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The Final Countdown: Prepping for Worlds 2011

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Preparing for Worlds is always a special challenge because of the need to prepare for three formats. This time, it was extra-special. Not only will it be the last large field for Worlds, but none of the formats were old. We were drafting Innistrad, which I had yet to master, and I hadn’t had the chance to play it in a major event yet. We were also playing a relatively new Standard format that uses Innistrad and has recently dropped several sets. Finally, I was playing Modern for the first time since PT: Philadelphia, and even that format has undergone dramatic changes recently. Where to start?

Modern

My last experience with this format was PT: Philadelphia, where I had a record of 2–3 in Modern playing an all-in version of Red Deck Wins:

[cardlist]

[Creatures]

4 Goblin Guide

4 Kiln Fiend

4 Tattermunge Maniac

4 Immolating Souleater

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

3 Burst Lightning

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Shard Volley

3 Assault Strobe

4 Forked Bolt

4 Lava Spike

[/Spells]

[Lands]

18 Mountain

4 Teetering Peaks

[/Lands]

[/cardlist]

The problem I faced at that event was that I was playing a deck that won on turn three, and the best decks there were winning on turn two. I had a lot of success testing the deck on Magic Online, but the decks I lost to at Philly were tougher than the decks I tested against. The good news was that the decks I considered better than mine were nerfed by Wizards of the Coast by the bannings. Apparently, they agreed that an environment that’s all about turn-two kills doesn’t make for a good play experience.

When preparing for so many formats, I’m always looking for a way to save time on one format so that I can concentrate on the others. I thought that I might have an opportunity to do that in Modern. Perhaps after the bannings, my RDW list would be viable. I gave it some thought and decided that in a less combo-oriented field, there would probably be enough cheap removal to punish cards like Assault Strobe, Kiln Fiend, and Souleater. So, I decided to focus my testing on a slightly different mono-Red deck:

Fortunately, this was close enough to my Philly deck that I was easily able to put it together on Magic Online and start testing it. Though I had a winning record, it was barely above fifty-fifty, and most of my wins were a struggle. If I couldn’t dominate online, I certainly wasn’t going to dominate at Worlds. One of the reasons I wanted to play Red was that I could run Blood Moon and/or Magus of the Moon. I found that most of my opponents were playing a lot of Red, a lot of basic lands, or alternate mana sources, like Moxes. I also was frequently getting stuck on 2 mana. Time to look elsewhere.

Next, I turned to the other deck I had considered for Philly—Affinity. One of the main reasons I didn’t play Affinity at Philly was that I beat it so often with my RDW list. I didn’t expect RDW to be among the best decks at Worlds, though. My teammate Rob Dougherty did some research, and he pointed out that the deck with the best finish at Philly without any cards that were banned was an Affinity deck. The other reason I wanted to play mono-Red or Affinity was that I have a lot of experience playing those decks. When Affinity was the dominant deck in Standard, I played it in countless tournaments, and I barely missed the Top 8 in Regionals with it. Playing a deck that I’m used to running is another way to save time when ramping up for a multiformat event.

I checked lists online, and while many were mono-Red, I decided that I really wanted to play with Thoughtcast—a favorite card of mine from when I played Affinity in Standard. One of the problems with Affinity is that it can be a little inconsistent because it relies so heavily on drawing Arcbound Ravagers and Cranial Platings. Thoughtcast helps with this problem. Most of the lists that included Thoughtcast also included a couple Master of Etherium, so I included two of those as well. One of the first things I concluded during testing was that it was pretty busted and I needed to main-deck four of them.

I was ecstatic to discover that this deck was way more powerful than the Goblins deck I was testing, and aside from losing a tough match to a Splinter Twin deck, I was crushing all comers. The deck killed so fast that I found myself ignoring the attackers sent at me by RDW opponents; I even won a game where I mulliganed to two cards. It was two Memnites, and my opponent gave me two lands with a Goblin Guide. I played a Master of Etherium on turn three and managed to kill him a turn before his Rift Bolt resolved with me at 3 life.

One of the reasons I lost to the Splinter Twin deck was that I was running Signal Pest instead of Vault Skirge at the time. When my opponent would play Pestermite, I would feel the need to kill it so that my Pest could get through, rather than waiting for my opponent to tap out for Splinter Twin to kill it. This misplay probably hurt my chances of winning. At least the Skirge trades with Pestermite. I also figured that because of cards like Plating and Master, the life-gain may actually be big enough to win me a game here or there. At first, I wasn’t sure whether to have four Blinkmoth Nexus or four Inkmoth Nexuses, but that changed after a game against a mono-Green deck. Both games, I found myself losing the ground war and unable to win conventionally though the air in time, but I was able to do 10 poison in time thanks to a Ravager in the first game and a Plating in the second.

As I write this article, I’m unsure of the exact contents of the sideboard, but I’m pretty confident about Dispatch, Champion, and Grudge. I’ve been extremely happy with the main deck, and I don’t really see myself it changing before the event.

Standard

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I love White in the new Standard. The first deck I decided to test was a mono-White deck with both a token theme and an artifact theme:

[cardlist]

[Creatures]

4 Blade Splicer

4 Myrsmith

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

4 Dispatch

4 Intangible Virtue

4 Oblivion Ring

4 Flayer Husk

4 Mortarpod

4 Origin Spellbomb

4 Shrine of Loyal Legions

[/Spells]

[Lands]

16 Plains

4 Ghost Quarter

4 Inkmoth Nexus

[/Lands]

[Sideboard]

4 Grand Abolisher

3 Revoke Existence

4 Day of Judgment

4 Timely Reinforcements

[/Sideboard]

[/cardlist]

This deck is very much my type of deck. It has solid mana (monocolored with nothing costing more than 3 mana), decent pressure, a lot of control, and a lot of synergy, and it can do some really powerful things. Unlike other token decks, this one had a lot of main-deck answers with four each of Dispatch, Oblivion Ring, and Mortarpod. With so many of its permanents being artifacts and enchantments, it could also sideboard Day of Judgment quite effectively. The deck is very focused on providing tokens for Intangible Virtue and artifacts for Dispatch.

I wasn’t very close to being able to build it online, so I borrowed the cards from my friend Steve Guillerm and played the deck at my local game store. Twice a week, the store has Standard tournaments that are four rounds of Swiss. I played this deck in two of those tournaments, and both times I went 4–0 without losing a game. Ebullient with my success, I reported it to my teammate Rob, and he vowed to build and test it online. The next day, he and I talked, and he said he was having success with it online, so I decided to move on to focusing on Modern.

Sadly, Rob contacted me the next day to say that his record with the deck was plunging and that he’d actually switched to a more traditional G/W tokens deck and was much happier. While bummed, I wasn’t totally shocked. The field of Standard players at my local store is relatively inexperienced, and beating them with a deck isn’t hard-core proof of the deck’s supremacy. In one FNM, my fourth-round opponent, who was 3–0 at the time, mentioned that he had only been playing for four months. He went on to apologize for his lack of rules knowledge when he tried to stop me from making a token with my Myrsmith first by countering the artifact and then by killing the ’Smith in response. I explained to him the difference between a spell being cast and resolving, and we moved on.

Rob e-mailed me this list that he was doing well with:

[cardlist]

[Creatures]

1 Jade Mage

3 Birds of Paradise

3 Hero of Bladehold

4 Avacyn's Pilgrim

4 Blade Splicer

4 Mayor of Avabruck

[/Creatures]

[Planeswalkers]

2 Elspeth Tirel

3 Garruk Relentless

[/Planeswalkers]

[Spells]

3 Midnight Haunting

2 Overrun

4 Intangible Virtue

4 Shrine of Loyal Legions

[/Spells]

[Lands]

3 Plains

8 Forest

4 Gavony Township

4 Razorverge Thicket

4 Sunpetal Grove

[/Lands]

[Sideboard]

2 Acidic Slime

1 Naturalize

2 Creeping Corrosion

3 Day of Judgment

4 Timely Reinforcements

3 Oblivion Ring

[/Sideboard]

[/cardlist]

Steve hooked me up with the cards so that I could test a two-color version at the store, and after two tournaments, I had gone 5–3, and two of my wins came after starting one of the events 0–2. At this point, I was really unsure of what direction to go. Back to RDW? Perhaps I should try the Illusion deck that everyone was talking about.

Rob helped me solve my dilemma by loaning me the cards to test online and by continuing to emphasize his faith in G/W tokens. I played several matches online with both my White deck and various versions of G/W until I found a deck I was happy with and with which I was achieving good results against a broad spectrum of opponents.

[cardlist]

[Creatures]

1 Jade Mage

2 Birds of Paradise

3 Blade Splicer

3 Hero of Bladehold

4 Avacyn's Pilgrim

2 Mikaeus, the Lunarch

[/Creatures]

[Planeswalkers]

3 Garruk Relentless

[/Planeswalkers]

[Spells]

4 Midnight Haunting

4 Intangible Virtue

4 Oblivion Ring

2 Mortarpod

4 Shrine of Loyal Legions

[/Spells]

[Lands]

4 Plains

8 Forest

4 Gavony Township

4 Razorverge Thicket

4 Sunpetal Grove

[/Lands]

[Sideboard]

3 Grand Abolisher

2 Thrun, the Last Troll

3 Day of Judgment

3 Revoke Existence

4 Timely Reinforcements

[/Sideboard]

[/cardlist]

The addition of Mortarpods and Oblivion Rings gave me enough control to make me happier, and cutting the 5-mana spells also made me more content with the build. I even took down an Illusion deck, which was what I had been most considering calling an audible to.

Draft

Draft is another format for which I’m always looking for a time-saving strategy. It usually involves choosing a limited number of archetypes and just concentrating on perfecting those . . . and then limiting my focus when drafting at the event. At the beginning of a new Draft format, I try to do enough drafts with each color to determine which colors are the most powerful, which color combinations have the most synergy, and which colors are best suited to my play style.

As I mentioned in my last article, I’m a big fan of White in Innistrad Draft. My two favorite archetypes are W/U and G/W, primarily because those combinations are the only two I’ve been having consistent success with. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make B/R work, but I never seem to win more than a single round with it. There are a lot of interesting archetypes using Blue and the graveyard: U/G with cards like Boneyard Wurm, U/B Zombies with Forbidden Alchemy and fat creatures that like to munch on creatures in the graveyard, and U/R with Burning Vengeance and a lot of cards with Flashback. I had two problems with these decks. First, counting on milling the right cards into your graveyard felt a little too inconsistent. Second, these archetypes would take longer to learn than the more straightforward, powerful archetypes like G/W that are all about having a good aggressive creatures, a fast curve, good support spells, and removal, all while maintaining as much synergy as possible.

The one color I had the least success with was Black, so I decided to lean toward White and away from Black. I would be happy to take W/U or G/W, and I’d be open to R/W or R/G. Given my past history of success when forcing or partially forcing colors, I felt that mastering these four powerful color combinations would be enough to give me a chance at success in Draft at Worlds, while still leaving me a lot of time to work on the two Constructed formats.




By the time you’re reading this, I’ll have already crashed or soared at Worlds, and we’ll know just how effective my efforts to prepare were. I’m hoping that my next article will be a triumphant tournament report and not a frustrated and humbled one, but either way, I’ll let you know how things went.

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