discard it as bad because… Well you never know, it’s just best to always stay openminded.
Here’s the list we ended up running for reference:
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Silence
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Watery Grave
4 Godless Shrine
4 Azorius Charm
4 Doom Blade
4 Hero’s Downfall
1 Detention Sphere
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Jace, Architect of thought
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
2 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Sin Collector
2 Detention Sphere
We decided to split the finishers as 1 Aetherling and 2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Elspeth really impressed me during testing. She was amazing against all the aggressive decks and she would often won games Aetherling or a Sphinx’s Revelation would have lost me in her place and I really wanted two copies. The 1-of Aetherling had a lot of value in the control mirrors of which we expected plenty. Since 4 Jace, Architect of Thought and 4 Supreme Verdicts were a lock for obvious reasons that only left room for 3 Sphinx’s Revelations as you can not have too many high end stuff.
I’ve always liked my control decks with a good amount of card drawing as I think of it as the glue holding it all together. After all you cannot hit six lands on turn six consistently without some form of card drawing (and playing a 27th land is just not the same). 4 Jaces is a start but it’s not enough, I wanted more. I wish we still had Think Twice. Divination is not something to write home about but it’s decent enough.
Removal wise, we quickly realised Doom Blade was very good. The drawback seemed almost nonexistent. We tried to build black decks but our gauntlet didn’t have any that were good. Even then there were usually Mutavaults as targets. The alternative was Devour Flesh but Doom Blade was just on another level. Besides our deck was slow already and we wanted the maximum amount of premium 2-drops so we settled for maindecking the playset in the end.
Most controversial was the split between Detention Sphere and Hero’s Downfall and that’s the question I get asked the most about the decklist. Why four downfalls? Why not more Spheres? Or at least a more even split? Although it’s not instant, doesn’t Sphere answer more stuff (gods and their weapons) and sometimes gets multiple things? The answer lies there: « instant ». I hinted at it earlier but that word is worth so much. In this case I believe it simply makes Detention Sphere the more narrow card. Let me explain. As we tried to build aggressive decks that had a good Esper matchup, the same cards kept coming up. These were cards that helped you fight against Supreme Verdict and there were not many: Mutavault, planeswalkers (mostly Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler), Obzedat, Ghost Council, Voice of Resurgence, haste guys (Stormbreath Dragon and Mistcutter Hydra) and flash threats i.e. Boon Satyr and Advent of the Wurm. Imagine you want to deal with a Wurm token and all you have is a Detention Sphere, you take 5 damage out of it (and hopefully you do something else with your mana in the meantime otherwise you also suffer a huge tempo loss in the process). Detention Sphere is obviously a bad answer to flash or haste threats (and in our case it can’t even deal with the haste guys who have protection from it). Detention Sphere is also no use against manlands aka Mutavault. This is a big liability because Mutavault is a card everyone has access to. Hero’s Downfall also makes Dissolve better. I could go on and on. Simply put Hero’s Downfall being an instant regularly allows you to get more value out of it (either target wise, tempo wise or both). Sometimes you won’t even be aware of it but maybe your opponent played differently because you had mana open and they could have taken a better line otherwise. As for Detention Sphere taking care of gods and their weapons it’s something Hero’s Downfall cannot do. Sphere is also easier to cast but it doesn’t make up for not being an instant at all. About gods, you can usually deal with gods by ensuring they don’t achieve devotion, something Esper is supposed to be good at. And is it really a good move to sphere a Thassa, God of the Sea anyway when they play four and you might turn on the otherwise dead one they might be holding? Now I would have liked a 4/2 split but we had many 3s already. I thought Divination a necessary evil and I wanted 3 Dissolve because of the mirror so we relegated the second sphere to the sideboard.
As for permission, we didn’t like Syncopate at all. The card was so much worse than in UW with all the comes into play tapped lands. With the rotation, all the annoying creatures with enters or leaves the battlefield triggers were gone so Essence Scatter was just a worse Doom Blade. Besides we could already handle creatures well and the things we wanted countered were non-creature threats. In the early game you’re never catching planeswalkers with countermagic. Because you are mostly a tapout deck, opponents won’t ever run their most important card into open mana. They will just play something else instead and wait a turn. That’s where Thoughtseize shines. And unlike countermagic, it also curves better because it’s cheap. We had three for a long time. Ultimately I got tired of drawing two per game or just drawing any past the early game and we settled on two. Oh and they were also insane in the mirror (and again we expected quite a few).
The sideboard is kind of self explanatory. Soldier of the Pantheon was kind of last minute but it proved itself. We originally wanted something against mono red. The double white of Precinct Captain was a little ambitious and Solider looked like it could do a reasonable job (I also liked the one mana cost) and be brought in in other matchups. By the way I still don’t get why some people play Yoked Ox instead. Had I known I would have obviously added more Gainsays. Sin Collector was the only card I was unhappy with. I thought of it as a card I could bring in both in the mirror and against Selesnya (because the body is fine and they have a lot of spells including the annoying Rootborn Defenses) but in the end it was not so good in the mirror and you don’t really need it against Selesnya. I would probably put a Gainsay and an extra Thoughtseize or a Duress in their place.
Going into the event, I was happy with the deck. The only matchups I didn’t want to face were mono red and Gruul. Mono red because so many enters the battlefield tapped lands suck against a fast aggressive deck with reach. Gruul because they have so many mean cards (Xenagos, the Reveler is really insane against control, it puts you under so much pressure so fast). Oh yeah and they both have Burning Earth. I planned to bring in Blood Baron of Vizkopa against both. I wasn’t sure it was correct against Gruul but we didn’t have time to test that so it would have to be tested live.
Most of the team was at the same hostel and the rest joined us around midday. Being all together certainly created a positive vibe. Time went by fast, really fast. We played so much that some other guests even complained at some point they could not find room to eat! We just played all day long everyday. I didn’t mind. I think I’m the worst tourist ever. Anyway people were nice and our hostel was Ok. The only really annoying thing was the bad isolation in our room and since the street was quite noisy at night it was at times difficult to find sleep.
And before I knew it it was time to draft for real. The only draft archetype I was feeling comfortable with was UB control. I spent many of our drafts forcing the strategy. I felt that it capitalized on many cards people didn’t want. Overall I was not super successful with the strategy at the beginning but it got much better at the end and it was what I knew best. So I decided I would go for it if possible. I first picked Read the Bones over Battlewise Hoplite and second picked another one. I ended up UB in that first draft and I don’t think I forced it. I just went along with the flow you know (for some reason my teammates wouldn’t believe me). I went 1-2. I didn’t feel bad though. I felt I had drafted well. Maybe got a little greedy pack 3 when I opened a Returned Phalanx and tried to wheel it but apart from that I was happy with my picks and the way I played the games. Sometimes you just lose.
After that came constructed. Games sort of blur in my mind. I remember facing mono red the first round and thinking « this PT is gonna be short ». I won the back of game 2 on Soldier of the Pantheon. Game 3 he had a threat light hand and I won easily though I think he must have sideboarded wrong because he still had so much burn. Then I had an Esper mirror where I tried bringing in the Soldiers, thinking they were not so easy to deal with and they made opposing Jaces bad. Turns out there are also too slow a clock and not worth the investment of a card. Discards basically already fill that role. I won anyway. It was mono green after that. I lost game 2 because I forgot about Ranger’s Guile but I’m not positive I could have played around it anyway. Then I faced BWR control, a relaxing round. And finally a very close match against GW where Soldier and Elspeth both shined. 6-2 after a 1-2 start felt good. That’s when I met Fernando from MTG Madness, who I have to say seems like a really nice guy and offered me to join the team. And after a quick dinner I was off to bed.
The second draft went much better for me. I didn’t see the shadow of a black or blue card in my first packs (luckily some would say) and I ended up green white. I messed up on at least a couple picks which had me being short a card or two and I had to play a pair of Warriors’ Lesson in the end. I honestly had no idea if my deck was good or not. I definitely felt lucky in my first match where I won very close games but my other two matches I felt my deck was really better.
And it was back to constructed. I remember facing Esper again and coming out on top. Game 1 was a quick affair, he stumbled on mana and Thoughtseize allowed me to capitalize easily on that. Game 2 I flooded a little and he resolved Aetherling after he Thoughtseized me and that was it. Game 3 I attempted to cast a Sin collector on turn 6 at which point my hand is all spells including a Negate and a Dissolve. He Dissolves, untaps and casts Thoughtseize which I let resolve. At which point I realise I might be in trouble if he takes Dissolve and attempts Aetherling on the next turn, which of course happens. All he could have done if I Negated was resolving a planeswalker which I had covered with a Hero’s Downfall. I didn’t have my own Aetherling but I had all gas and I was able to contain his Aetherling with enough Sphinx’s Revelations and removals all the while denying him card drawing. After that I faced Naya. I beat him easily game 1 when he never drew a white source. I remember game 2 and 3 both being quite long, planeswalkers being annoying, Elspeth and Revelations being their awesome selves, Soldier brought in game 2 and out game 3 after having their asses whipped by Chandra, Pyromaster. After that I faced Jeremy. I lost game 1. I’m not sure exactly where I went wrong. I had the distinct feeling I had not played optimally but I didn’t know where. Game 2 I just remembered him resolving Aetherling and me only having five lands at the time. Won anyway without ever killing it. Which was really funny because there was a big debate in our team on whether or not they wanted Aetherling against Esper in the sideboard. Pierre’s point (and I agree with Pierre) was that their deck was not meant to cast such an expensive spell (I mean there has got to be something wrong with sideboarding out Cloudfin Raptors to bring in Aetherlings, right?). When they do, it’s either going to be a win more card courtesy from Jace, Architect of Thought or Bident of Thassa or it’s not going to be enough (because you have applied no pressure earlier drawing so many lands which by the way Thassa is supposed to filter). Besides it’s not a match up where Esper sideboards out its removal like the control mirror meaning Aetherling can actually eat two removals and die if you cast it with only one mana up. Pierre liked more Jaces (big ones) and it made sense to me. Not saying it’s correct though. It’s just theory. Anyway back to my matches. So Jeremy and I drew. Next round I faced Mihara, won game 1 and he was mana screwed game 2. ID in the last round and that was it. Top 8.
I enjoyed dinner that night with Team Revolution and the guys from MTG Madness, which was very nice. I ended up losing the following morning in the quarterfinals, which felt really disappointing. Especially since I punted game 1. I Thoughtseized Pierre on turn 2 and did not take out his Bident of Thassa which ended up costing me the game. Looking back I’m of course happy if not satisfied with the result. Before I go, I want to congratulate Pierre and Jeremy for an impressive performance. I would also like to thank the whole Team Revolution for a job well done and the guys at home who I play with on an almost daily basis.