World Magic Cup, Part 1

Phew! As of writing, I have just returned from my one-week trip to Indianapolis with a bit of a sour aftertaste since we just missed out on the Top 8, placing ninth at the World Magic Cup. I’ll be writing about my experiences from this trip for the following two weeks, covering our testing and the first day of competition in this article and writing about the rest of the weekend in next week’s article.

After intercontinental travel, you always learn to appreciate tournaments that are nearer to where you live. The nine-hour flight to Chicago plus the one-hour flight to Indianapolis was still a pretty good deal compared to the twenty-seven hours I spent making it to Honolulu earlier this year. This is among the reasons I am looking forward to next year’s Pro Tour schedule, as two of the four main events will be taking place in Europe. However, it’s a bit sad that there will be no Pro Tour in Japan for the second year in a row, as I really like visiting Japan, but going for just a Grand Prix is a bit excessive. Overall, the locations seem sweet. I would have switched the positions of Montreal and San Diego, as getting some warmth during the freezing Finnish February would have been nice.

It’s a Team Thing

The Finnish team consisted of me, Sami Häggkvist, Eetu Perttula, and Matti Salmi. Three of us had been to Pro Tour: Philadelphia last year, so I felt pretty confident about us working together for the event. The testing was hampered a bit by the fact that Eetu was just starting his military service, meaning that Sami and I did most of the testing prior to leaving for the US. We did all of our pre-tournament testing online using Cockatrice, as Magic 2013 was not yet available online, and we would probably not have had all the cards needed anyway.

We concentrated on playing only pre-sideboard games, as we didn’t really have a good idea of what we wanted to play yet. During testing, our priorities were (in order): Delver, Naya Pod, ramp, and Zombies. If a deck didn’t have decent game against Delver, we just discarded it. We went through the following decks while testing: mono-green aggro, W/U/B tokens, R/W/U midrange, Goblins, and Bant Pod, along with various flavors of the aforementioned decks to beat. Goblins seemed sweet on paper, and the 5-damage burn spells were very good, but the deck had way too many problems with cards such as Bonfire of the Damned, Blade Splicer, Vapor Snag, and Huntmaster of the Fells, meaning that Naya Pod was quite the nightmare matchup. This was not really where we wanted to be, so we moved on. In case you are interested in developing the deck further, here is the list we had.

Tic Toc

Early on, we decided to concentrate our efforts on Standard, as we knew we would not have time to properly test Block and Modern, and Standard was by far the most important format. To make up for the lack of testing within the team, I played a fair share of both formats on Magic Online, trying to get a feel for the different decks. I’ll talk more about the logic behind choosing these decks next week, but here are the decks for reference.

We were leaving for Indianapolis on Tuesday, August 14, and I had zero time to test the weekend before, as I was attending the FLOW Festival in Helsinki. This meant that I was somewhat nervous as we left Finland—we hadn’t really found any deck that was better than the rest, even though Bant Pod seemed good if not for the Zombie matchup.

A nine-hour flight and a grueling two-hour customs queue later, we arrived in Chicago, where we spent most of our long layover playing Two-Headed Giant Winston Draft and building a practice Team Sealed pool. I had difficulties staying awake while playing, and I instantly fell asleep as soon as I sat down in the plane headed for Indy. Let me tell you: Playing the Delver mirror for three to four hours while on a plane is quite draining.

Circle City

I managed to snag us a hotel from the Wizards of the Coast room block for Gen Con even though we started looking for accommodations at the last minute. The hotel was just a block from the convention center, and the location turned out to be awesome for everything we did. It’s not very often that all goes well when choosing accommodations, as there is usually something you haven’t thought of—like garbage trucks pulling up at 4:00 A.M. every day, but we lucked out this time.

We resumed our testing early Wednesday morning, and at that point, we were pretty set on Delver, so we tried to work out the optimal list. At first, we tried the version that had won two StarCityGames Opens, but we didn’t really see the appeal of Blade Splicer, so we turned to the more traditional build. We decided that Talrand, Sky Summoner wasn’t quite good enough to fit in the main, but two in the sideboard for the mirror were very welcome. We also worked on a four-color Pod list, as Matti hadn’t played Delver at all in Standard, and he was set on playing some form of Pod or Naya aggro deck. The four-color Pod turned out to be really good even though it was a bit inconsistent. We ended up gravitating toward the Pod deck even though I wasn’t actually sure which deck I was going to play when Day 1 started, as both decks felt equally powerful, so both were fine choices. Sami, Matti, and I ended up playing the four-color Pod deck, while Eetu played Delver, as it was the deck he had the most experience with even though he had been on life tilt the previous evening after going 33% against the Pod deck in a very long playtesting session. Here are the decks we played.

Eetu actually spent $30 acquiring the Spectral Flight, as the card was sold out, and the dealers had been selling them for upward of $10 according to someone. After buying twelve boosters of Innistrad, he finally managed to pull one. It’s not very often that you pay that much for a common these days. If you are interested in playing Delver, I feel that our list was very solid, so I would warmly recommend it. Runechanter's Pike is just so insane since it gives you a way to kill out of nowhere, and I would not touch any of the Swords with a ten-foot pole at the moment.

This four-color version offers some advantages over the Bant Pod version while still retaining the strength of Sun Titan and Phantasmal Image. Zombies is a horrible matchup for Bant Pod, and the red spells here help out a bit. During testing, the Pod deck never lost to Delver if it resolved Birthing Pod, and it won a fair share of games in which the Pod was either countered or just not drawn. Ramp is another good matchup, especially with the Frost Titan coming in from the sideboard. Traditional Naya is good as well, as you just go much bigger. As mentioned, Zombies is perhaps one of the roughest matchups, but you are boarding ten cards, which improves the matchup quite a bit.

Round 1! Fight!

I had been drafting quite a bit on Magic Online, but my record had been pretty bad, which left me feeling a little bit uncomfortable going into the first Draft. I felt that I had a good grasp of the format, as I discussed in last week’s article, but somehow, I was still nervous. The Draft ended up going fine, even though the third booster was very dry. I had picked up a lot of black cards in the first booster, but when the third one came around, there wasn’t very much for me to pick up. I opened Ajani, Caller of the Pride in the second booster, but I passed it on for a good card in the colors I was in. The third pack I opened was really stacked, with Murder, Garruk's Packleader, Switcheroo, Oblivion Ring, and Krenko, Mob Boss. I snapped up the Murder and reluctantly passed the rest. Here is the deck I put together.

The deck was a bit awkward with so little removal, but I still thought I could very easily go 2–1 with it. As we were able to construct our decks with the rest of the team, I had a look at the other guys’ decks, and they looked decent, ranging from a clear 3–0 deck to a potential 0–3 deck. I unfortunately went 1–2 after all was said and done.

In the first round, I lost to a W/U deck after he started with Ring of Evos Isle and Scroll Thief against my slow draw in Game 1, and he got me with Switcheroo for my Elderscale Wurm in Game 2 (giving me a Fog Bank with Crippling Blight . . . awkward). I won the second round against W/B exalted, and I then ended up losing the last round to B/R aggro after being mana screwed in two games (stuck on two and three lands). The rest of the team went 3–0, 1–2, and 0–3. The 0–3 was with a B/G deck that was strictly better than mine, so that was a bit unfortunate.

Standard Fare

Birthing Pod
As mentioned, I ended up choosing the Pod deck even though some of the draws were pretty disgusting. A deck full of one-of cards can be super-awkward when you draw the wrong ones in the wrong matchups. Luckily, these cards are still decent, as they are creatures, unlike some formats in which your one-of cards are cards such as Cursed Totem and Ensnaring Bridge against decks with zero creatures.

We needed to go 2–1 among the three of us who had the best records in order to make it to Day 2, and we barely managed to make it there. Eetu, who had started out 0–3, even squeaked past Matti to make Day 2 after Eetu went 3–1 in Standard and Matti went 2–2. The primary tiebreaker was based on Pro Points from last year, and Eetu had played in Pro Tour: Philadelphia, so he had the upper hand. I ended up going 3–1, as did Sami, who managed to carry us with his 6–1 record. I had thought making Day 2 would be pretty easy, but it turned out to be totally nerve-wracking. It also turned out that Day 1 was super-important for the tiebreakers, something that we realized first hand during Day 2.

During Standard, I played against R/U/G ramp, Naya Pod, Delver, and Naya Aggro. I lost one game against R/U/G ramp in which he drew a timely Temporal Mastery after I had locked his Primeval Titan and Frost Titan out with my own clones of Frost Titan, which would have killed him the following turn. I won the third game against the ramp deck after resolving Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, which meant he could not poison me out.

Bonfire of the Damned
The Naya matchup was pretty uneventful even though I managed to screw up an onboard kill since I was overthinking the whole situation. I had Birthing Pod and Solemn Simulacrum in play, and my plan was as follows: Pod into Zealous Conscripts, steal his Hero of Bladehold, play Phantasmal Image and copy the Conscripts, untap the Birthing Pod. I would then Pod into Sun Titan with the Image, bringing back the Image and copying the Conscripts again to be able to untap the Pod and fetch Elesh Norn with the Sun Titan. This would have allowed me to attack for 25 damage with the Hero, two Conscripts, and two tokens. As I was so used to always copying Sun Titan with the Image, I instantly said, “Copy Titan,” when it came into play, which I of course instantly realized, but naturally, I couldn’t just change my decision. This meant I could only put my opponent to 1, leaving him with a one-turn window to draw Bonfire of the Damned. Luckily for me, he did not, and I won. The easiest play would just have been to Pod into Conscripts, steal the Hero, and then play Image copying Conscripts (stealing nothing) and just attacking with everyone straight away, as he had only 12 life. Well, you live and learn I guess.

Against Delver, I lost after mulliganing to five in both Game 2 and Game 3. I put up quite a fight in the second game, losing to Geist of Saint Traft, Spectral Flight, and Runechanter's Pike, as I only drew one Acidic Slime to take care of the enchantment. The Naya aggro match was pretty tight, as he played stuff like Hero of Bladehold and Sublime Archangel that could be problematic. I even managed to lose the second game when he mulliganed to five, as he played Hero on turns three and four, and I had a slow draw. I was a bit lucky in Game 3 and drew the answer I needed for his Sublime Archangel to make him dead with my own Restoration Angels.

Restoration Angel
We were very happy to make Day 2, and as I already mentioned, the final rounds were real nail-biters. Had we lost even one round more during the day, we would have had no business playing on Day 2. We went out for dinner to Harry & Izzy’s, which turned out to be good, even though I apparently missed out since I didn’t order the shrimp cocktail or the spare rib sandwich. I considered the shrimp cocktail for a long while, but I thought the matchup with the NY strip that I ordered would be too daunting to take on an appetizer.

A couple of players from the Indonesian team whom we had drafted with the previous day even offered to help us test for the next day when we made it back to the hotel. I have seldom had the pleasure of players going out of their way to do nice things for others whom they barely know, so if you are reading this, thanks guys! It was getting pretty late, so we only played for a bit over an hour, but it still helped us get a feel for the decks we were playing, as we had been concentrating so intensely on Standard the previous couple of days.

Be sure to tune in next week, as I’ll be covering the Team Sealed and Team Constructed portion of the event, and I’ll be writing some general thoughts about the World Magic Cup as an event. As always, hit me up on Twitter or in the comments section if you have any feedback, questions, or suggestions for future articles. I’ll be glad to respond to any inquiries you have.

Thanks for reading,
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