Friday, Feb 9: 8:30 am - Morning in Geneva
Welcome to Pro Tour - Geneva and the Pro Player Blog delivered by yours truly, Craig Jones.
I arrived here on Wednesday, which turned out to be a good decision as most of the UK is currently shut down with snow at the moment. As I'm writing this, British player Paul Gower is currently sprinting past to register as his flight was cancelled and he had to take the Eurostar to get here late last night. The ironic thing is that this is supposed to be the ski Pro Tour, and while the UK is under several inches of snow, it's currently raining here.
While a ski trip was arranged for the brave, I decided cowardice was the better part of valor and drafted at the hotel. Nobody came back with any limbs snapped, so my fears of turning into a giant snowball rolling down the slopes were probably unfounded.
It turned out that drafting may have been a mistake. Excluding one FNM against a mainly casual field, I can't actually find any two drafts where I managed a record that would get me into day two of a Pro Tour. That's right. In around ten or more drafts my best record is a single 2-1.
To say I'm psychologically battered is an understatement.
In the light of my abject poor performance it's been decided to sub me out of the Pro Player Blog and use…
What? They don't want to do it? You mean I have to do this anyway? You know I basically can't draft worth toffee.
Man, these coverage guys are cruel.
Oh well, we'll probably only be here for six rounds, so let's enjoy it while it lasts.
Friday, Feb 9: 10:18 am - Draft One Report
Okay, so I've got a feeling this draft format doesn't like me, but at least I've got a number of plans.
One of the important rules is not to draft black as it is incredibly weak in Planar Chaos. But of course everyone knows this rule, and so you can get some bargain late picks as everyone shunned the color. So one of my plans was if I opened a bomb in black, I would really go for it.
Step up, Mr. Jon Finkel.
Two Dark Withering, two Tendrils of Corruption and two Corpulent Corpse later, and I'm hovering up a lot of quality much later than it should go. Sure, black is going to bad in Planar Chaos, but that's why we have blue as our second color.
I was pretty pleased with this deck… although if everything does go wrong I can't really blame the card quality in my boosters this time.
The sideboard gives me a number of options. Midnight Charms can come in if I see a lot of targets, I have a couple of Bog Serpents if I see Swamps, and I even have a couple of mediocre Slivers to steal better abilities if my opponent runs a Sliver strategy.
Friday, Feb 9: 11:22 am - Round 1 vs. Aylon Manor
I played Aylon last time in Grand Prix Athens where he taught me a thing or two about the speed of Time Spiral. This time I was hoping for revenge, and I got off to a flying start when I found two Ridged Kusite and multiple Dark Witherings to take the first game in quick fashion.
Unfortunately I mulliganed in both of the other two games and lost two very close races thanks to his tappers. Game 3 was especially heart-breaking as I couldn't find a fourth Swamp to unmorph my Liege of the Pit and then lost to a top-decked Sunlance to remove a key blocker.
I've got a horrible feeling this format has my number.
Friday, Feb 9: 12:15 pm - Round 2 vs. Ryan Young
Ever had one of those slumps you can't dig your way out of no matter what you do…?
I thought I was looking good Game 1 as I suspended a Corpulent Corpse and then got Finkel down on turn three. Unfortunately my opponent trumped that with a flashed out Viashino Bladescout, which was then sent to the skies with Griffin Guide, which then meant his Lavacore Elemental wasn't vanishing away any time soon.
I managed to kill the Bladescout (giving him a Griffin) and thought I'd engineered a situation where I'd Ovinize the Elemental and be able to use my Shaper Parasite to pump a Corpulent Corpse and win a tight race.
So of course he had the Fortify. Sigh.
Game 2 he mullinganed but found an almost perfect curve. My draw wasn't too bad, but then he stopped at six land while I carried on going.
C'mon deck. Give me some loving. Tendrils? Draining Whelk for his Gargadon?
Nope. Swamp, Swamp, Swamp.
The Magic is gone.
This format definitely has my number.
Friday, Feb 9: 12:40 pm - Round 3 vs. Steve Bruce
Okay, so what do I need to do to win a match in this format? Sacrifice some goats? Dance naked under a full moon? (Oof - that's a naaaasty image.)
For the third Limited Pro Tour in a row I've managed to start 0-2, and I'm facing down the barrel with no lives left. It turns out I'm in good company, as Tiago Chan, Julien Nuijten and Olivier Ruel have all apparently stumbled at the starting gate.
In this situation the last thing you want to do is miss that third-turn land drop. So I of course take the two lander on the draw and fail to hit a land in the first three draws. Apparently that 18th land isn't good enough.
I could detail the utter savaging I received at the hands of Griffin Guide (third opponent in a row to have it), Durkwood Baloth, and so on, but then my hands start shaking as I go into psychological shock.
Come on deck. No more of this nonsense.
I did try hard to throw Game 2 away, but it turned out his draw was too slow and even though I was too cautious and unmorphed Liege of the Pit a turn later than I should, the 7/7 trampling flier was enough to keep me in the match. Giving your opponent an extra draw step is never a good plan. Finkel would not approve.
The Shadowmage Infiltrator did in fact turn up to show me how to do things properly. Unfortunately my eighteen-land deck again decided it didn't need more than two. As I think I've only won a single game in Time Spiral Limited after failing to make a land on turn three, this really didn't bode well for my tournament survival. Unfortunately for Bruce, his draw was again slow and as we should have worked out by now, in Time Spiral a slow draw equals a dead draw.
Jaya, put in an appearance and I probably overextended a little recklessly as if Bruce had topdecked land number seven Jaya would have Inferno'ed the board. Thankfully I got my first break of the tournament and managed to overwhelm him with fear and shadow guys.
Not. Dead. Yet.
Friday, Feb 9: 2:00 pm - Draft Two
So my back's against the wall now. No lives left and I need to 3-0 the last pod. Unfortunately that means I need to probably beat both Olivier Ruel and Rasmus Sibast to do it.
Preparation goes a long way, but to 3-0 a pod at Pro level you need luck. That means bombs. Suppose I'd better drag those goats out.
My first pack wasn't the most exciting and I just took the best card: Sporesower Thallid. My second pick was a Rift Bolt, and although I didn't really see any more red cards, the decision to go green was rewarded in the first booster as I got a stream of solid if unexciting cards.
After the first booster I was solidly in green, but with the option to take anything as a second color depending on what I opened. As I opened Jaya Ballard, Task Mage, green-red seemed like a pretty good place to be. Green continued to be under-drafted, but I was concerned that the bears weren't coming. Hopefully that shouldn't matter as Planar Chaos has good two-drops in both Giant Dust Wasp (suspended) and Mire Boa.
Planar Chaos was equally busty as I had the choice of either Akroma, Angel of Fury and Pyrohemia. Pestilence is a bomb, so I had to pass up the broken Legend. Now I was looking good.
Unfortunately I think the player to my right had moved into green somewhere around the second booster, and the green and red cards just dried up completely. No Wasps and no Boas meant my deck was a little too top-heavy.
Back Against the Wall Deck
Good, but not good enough, I reckon. I'm going to need to be lucky.
Friday, Feb 9: 3:15 pm - Round 4 vs. Rasmus Sibast
Round four and Big Oots, my nemesis, was up. Twice I've been paired against him in the first round of the World Championships, and twice he's beaten me. No matter, I knew I'd probably have to beat both him and Olivier to advance to day two.
A mana screw for my opponent would normally give me some hope, but after a Scarwood Treefolk and Blazing Blade Askari my deck decided to give me a never-ending stream of forests. A Corpulent Corpse came in, and his mana-light hand was comfortably able to race my hand of forests.
Hmm, play 18 land and skip land drops on turn three. Play 17 land and draw all the land in the world. That's the perversity of Magic for you.
TTP draft continued to show its dislike of me as my opening hand in the second game was five forests and two red cards. Better throw that one back then.
The six card hand was pretty spicy though as Jaya Ballard came into play. I don't think I've ever had her live long enough to activate, and this game was no exception. When Rasmus followed up with Chronozoa, my tournament life was again in deep jeopardy.
There was a glimmer. I drew Pyrohemia. Against blue-black that should be a wrecking ball. All I needed to do was drop that, throw a Spinneret Sliver to Greenseeker to get a third Mountain, then next turn I could flash out Havenwood Wurm and dominate the board with both my fatty and Pyrohemia.
So it's one of those days then I guess.
The Chronozoa stayed around long enough to start dividing and that was pretty much all she wrote.
Oh well, the format finally tagged me.
I'll play the final two rounds for pride, and then I guess it'll be time to don the full-time reporter's cap.
0-2, 1-3 and dead
Friday, Feb 9: 4:00 pm - Round 5 vs. Jarkko Laaja
Oh well, when everything goes to horribly wrong I suppose there's at least pride to play for. Jarkko Laaja had sat on my left and was pushed into green by Call of the Herd in the second booster. Unfortunately for both of us, I was already heavily into that colour, which impacted on his deck a lot.
Game 1 was a formality as I dropped Pyrohemia and set things on fire before delivering the finishing blow with Sporesower Thallid and Weatherseed Totem.
Game 2 was even worse for a hapless Laaja as his three-color deck (he had some blue cards) drew only forests. A turn-three Sporesower Thallid couldn't even be held at bay with Scarwood Treefolk thanks to my Prodigal Pyromancer. When Jaya got active and shot his only other creature, a morph, Laaja decided that was enough.
Hmm, so why couldn't this have happened earlier then?
2-0, 2-3 (but still dead)
Friday, Feb 9: 5:30 pm - Round 6 vs. John Moore
The quest for some form of respectability continues. John Moore managed to beat me in one of the practise drafts I did before the tournament on Wednesday. It was kind of ironic as it involved Utopia Vow, a card I've slagged off, on Akroma and Teneb in the same game.
Now we get to play in the last round of day one (sort off) for the consolation prize of ranking points and possibly an extra Pro Point, although I can't remember how low that third point drops nowadays. I'm hoping very low personally.
Like me, John Moore is running green-red, and also like me, he got dumped out of the tournament by my arch-nemesis, Big Oots. Unfortunately for him my deck has suddenly decided it's okay to play now that I'm actually eliminated. Search for Tomorrow and Yavimaya Dryad ramped me into Havenwood Wurm (undervalued, in my opinion - kind of odd as I used to hate it). Throw in Jaya, who again mysteriously wasn't killed (the Dryad bit that bullet as was intended) and the game was over fairly swiftly.
Game 2 looked like it also was heading into a bloodbath as I again ramped up to the bigger-than-a-house-and-twice-as-hard Havenwood Wurm, this time with Pyrohemia. Unfortunately I got a bit overeager in setting things on fire (Burn! Burn!) and dropped my life total low enough for Moore to draw the game with Sudden Shock in response to the last point from Pyrohemia.
Oops. (Burn! Burn!)
Game 2 restarted, and I foolishly forgot what I passed to take the Pyrohemia in the first place. It was an honest mistake. How was I to know Akroma would go all the way round to the other side of the table? I probably should have used Pyrohemia while she was a lowly Gray Ogre. Fortunately a heroic Sky Cutter brought her down to earth, and Pyrohemia wiped the board clean. One flying Weatherseed Totem (courtesy of Evolution Charm), and I'd managed to at least restore myself to an even record.
2-0-1, 3-3 (respectable, but still dead).
Friday, Feb 9: 8:44 pm - Recap
Okay, so it's time for the full gruesome autopsy of day one. We're going to get fully gored up right to the elbows in the messy carcass of Time Spiral-Planar Chaos draft.
First off it appears that I know absolutely nothing about the format, as witnessed by my rather sucky finish. In the end I finished 223rd, which is unfortunately 23 places too low to pick up that extra precious Pro Point. Two points is not the best start to the season. Being realistic I'm probably not going to challenge for player of the year simply because there are a lot of guys who are just better than me. While retaining Level 4 would be nice, making sure I at least reach level three is a solid goal to aim for. In fact the real minimum I want to achieve is 15 points. Why 15 points? Well, that would make my lifetime 100 and get me a place on the Hall of Fame ballot either next year or the year after, depending on when PT Rome '99 (my first) is counted. Okay so my current record isn't going to take me any further, but just to get there is an honour in itself.
In order to do this I need to stop starting PTs at 0-2. This appears to be a bad habit, as I've done it for the last five PTs. Negative byes = bad thing.
Now let's look at the draft format. It's been a rough week for me, both in practise drafts and the main event itself. Sure, I can claim I was unlucky, but there does come a point when you have to ask how many times you can 1-2 a draft before you realise something is wrong.
Time Spiral-Planar Chaos appears to be a very unforgiving draft format. The introduction of Planar Chaos reminds me of what drafting Time Spiral was like for the first few times. It took me a while to figure out what the good strategies are, and unless you actually know these good strategies, then you're going to get absolutely battered. One of the problems is that the really good decks are really really damn good. Drafting a deck that sort of looks okay is just asking to be ripped to pieces.
My second deck looked okay. It was two colours, and it had decent fixing, big men, and bombs in the shape of Jaya and Pyrohemia, but I knew straight off that it wasn't 3-0. That glaring hole in the bear / two-mana suspend slot would cause it to stumble in too many games.
The general thinking was that Planar Chaos would slow the format down, but the games still felt very fast to me. My first deck ran into trouble because its evasion guys were slower than the bears and flanking knights of other decks. Tendrils of Corruption can overcome that deficit, but you have to see it and my inability to draw them at the right time cost me dearly.
On the surface black is incredibly weak, but there have been plenty of stories where players have cleaned up on the black spells and ended up with very strong decks (Andre Coimbre in the first draft and Olivier Ruel to win through into day two against Rasmus Sibast, also running black, in my second pod). It shouldn't be that surprising, as getting second- to third-pick cards in the middle of the pack is going to leave you with a better deck than the other seven guys fighting for blue spells. But of course there are drawbacks. If four people have the same idea to go after the 'shunned' colour then… well it's probably not going to be pretty.
It should be interesting to see what strategies emerge once the format has been drafted more thoroughly. Stuart Wright was a big fan of (and converted me to) aggressive blue-white decks based around Momentary Blink in triple Time Spiral. With the introduction of Planar Chaos he's still looking for blue-white but has switched the theme to Slivers as it turns out you can often get the Watcher Slivers and Synchronous Slivers quite late. Everybody knows Shaper Parasite is really strong. The trick is finding the cards, and archetypes, that fly under the radar.
But as I'm English and obviously know nothing about draft, you should probably ignore everything I just said.
At least Yokohama is Block Constructed. Now that's a real man's format.
Saturday, Feb 10: 5:30 pm - Day 1 Recap Revisited
Failing to make Day 2 at a Pro Tour is not exactly a novel concept for me, but I still get depressed every time it happens. It used to be far worse. After the meltdown in PT Tokyo 2001, a whole series of misadventures on Day 1s made me wonder what the hell I had to do to get through, and why did Fate always seem to want to kick the teeth out of the back of my head?
Of course things tend to balance out in the long term, most notably that Lightning Helix.
Basically there are the real geniuses of the game, the Buddes, Finkels, Nassifs, Tsumuras, Ruels (either), and so on. These guys may fail at the odd tournament, because Magic still has a luck element and sometimes you get dumped on. But generally they're going to be there or thereabouts.
Then you have the guys below them like me. We're good enough to beat up the local fry, but at the higher level we need a little help. Sometimes you have a good day and the cards drop your way, other times they don't and you spend the second day on the sidelines.
I didn't have a good day. I was topdecked against in a key moment, one opponent got a perfect draw out of what normally would be considered sub-optimal cards, and another had the counterspell and mana open at exactly the right time to prevent my bomb from turning the game. In the other scale, but not quite balancing it out, was the game where I overextended and was lucky my opponent didn't draw a land to Inferno the board away with Jaya. That's kind of how it is with me. Sometimes the scales tip one way, sometimes the other.
Luck is rarely the only explanation, though. Sometimes there are days when you can't actually do anything and you just lose, but it's always worth looking back and trying to examine what could have been done differently. The second draft went pretty much as expected. I don't think there was anything I could have done differently in the match in which I got eliminated against Rasmus Sibast, but the deck did go on to a 2-1 record.
The problem was clearly the underperforming first draft deck and an error I made in deck construction. I lost a number of tight races where Magus of the Mirror was stuck in hand. Replace that with a Midnight Charm and all of a sudden I have a way to kill the Errant Doomsayers that stopped a Faceless Devourer from attacking for four turns, or maybe tap a Lavacore Elemental at a key moment to allow me to win the race.
Every single card does indeed matter, and it's spotting the little things that make all the difference.
Saturday, Feb 10: 8:00 pm - Gunslinging
I failed to make Day 2. This meant I could stay in bed and sulk, go into town and sulk, or go back to the venue, play Magic, and then whine about how unlucky I was yesterday.
Actually I don't have any choice in this matter.
For some reason I failed to read the small print on the contract, and I have indeed accidentally sold my soul to Wizards. This means I have to do exactly what the coverage staff tell me to do. In this case it means I have to go gunslinging.
No, please, not the gunslinging. I've seen what happens when Pros get sent gunslinging. It's brutal. Have you ever tried to fend off fully teched up Vintage decks with a Sealed deck? I've seen Masashi Oiso try valiantly to hold off a Rec-Sur deck with a Ninth Edition Sealed deck while being mana screwed at the same time. It's not pretty.
Gunslinging sets players up like slot machines. Punch them hard enough and a shiny Planar Chaos booster drops out.
And it's actually a lot of fun.
I didn't have any decks at hand other than my draft decks from yesterday. Fortunately, R&D representative Matt Place was on hand with some quirky Standard decks. It's always good to see what the R & D guys have, because sometimes it gives a glimpse of a potentially powerful new construct. Other times the decks are just weird and fun.
My favourite was a toss-up between a big red Gauntlet of Power deck with a ton of burn. I can handle that. Setting things on fire, burn, burn, Demonfire you for 15, ha!
The other was based around Mishra fetching copies of such goodies as Icy Manipulator and Serrated Arrows.
Okay, so they're not going to set the MTGO standard queues alight, but both were good fun. I managed to burn one Dralnu deck to a crisp. It's always good to bring those smarmy Island-lovers down a peg.
Unfortunately, the only Extended deck I had access to was a blue-white Tron deck with Counterspells. Shudder. I did somehow managed to break out of a Sceptre-Chant lock despite the deck having no bounce. That was some effort.
I also probably deserve the petty meanness award for playing an Empty the Warrens deck against a twelve-year-old-girl. Hmm, so you've got me down to 6 life. I suppose I'd better go off and put ten goblins in play, and next turn I may as well put another eight goblins in play. No Char then Helix, well that's just too bad.
To be fair the girl was Morgane Kelterbaum, winner of the JSS challenge. Because of that she was carrying around a Toblerone that might have been bigger than her.
I actually got to beat an Extended deck with the Warrens deck, mainly because I was fed up with being beaten up playing the Tron deck. Eight goblins on turn two will tend to do that against Flow Deck Wins.
Oh well, time to go. The last round in the main event has just finished, and the real players will get to battle it out in a real quality Top 8 tomorrow.