The Professor's Field Journal: 2007 Magic Invitational

Posted in Event Coverage on October 18, 2007

By Craig Jones

Experience the intense excitement of professional Magic from the perspective of accomplished pro player Craig Jones as he plays and writes his way through the 2007 Magic Invitational.

SATURDAY

FRIDAY

THURSDAY

BLOG

Thursday, October 18: 9:22 a.m. - The Day Before

Hello, this is Craig Jones and I'm your reporter on the ground at the 2007 Magic Invitational.

What? Tim Willoughby's the reporter?

Then what am I doing here?

Playing? I'm playing. How did that happen?

There was a ballot for a Storyteller. I received some votes, thanks. Evan Erwin received a lot of votes. I finished fourth.

There was a ballot for Fan Favourite. I received some votes, thanks. PV received a lot of votes. I finished third.

Then there was the R&D pick. I was one of the runners along with Stephen Menendian and Shuhei Nakamura. They picked Menendian. I finished second or third.

And that should have been the end of it. No invitational for Craig Jones and to be honest, given the year I've had (Well done, thanks for showing up, here's your 2 Pro Points for proving you're alive x 4) I probably shouldn't be too surprised.

But wait, the story doesn't end here...

Current World Champion Makihito Mihara is unable to take the time off work. With him being unable to attend the slot drops to the second-place finisher in the Fan Favourite ballot...except Olivier Ruel has already booked a flight to Grand Prix Brisbane.

And so my story begins with me ninja'ing my way into the Invitational through the sneakiest of back doors.

Last weekend was Valencia. I did attend, briefly.

Magic is a highly skilful game that requires a lot of natural talent as well as the dedication to put in a lot of hours of preparation beforehand. Andre Mueller spent a long time working on and practising with an Enduring Ideal deck.

I'm in the process of both writing up a Ph.D. and moving to another continent to start a new job. I turned up having not played a single game of Extended, played a generic red deck and went 0-3 drop. No complaints from me there. If anything it reinforces the whole "Magic is a highly skilful game that requires the dedication to put in the hours... etc... etc."

Coincidentally this is also the reason there wasn't a Player Blog from Valencia. I don't mind jotting down the bad beats for everyone else's amusement but my masochism only goes so far.

Oh well, maybe not far enough.

Here's a brief summary for those that are interested.

Round 1 I lost to TEPS. It's a bad matchup and there's not much you can do when their draws are good enough for turn three kills.

Round 2 I lost to Zoo and round 3 I lost to Gifts Rock. Both matches were fairly close. Sometimes you draw the Lightning Helix and win thousands of pounds. Other times you draw land and you lose. C'est la vie.

Anyway, that's all ancient history as we now have the 11th Magic: The Gathering Invitational to look forward to over the next few days. I travelled straight to Essen from Valencia on Monday with podcast supremo Rich Hagon and some of the other competitors. On arriving at Dusseldorf Airport we briefly considered the merits of taking the train before deciding a taxi for four people offered a great deal more convenience for only a slightly higher cost. After a slight detour when the taxi driver got a little lost and drove round in circles for a while, we arrived at our destination: the Holiday Inn in Essen city centre.

We checked out the New Orleans Bar/Restaurant for some grub. The players dinner will be held here on Wednesday night. That's on the Wizards' tab so I imagine we'll be ordering massive steaks, fried quail, roasted swan and other expensive delicacies. Tonight it's on our money so we had to satisfy ourselves with burgers and ribs.

Afterwards Kenji persuaded us all to go bowling. The world's best Magic players... most definitely not the world's best bowlers, unless the aim is to get the ball down the other end while knocking down as few pins as possible. I managed to get three strikes in the second game and was on course for my highest score ever (I have a very low baseline) when we ran out of time and couldn't finish. Noooooooooo!

Afterwards it was beer until the wee hours of the morning.

What, you expect us to play Magic or something?

Don't fear. Day two and it was time to get some practise in. This involved a Winston draft over breakfast (or possibly lunch as it was past two at the time). I've actually done quite a few Winston drafts with Lorwyn and find it good fun. It's often quite hard to scrape together enough playables and you end up playing with some odd cards just to make a deck.

I'm always trying to get people to not tear open the boosters they buy or pick up as prizes. You get far more value if you save them to draft with friends later. To be fair the arguments against this—"We can't get seven or eight people together"..."I don't like how the rares are redistributed, I want to keep the Tarmogoyf I opened"—have some validity, especially if you're not an experienced drafter. However Winston gets around this. You only need one other person and if one player provides all the boosters, they get all the cards back at the end. No need to worry about giving away that bomb rare. So save up your booster prizes and try it out. It's a good way to get more value from your boosters.

There are 17 possible decks for the Auction of the People. I didn't really have time to prepare for Pro Tour-Valencia so trying to dig out or proxy all the cards for the 17 auction decks was never realistically going to happen. Rich Hagon has an interesting system for testing in circumstances like this. He has two decks of 60 basic land with numbers written on them. You then have a sheet with all the card names written against card number. It requires some extra mental upkeep to remember what everything is, but removes all the drudgery of rooting through boxes and folders to find all the cards you need (I don't know about you, but the process of actually finding and assembling all the cards for a deck is my least favourite part of Constructed).

The auction decks look quite interesting. On paper some look extremely powerful and others virtually unplayable, with the majority probably okay. I expect the bidding to be quite heavy for both the Reanimator (even if it has the wrong Akroma) and the Survival deck.

On paper the Suicide Black deck also looks quite potent, although the mana base looks dangerously short of actual black sources. That put me off the deck, but I got Rich to try it against one of the decks that I think might be a sleeper: the Test of Endurance deck. Despite having a lot of nifty combos like both Proclamation of Rebirth / Martyr of Sands and Isochron Scepter / Orim's Chant, the life gain deck got beat up fairly savagely by the Suicide Black deck in the few games we ran. I had quite a few issues with the mana base (why all those islands?) and think this would be a real problem especially against the decks running land disruption.

Unfortunately Rich's number system broke down when I tried out the '42 land' deck. Too many different lands in play made it impossible to remember which was which. I've played this kind of deck before in the past and while it can do some fun stuff it also faffs around a lot. You invariably always need Glacial Chasm to stop your head getting kicked in by random creatures. Wasteland recursion with Life from the Loam will be enough to beat up more than a few of the decks though as there are so many non-basics. However Rich was playing the elf deck so it wasn't exactly fair (where's a Tabernacle of Pendrell Vale when you need one?)

Afterwards there were more 3-on-3 drafts (I know this isn't an Invitational format, but hey) followed by a trip to Subway for food.

It's now currently around two in the morning. I'm about to scour the auction lists to try and work out what I should be bidding for Thursday. Join me then for the full lowdown (or rather just read the next article as I guess they'll both be going up at the same time anyway.)


Thursday, October 18: 10:25 p.m. - The Auction

And the action finally kicks off.

Going into the auction I had a few decks I liked the look of but more importantly a very simple rule.

Don't bid less than six cards.

There are differences in power levels between the auction decks, but the auction itself is self-balancing. From what I've seen of previous Invitational auctions most of the time the guys who get the busted decks at five cards and low life don't do so well because it's hard to fight with so few starting resources. So I wasn't too worried about which deck I got (although there were some I really didn't want) so long as I got it fairly cheaply.

Look at me, ever the attentive student.The bidding at the auction was actually far more aggressive than I anticipated. The good decks were nominated early and went for five cards. Getting a good deck early was probably the correct strategy because afterwards panic set in and people were still bidding down to five cards for the mediocre decks to avoid getting one of the really bad ones.

Stephen Menendian had actually spent some time looking at this format and in his opinion the best deck was the green-white Armageddon deck. He was prepared to scrap for it, but Shota Yasooka scrapped harder and got it at the highest price of 5 cards and 13 life.

I think Antoine Ruel probably got the best deal. The green Survival of the Fittest deck looked like one of the best to me and he got it early for six cards and 12 life.

The gaming aspect of the Auction is also quite interesting. Frank Karsten thought I would bid heavily for the red-green hate deck and tried to bid the price up a bit when there were only five or six players left. This back-fired when it went below the price I was prepared to pay and he ended up with it.

Overall I don't think I came out as well as I could. Rich Hoaen laid a trap I blundered into when I took the "Choose your own Destiny deck" at 7 cards and 24 life. At that stage I should have taken any of the decks at the full 8 cards as they're all pretty bad. The deck I got is based upon the "Punisher" mechanic, one of the worst in Magic as you basically don't get to choose what your spells do. Stephen Menendian thought this was the worst of the decks. Normally this is so, but cards like Shivan Wumpus and Breaking Point get a lot better if your opponent is land light after starting with five cards or already at a low life total. Ideally I probably want to be paired against the decks that bid aggressively with cards and especially life.

After some Cube and Winston practise we all headed off to the restaurant for a meal with all the players and staff. The highlight here was of course the Kenji Tsumura show as a little (strong!) wine had him scampering around the tables in high spirits.

This of course had nothing to do with me being the one filling up his glass.

Fourteen to go. Bwahahahahaha!

See you later for when I make more mistakes than can conceivably be counted on a 20-sided die in the Cube draft.


Thursday, October 18: 10:58 p.m. - Cube Draft

Why didn't I take the damn Jackal Pup!

Having only done one cube draft as a practise the night before it's safe to say I was feeling a bit of trepidation coming into this.

And yes it was a train wreck. Or plane crash. Or other massive disaster.

So much good stuff...When every booster contains virtually a first-pick Cube Draft is enough to make the inexperienced drafter, i.e. yours truly, lose their brains as their head pops off.

It started easily enough. When every card is a bomb the only thing better than playing a bomb of your own is stealing their bomb. I'll take Confiscate thanks.

Then it got a little messy. I got Metalworker and Mana Crypt. Maybe some broken artifact shenanigans could be on the cards. Really though I wish I'd taken the white weenie deck. It's sort of easy to say that when you see the little guys flying by and get Glorious Anthem and Crusade 13th and 14th.

Pack two completely derailed the train as I got passed Recurring Nightmare and then Survival of the Fittest. That was a busted deck once if I remember correctly. I then tried to force it, but didn't get there.

Going into pack three, my sanity returned and reminded me I had more white and blue cards than anything else and should probably concentrate on at least getting a deck. Meloku and Sacred Mesa kind of helps there too, as it happens.

There's no deck list here and hopefully I can sneak onto Tim's computer later and erase it from the coverage to spare my shame.

It's not completely horrible. I have some nice little touches. Isochron Scepter can imprint Abeyance (poor man's quarter of a chant—but it draws a card), Mana Leak, Brainstorm and some other targets.

I have Academy Rector and Enlightened Tutor to fetch enchantments, of which Worship and Yawgmoth's Bargain (which I can abuse with Pulse of the Fields, bonus!) seem like good things to find.

A few cute tricks does not make a deck though. It might be a long day.


Thursday, October 18: 12:17 p.m. - Round 1 vs. Jelger Wiegersma

Jelger got a solid green-white beatdown deck and was snapping at me straight out of the gates with Anurid Brushhopper, Serra Avenger and Iwamori.

I cowered behind first an Academy Rector (which obligingly fetched a Yawgmoth's Bargain) and then a Worship / Sacred Mesa combo.

Then he Naturalized Worship.

Boo.

0-1.

 

Devout Witness

Game 2 saw yet more cowardly hiding behind a certain white enchantment. Why didn't I take the red spells?

Jelger was wise to my cowardly ways now though.

Devout Witness.

Sigh.

Note to self. Draft red spells.

0-2.


Thursday, October 18: 2:34 p.m. - Round 2 vs. Raphael Levy

Craig Jones

This wasn't so bad. Levy also had a slowish red/blue deck splashing green for Genesis. At one point I was actually not being cowardly. I was facing down Genesis, Palinchron and Frenetic Efreet, but I had both Meloku and Sacred Mesa and was getting a good swarm brewing. Confiscate was on hand to stop a Nevinyrral's Disk spoiling the party and all was...

 

Obliterate

...Obliterate.

....

The Frenetic Efreet even survived.

0-1.

Game 2 and Levy got the Obliterate off again. Well, my very slow blue-white deck wasn't exactly going to kill him beforehand.

He hadn't been able to set it up this time thanks to some rogue early bear beats followed by Sacred Mesa so there was a slow recovery on both sides. At one point I spotted a possible way to win that involved Tutoring in my upkeep for Mana Crypt, casting it, casting an Arrest on any creature and then Brain Freezing Levy for his library. Unfortunately he was able to make Crucible of Worlds and fetch back Academy Ruins before I was able to get that plan off. With the Ruins and a Disk in graveyard there was no way I could ever deck him.

0-2.


Thursday, October 18: 4:02 p.m. - Round 3 vs. Antoine Ruel

I think Antoine may have got disheartened at playing against me. I know I don't deserve to win half the time, but it just sort of happens every time we play. After Honolulu (a matchup approximately 99.9 percent in my favour, or maybe more) it was a topdecked Hellkite (the only one in my deck) at Yokohama, then I beat him in a draft a few nights ago despite forgetting my Boggart Loggers could kill his Changeling Titan.

 

Worship

Surely this time he'd get his revenge though.

Game 1: River Boa, Troll Ascetic, Fangorn Firstborn, Rancor, Stonewood Invocation.

Er, Game 2?

0-1.

Game 2 and it was time for more cowering behind Worship / Sacred Mesa in the face of a massive green horde. It never works though as there are so many cards that bust up such a fragile combination.

Antoine tried with Masticore, but I had my handy first-pick Confiscate. I had to let the Mesa go though and now I was pretty much all-in on his Masticore. I machine-gunned his team and tried to get beat him down before he drew an answer.

Then he made a Spectral Force. That was too much to attack through and now I thought I was toast. I was locked into paying for the Masticore without being able to attack.

Then I drew a Soltari Monk and decided it was time to let the Masticore go and hope he didn't have anything like Serrated Arrows.

He didn't and I finally got a win.

1-1.

 

Sacred Mesa

Game 3 and I continued with my cowardly strategy of hiding behind four mana white cards (I'm sorry Dan Paskins, everything will get better with Best of Standard). This time it was portable moat—Academy Rector.

That held off Antoine for a while. He made a lot of men and went for the jugular with Overrun.

Ulp, ta Mana Leak.

That scare averted he attacked anyway and I dutifully fetched Worship to cower behind with Sacred Mesa out.

I was fairly sure he had answers this time though as he was playing Plains this game. I tried to make a fast swarm to end the game before he found an answer.

The random Aura of Silence I cast earlier in the game actually turned out to be key. Antoine couldn't bring out the Masticore in his opening hand until he had 8 mana up. While the Masticore was a big worry I had Isochron Scepter and was able to imprint Abeyance. Antoine had to regenerate in response to Abeyance, which meant the Masticore got gunned down by the Aura. He was able to topdeck a Witness to fetch it back but couldn't shoot enough of my fliers to stop them from killing him.

Maybe I do have Protection from Ruel after all.

2-1.


Thursday, October 18: 5:11 p.m. - Round 4 vs. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Now it's time to open the box and see what I won at the auction.

My eyes! Spare me my eyes!

 

Unnatural Hunger

What have I done? Dash Hopes. Unnatural Hunger. Vedalken Orrery. Do any of these cards actually do anything? Better shut the box quick before I pass out from the fumes.

Paulo was playing one of the mediocre decks—the Sanctuary deck—with only 6 cards and 14 life. With his life total so low there might be a chance I could actually do something with some of the punisher cards.

No.

Game 1 he even let Dash Hopes do him 5 to put himself at 6 life to let a second 1/1 Dryad in play. My next play was a 5 mana 2/3 from Portal Three Kingdoms. He stole that with Evangelize and then, at 5 life, decided it was probably sensible to let the Longhorn Firebeast stay in play rather than take 5 damage. Good choice.

0-1.

One of my hopes was to crack in with an early Shivan Wumpus to put pressure on low hand sizes. This is less effective when your opponent is already kicking your teeth out with two Quirion Dryad and a Watchwolf.

0-2.

So I can't beat one of the mediocre decks on 6 cards and a low life total.

"Choose your Destiny".

I have indeed chosen my destiny and it is to subject myself to three rounds of complete agony.

Excuse me while I go wash my hands.

Can I have the Minotaur deck? Please?


Thursday, October 18: 6:38 p.m. - Round 5 vs. Gabriel Nassif

Right, put on the heavy duty gloves.

Open the box.

Eurgh!

Gab Nassif got the Illusions-Donate (don't forget the A-Z artists) deck at 6 cards and 16 life. I got "Choose your Enema" or rather "The nameless abomination."

In terms of matchups, it could have been worse. I start above 20 life so Nassif has to combo me twice or hit me with something else (probably a big blue dragon). On the downside approximately half my deck might as well be blank cards.

 

Prowling Pangolin

Nassif made me go first and I promptly commenced beats with such staples of constructed play as Ogre Marauder and Prowling Pangolin. However it turns out even these can beat a goldfish as Nassif did nothing but lay Islands until turn six when he summoned Keiga. Or rather attempted to.

I'm not sure I can bring myself to mention beating a former Player of the Year with Dash Hopes so let's move swiftly on as there's a chance our monitors might implode from the horror.

1-0.

Game 2 and Nassif managed to combo me out before I cast the one actual real card in the deck—Nevinyrral's Disk. However that wasn't enough to finish me and I actually managed to get him back down to 7 life before Keiga appeared to finish me off.

1-1.

Nassif was about to combo me again, but this isn't a finisher when I'm above 20 life. More importantly I'd hit a rich vein of fatties as Shivan Wumpus was followed by Prowling Pangolin. When I followed his Illusions with a second Shivan Wumpus Nassif was actually in a hard place. The combo wouldn't kill me and I had 18 points of fatness to mean that the extra 20 life he'd gained wasn't going to last very long. I'm not sure whether Nassif had the Donate in hand and worked out his only hope was to topdeck a land, but he sac'ed a land to delay the second Wumpus from arriving. On the next turn he paid the upkeep and then didn't lay the land he needed for Donate. He cast Brainstorm to dig for an out and then conceded when none was available.

2-1.

"Choose your Bowel Movement" won, against arguable the most feared combo in Magic's history (albeit in a heavily watered down form).

Now I'm off to go wash as I feel dirty.

2-3 from Day One. As damage-limitation exercises go, it's not too bad I suppose.


Friday, October 19: 11:22 a.m. Round 6 vs. Rich Hoaen

"Rich Hagon, don't feature this. Half the cards in my deck don't do anything. He even starts on 8 cards and 25 life. I'm going to get crushed."

"That's the plan, we want to see the Cultural Exchange deck in action."

Yes, the pain was featured in the main coverage so I won't go into any great detail here. The match actually turned out surprisingly better than the miserable bloodbath I was expecting.

I think Rich Hoaen turned out to be the big winner of the auction. While his deck looked bad on paper it had a number of cute little interactions that could potentially be devastating.

My deck is still horrible. There are a number of cards I'd be better off never playing. In fact I probably should have treated Fatal Lore as a blank card and never played it in the second game. Playing against one of the decks that starts on high life and cards is also really bad for me.

 

Game of Chaos

The second game was actually silly and almost justified it as a feature match. There was me and Rich Hoaen scribbling down numbers for a Menacing Ogre. Then there was actually a little drama at the end as two coin flips in a row in my favour for Game of Chaos would have taken the match to a deciding game. Not to be though and Rich Hoaen killed me for the second time in a row with a Mogg Infestation / Brand combo.

Now I'm off to find some matches to ritually burn this abomination so it can never stain the world again with its existence.

0-2.


Friday, October 19: 1:20 p.m. – Round 7 vs. Tiago Chan

And we're onto the Winston Draft. I've actually done a few of these as practise and don't feel too bad about Lorwyn draft overall. I assume Rich Hagon has already mentioned his 3-0 performance in the team draft we won last night, and if he hasn't, well I can guarantee you'll probably hear about it soon.

What I've noticed with Winston Drafts is that the card pools end up being quite small, you often struggle to find enough playables and that you almost certainly will end up being more than two colours. While other players have been experimenting with clever tricks such as leaving cards you want in order to let the pile get bigger, I prefer to play it reasonably straight. If the card's good, I'll take it and I'll take any colour fixer, even if it's on its own.

Even with that strategy I didn't see a single colour fixer when drafting against Tiago. Overall it seemed like our boosters were fairly weak, but you can't always be sure as me and Rich Hagon, while testing on the flight, estimated you only ever see around six or seven of the cards that make the other person's deck.

Deck construction turned out to be very hard as although I had the lion's share of the cards, I also had what resembled a fairly average sealed pool with about six good cards in each colour. I eventually went with an iffy 7 plains, 6 mountains, 5 islands mana base with no fixers.

 

Axegrinder Giant

In the first game I paid for it as I got stuck with four red cards in hand I couldn't cast including two Axegrinder Giants. Chan thought he was in trouble that game as he could see I had a lot of cards and his Inkfathom Divers had shown him nothing much was on the way. I held him off for a while with Judge of Currents and Silvergill Douser, but eventually he hit a bit of gas and overwhelmed me with the giants still stuck in my hand.

0-1.

Game 2 and I switched out the Islands and the merfolk synergies and replaced them with Nameless Inversion and some black cards. Although the blue cards were slightly better that advantage was cancelled out by the Islandwalkers I'd seen from Chan in the first game (Streambed Aquitects, Inkfathom Divers).

This time I got a slight mana flood, but I don't think it made too much of a difference as Chan hit the sweet part of his deck. I managed to Tarfire an Imperious Perfect before it got out of hand, but this was followed with Shriekmaw.

The board then stabilised for a bit. Chan was holding off my fliers with a 1/3 Glen Elendra Pranksters while I had the ground blocked up with a random 2/4.

I attempted to try and break the deadlock with Nameless Inversion on the Pranksters. Chan flashed in Cloudthresher and returned his own Shriekmaw through the Prankster's ability. I lost my Balloonist and had to sac a goblin to keep my Marshflitter alive.

Ouch.

Talk about a blowout.

No, I didn't find an answer to the 7/7.

0-2.


Friday, October 19: 4:30 p.m. Round 8 vs Shuhei Nakamura

 

Bombs Ahoy!

In the last draft with Tiago Chan I think I had possibly the worst deck I've picked up so far from this format. In contrast the deck I got here was easily the best.

 

Thundercloud Shaman

It was a complete monster. I got Cloudgoat Ranger from the first pile, got the white command shortly after and then everything seemed to drop just right. After picking a Giant Harbinger I was very lucky to find a Thundercloud Shaman as the random card at the top of the library.

Mise well have two wraths, I guess.

Later on Shuhei, who I guess wasn't white, left a Plover Knights. The random card—Purity!

My deck at the end was completely insane. I picked a Flamekin Harbinger when it was a single card. Not only does it find Purity, but I'm also splashing for Aethersnipe and Shriekmaw. I also have Nova Chaser for even more naughtiness.

Game 1 was exactly the brutality I expected. Hillcomber Giant was followed by Giant Harbinger to fetch the Thundercloud Shaman. Nakamura couldn't commit a creature to the board that turn as I wrathed away his sole Dreamspoiler Witches.

Our boosters were very strong though and Nakamura managed to stabilise a little with Thorntooth Witch and then pick up some gas with Fathom Trawl.

I was able to bust through the 3/4 witch thanks to a Tarfire and then Aethersnipe emphatically hammered the game home.

1-0.

Never discount the Japanese though. Along with the Fathom Trawl, Nakamura also had Cryptic Command to prevent one of my giants from arriving in the second game. I'd picked up the early advantage thanks to a screaming in and trampling over on turn 5 with a 10/2 Nova Chaser. I got back an Inner-Flame Igniter and tried to push through the damage with the help of a Pestermite. Being flooded with lands turned to my advantage as I got up to the nine-mana to triple activate the Igniter and gain first-strike.

Level 6 mages never make things easy, though. I got Nakamura down to 1 life, but he'd been counter-attacking to drop me to 6. I'd picked up a Hillcomber Giant, but was still facing three blockers. If I swung with everything Nakamura would have to block and then triple activating the Igniter would decimate his team.

However Shuhei had not one but two tricks. Ego Erasure shrunk my men and Wings of Velis Vel let his Thieving Sprite beat up my Pestermite.

Oh, and no one was back home minding the fort.

Counter-attack.

1-1.

 

Inner-Flame Igniter

Hmm, maybe this wasn't going to be as easy as I thought, although with Shuhei on the other side of the table I never expected it to be, even with so many bombs.

The decider was even more brutal than the first game.

I got the Igniter / Nova Chaser start again that allowed me to run through Shuhei's first guy and hit him for eight. I followed with Cloudgoat Ranger, then Purity, then Thundercloud Shaman.

It was all a bit savage really.

2-1.


Friday, October 19: 6:17 p.m. Round 9 vs Kenji Tsumura

Ulp, I've just beaten Shuhei and now I have to take on Kenji.

I thought I had him in a practise draft just before the auction, but Kenji is Kenji and he still took me down. It's interesting that Kenji appears to have a very selective strategy when it comes to Winston Draft. He's quite happy to give away most of the cards in return for getting the best quality. This time I don't think it worked out for him as he had to hit the random card from the library on a number of occasions and said he didn't feel too confident about his deck.

As for me...

Oops, I did it again.

Well I got another Thundercloud Shaman and Giant Harbinger to fetch him. It always feels dirty when you get that pair. I jinked a little into white near the end of the draft to pick up some more giants and this time had the fixing to support a splash of both blue and black.

 

Ethereal Whiskergill

I was actually trying to be a little bit clever for my own good as I maindecked both Ethereal Whiskergill and Merrow Harbinger. Most of the very good players seem to end up with blue decks in the format.

So of course Kenji was playing green-red.

I was a bit mana-screwed at the start of the game but I think Kenji was either colour-screwed or flooded. His early beats were trumped by my pair of mountain-walking Hillcomber Giant.

1-0.

The mountain-walking giants forced a colour change from Kenji. I got an absolutely blistering start in the second game with a first-turn Bladewhirl followed by Adder-Staff Boggart, then Fire-Belly Changeling. I smashed Kenji down to two life in no time at all and was thinking I had the match.

Kenji is Kenji though. Final Revels took down my team and then a horrible mana flood meant I couldn't press home those last two points and eventually died with a bunch of land in hand.

1-1.

Game 3 was less interesting as Kenji missed land drops and I made big giants and hit him until he fell over.

2-1.


Friday, October 19: 6:45 p.m. – Day Two Round-up

Well Day Two, nine rounds and three formats of the Invitational are over. Rather predictably I started off with a loss to round out the Auction section. I think I had the right strategy in not bidding too aggressively for the decks. Both Tiago and Rich Hoaen went 3-0 with unfancied decks, but more importantly 8 cards and 25 life. Unfortunately I got it wrong at the end of the auction and jumped for the wrong deck.

I'd practised quite a bit for the Winston Draft and was very happy to go 2-1, especially as those wins were against Kenji Tsumura and Shuhei Nakamura. Admittedly in one of those drafts I'd been lucky enough to get a deck that was utterly broken.

Join me Saturday for the Name Your Own Standard and I'm a little excited. You see I get to play Jackal Pup, Ball Lightning and Char in the same deck...

Red fans: There may be some burninating...

Saturday, October 20: 9:07 a.m. – Choose Your Own Standard

 

Fireblast

Ladies and Gentlemen...

... let the burnination commence.

The difficult part of building a Choose Your Own Standard Red Deck is working out which block to go with Tempest. When I originally asked Red Mage supreme Dan Paskins his suggestion was to go with Mirrodin for Molten Rain, Magma Jet and Slith Firewalker. Rather more crucially he reminded me Incinerate, Pyroblast and Ball Lightning were in Fifth.

I was a bit concerned about graveyard decks like Ichorid being played. One plan to counter that is to run Ravnica block and take Leyline of the Void for the board and Char and Seal of Fire for the main. The second is to go up to Time Spiral for Tormod's Crypt. The burn spells aren't quite as exciting however, with Rift Bolt being the main draw.

In terms of sheer power nothing really tops Fireblast. But I couldn't think of anything else from that block. Then I booted up MTGO and went through the red cards. I'd forgotten something—Hammer of Bogardan.

So I now present one of the highest damage-to-mana cost ratio decks ever to hit a Magic table:

Craig Jones – Tempest / Mirage / Fifth

Download Arena Decklist

There are 61 points of direct damage in this deck. That's not even including Ball Lightning.

I can also race most combo decks as the deck will kill most goldfish stone dead on turn four.

Prepare to burn...

Saturday, October 20: 11:20 a.m. – Round 10 vs. Shota Yasooka

This match took approximately seven minutes. Sadly most of those were spent by Shota mulliganing. He was running the Narcobridge dredge combo that never quite caught fire in Standard, mainly because of the Gruul decks picking up Mogg Fanatic.

Unfortunately he ran into me. My deck's like Gruul, only a turn faster and a lot more consistent.

 

Mogg Fanatic

Not only is my deck fast, it's also disruptive. Shota's mulligan to five was made even worse when I Wastelanded his first land and Shocked his Greenseeker. I was stuck on one land for a while with a lone Mogg Fanatic nibbling at Yasooka's life total. I was still able to kill his dredge enablers and keep any dredge cards from hitting the graveyard. He finally got some action the turn I hit three mana and hit him in the face for 11 with Ball Lightning, Fanatic and Fireblast.

1-0.

The dredge deck usually switches to the Troll plan after boarding as Fanatic switches off their bridges. Old-school red decks are too fast for that especially when putting out five land means you're probably going to take eight from Price of Progress.

Shota mulliganed down to four this time and died on turn four to Price of Progress after I got a double Jackal Pup start.

Burn!

2-0.

That makes a clean sweep of the Japanese in the last three rounds, and after a rocky start I'm back to a reasonably respectable 5-5.

Saturday, October 20: 12:32 p.m. – Round 11 vs. Evan Erwin

I'm starting to feel the time pressure. I thought the red deck would give me some time between rounds, but a couple of epic battles plus a Vintage match and I'm three rounds behind in writing.

 

Counterbalance

The first of these epic battles was against Evan Erwin. The Storyteller brought a blue-white control deck from Ice Age and Kamigawa featuring the Counterbalance / Sensei's Divining Top combo. That combo pretty much did for me Game 1. I got him down to around 9 life, but then drew a succession of lands and one-casting cost monsters before he beat me up with a big Dragon.

0-1.

Game 2 and now I have to face Circle of Protection: Red and Enlightened Tutor to find it. Sure enough CoP: Red put an appearance in early followed by Counterbalance and Top.

Evan still lost.

Despite those cards it's still possible for a red deck to win. As long as you're not being killed quickly, you can jab and feint to tie up their mana and get damage through when they're tapped out. Don't worry about throwing out a few burn spells to get CoP'ed, you have plenty. I did this and eventually tapped Evan out enough to slip two Fireblast through for the win.

1-1.

Game 3 the CoP again came out early, but this time I didn't have the right hand to joust. I needed to see creatures that could hang around to tie up his mana or instants to tap him out in his main step. Instead my hand clogged up with Ball Lightnings. Evan was light on land and I managed to open up a window for Ball Lightning, only to have it Force of Willed.

 

Apocalypse

I'd been holding Apocalypse in hand as a last resort. Once Evan found more land I went for it. I didn't Pyroblast the Counterbalance in play because I'd already seen three Force of Will and wanted to protect against conventional Counterspells.

Unfortunately Evan had Meloku waiting in his top three cards.

I did manage to scare the hell out him first, though.

"That's the scariest card I've seen all day!"

With that gone I had no comeback as Evan found more land and started to beat me to death with Genju of the Fields.

1-2.

Saturday, October 20: 2:48 p.m. – Round 12 vs. Stephen Menendian

And here was the second of the epics.

I'm not sure what I would have preferred—face Menendian in Vintage or face an awkward looking blue-white aggro deck. Like Erwin he had also picked Ice Age and Kamigawa. Rather than fighting CoP: Red it would be another bane of red deck: Umezawa's Jitte.

Game 1 almost felt effortless. After mulliganing I was able to open up with Jackal Pup and then force him to waste tempo by Shocking a Savannah Lions only when he went to equip it with Jitte. A Mogg Fanatic took down the Isamaru that followed without allowing the Jitte to pick up counters and eventually I bashed through with Mogg Flunkies.

1-0.

 

Price of Progress

Game 2 I mulliganed to five and still put up a hell of a fight. I even thought I had Stephen at one point. I was holding a Price of Progress worth six points of damage. He had Counterbalance out and I sent out an Incinerate at the end of his turn to see if the way was clear. He didn't flip and so I untapped and went for the jugular.

"Gotcha!"

Stephen flipped over the Counterbalance sitting on top of his library. Stephen was so excited he forgot the upkeep on Jotun Grunt. I can forgive him for that as the Counterbalance play was very, very good and probably won him the match.

More Grunts followed and picked up the pointy stick of doom and I watched helplessly as his life climbed into safe territory.

1-1.

Game 3 and I fell a cropper to my own greed. Menendian had been cautious to risk his creatures in the first couple of games. I felt I could sneak my Mogg Fanatic past his Isamaru and make a Fireslinger rather than wasting a turn to Shock the hound.

Menendian decided to trade and a couple of turns later I was looking in a mess. He'd followed with Counterbalance and Descendent of Kiyomaro. I was again too greedy. I needed the Counterbalance to reveal a land or something that didn't cost one or two so I could Incinerate then Shock the lifelinked creature. Counterbalance revealed Isamaru. Of course if I'd still had the Fanatic I would have been able to finish the Descendant off with the help of the Fireslinger.

As it was I had to throw away too many cards to kill the Descendant later on and basically lost the war of attrition as a second Descendant came out when I'd completely exhausted my resources.

1-2.

The more I look back at the third game, the more I think I played it very badly. We were equal on cards when he made the Descendant. I should have just raced with my Flunkies and Fireslinger and then waited until Stephen cast something to deal with them, or until we both got to seven cards and I could just Incinerate it.

Still, that Counterbalance play in the second game was pretty tight.


Saturday, October 20: 3:02 p.m. – Vintage Introduction

Getting the deck list for Vintage is actually a complicated tale. I don't own any power cards after selling them off a while back (and just before they exploded in price, grr).

 

Flash

Firstly big thanks go to Judge Julez (Julian Parker) from Manchester for lending me a Hulk-Flash deck complete with all the trimmings. It's a little scary walking around with a deck box where the contents are probably worth more than the laptop bag it's in as well as the laptop, iPod and digital camera.

As it happened the power cards never actually left their plastic cases (sorry Julez, but thanks for lending them anyway). Friday night and Tiago Chan is riding at the top of the standings. However, his Vintage deck looks like an unholy hybrid of goblins and random power blue cards like Force of Will. I have a backup deck of mana-less Ichorid, which I've had proxied up for a while but never actually played. If I hadn't been able to get hold of the jewellery my plan was to pick up three Bazaar of Baghdad and run that instead.

I gave Tiago the choice and he went for the fastest Goldfish killer in history—Hulk-Flash.

The only thing I was a little nervous about was lending out highly expensive cards that don't belong to me.

Thankfully a solution was found to both this and my missing Bazaar problem. Rob Elkin, visiting from England, was able to generously lend us the cards for both decks. Cheers dude.

As for the decklist:

Craig Jones

Download Arena Decklist
 

 

Flame-Kin Zealot

Mana-less is an apt description. Game 1 this deck doesn't cast any spells. You basically mulligan to a Bazaar of Baghdad and then start abusing dredge cards until you get enough Ichorids and Narcomoebas to flashback a Dread Return on Flame-Kin Zealot to kill them with a horde of Zombies.

I haven't played the deck before and the prospect of mulliganing to a single card scares me. I have been assured that with all the mulligans and Serum Powders you hit it before oblivion around 95 percent of the time.

But it is dredge and that damned combo deck has hated me ever since Future Sight appeared.


Saturday, October 20: 3:58 p.m. – Round 13 vs. Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

Okay so I there's no point pretending this is anywhere near live now as the fast pace means we've actually already finished and I'm catching up. Did I make half way or finish bottom?

Well you're just going to have to read on to find out.

I was told that with all the mulligans and Serum Powders you only ever mulligan to oblivion about 5 percent of the time.

Game 1 mulligan to oblivion.

0-1.

Fortunately Guillaume doesn't know what I'm playing and I combo off turn two or three.

I still don't know what he's playing. Control deck with power maybe?

1-1.

Now I expect to have to fight through Leylines. This doesn't happen, but there's an awkward moment when Guillaume removes all my bridges by activating his Mishra's Factory and Wastelanding it.

The Ichorid plan is fine enough, though.

This deck seems like a lot of fun.

2-1.


Saturday, October 20: 5:22 p.m. – Round 14 vs. Frank Karsten

Frank's playing Hulk-Flash. You wouldn't know this from the first game as he mulliganed to four. I think I killed him before he laid a land but I don't entirely remember.

 

Dryad Arbor

1-0.

Game 2 was hilarious. We both started with Leylines in play.

Plan B's then.

"No deck in this format can beat a turn one 1/1," Frank joked, dropping a Virulent Sliver.

"Haha, I have the answer," I responded, dropping Dryad Arbor.

The next turn I fetched out a Bayou and started hardcasting Golgari Thugs. Yes, this is Vintage, the most powerful Magic format on earth and three 1/1's were racing another 1/1.

Finally Frank put an end to the embarrassment by Chain of Vaporing my Leyline and Flashing Protean Hulk into play to fetch the hasty Poison Sliver package.

1-1.

Game 3 and I made an attempt at thinking about my hand when it was the stone-cold nuts of Chalice, double Bazaar of Baghdad and Leyline.

 

Bazaar of Baghdad

Frank didn't have a Leyline. I put a lot of cards in my graveyard and then scratched my head trying to work out how I was supposed to kill him. I hadn't found a Flame-Kin Zealot and didn't want to dredge my entire deck in case Frank did something cheeky like cast Ancestral Recall on me to deck me.

In the end I attacked with some Ichorids and Dread Returned a Troll of unfeasibly large size. I don't actually know how big as we couldn't be bothered to count.

Frank failed to Chain of Vapor my Leyline, Echoing Truth my Zombie tokens or kill the Troll.

Guess I win then.

2-1.


Saturday, October 20: 6:32 p.m. – Round 15 vs. Willy Edel

As I've mentioned already Tiago got my first choice decklist, Hulk-Flash, as he was doing well and I... well wasn't. This obviously worked as you'll be reading more about Tiago on Sunday. This meant I played mana-less Ichorid and Willy Edel got the Goblin deck Tiago was going to play. Willy was 2-0 with Goblins + Power, so the deck must have been better than it looked. I'm glad Tiago did well with the deck I gave him. Otherwise tonight might have been a little more... oops.

Game 1 I mulliganed to two.

1-0.

Er, Craig. The score's wrong. It says you won the first game.

Yeah, I did. On turn two.

 

Chalice of the Void

Opening hand: Bazaar of Baghdad, Chalice of the Void.

Draw a dredge card.

Many very bad bad things starting with, "Instead of drawing a card..."

A Cephalid Sage might have got Dread Returned back into play at some point as well.

Mulligan to two. Win on turn two. Wow, Vintage is busted.

Willy doesn't have any Leylines.

Many more bad things starting with, "Instead of drawing a card..."

2-0.


Saturday, October 20: 6:59 p.m. – Vintage Recap

And your Vintage master is... Craig Jones.

I used to play a while back, but then sold my cards as there wasn't much of a scene where I was at and the money looked good (obviously the price of everything went through the roof about two months later but never mind). I haven't really played in a few years and it was good to see all the broken stuff going on. After the red deck got squelched it was good to 3-0 a format.

So much is on matchups and opening hands, though. Neither Wafo-Tapa or Edel had Leyline, which meant I was able to go off unopposed. The sheer speed of the deck really surprised me. It really can kill on turn two, and kill regularly.

Overall I'm very happy to finish up 8-7. All of the players in the Invitational are of the highest quality and it felt good to battle with the world's best across a variety of unusual formats. The final standings are in and I'm tied for seventh. While it would be nice to be battling Sunday for the honour of being on a card, I don't think I've disgraced myself despite ninja'ing into the Invitational.

Thanks to everyone who voted for me and I hope you're enjoying the blog (even if it isn't exactly quite live).

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