On the Cusp

Posted in The Week That Was on June 6, 2008

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

As this goes to "print" North American Magic players are staring down the barrel of their Regional qualifiers for Canada and U.S. Nationals. With less than 24 hours to go players are fretting their deck choices ("Is Faeries the right call this weekend or should I play Reveillark?"), hand wringing over their final sideboard spots ("Do I want to play Tivadar of Thorn to kill all those Chameleon Colossus or should I just max out on Faerie Macabre to deal with Reveillark?"), and hoping to fill out those last few missing cards via last-minute trades, purchases, or borrows ("Someone at the tournament site will have extra Mutavaults...right?")

I decided to look to three players who made the Top 16 at the recently-in-the-books Pro Tour–Hollywood for some additional context about the Standard format in the wake of the big weekend. All three players who took part in the roundtable are still looking for their first Top 8 finish and all three came tantalizingly close in Tinseltown. I would not be surprised to find myself doing a post-tournament interview with any of these players in Berlin while they beamed ear-to-ear next to an oversized novelty check.

No one came closer to breaking through to Sunday than 21-year-old Ohio State student Adam Yurchick—last seen finishing second at Grand Prix–Philadelphia with his RetroTron deck. Adam earned a virtual Top 8 finish but was edged out on tiebreakers by Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa for the last rung in the Sunday elimination bracket.

There were three other players joining Adam in the virtual Top 8 field. For 24-year-old Iowa student/pizza delivery man Brandon Scheel, it was his second top 16 finish in two tries this season. It was not long ago that Brandon was a featured in this column as a PTQ stalwart and now he finds himself in the middle of a pack of Player of the Year hopefuls.

Right behind Adam was rising Croatian star Grgur Petric Maretic, who had previously finished as high as 18th at Pro Tour–New Orleans. The 22-year-old mathematics student broke the top 16 barrier for the first time in his career, and if not for a few pesky decimal points had enough points to earn the eighth seed.

BDM: How did you qualify for Pro Tour–Hollywood? Any funny stories about qualifying?

Yurchick's finish at Grand Prix–Philadelphia punched his ticket to Hollywood.Adam: I was qualified on rating after Worlds, but with two Grand Prix and around ten PTQs I could attend, I couldn't bring myself to sit on it. I also had the free invite from Level 3, but wanted to save it for Berlin or Worlds. Sure enough, my rating was down below the cutoff and my back was against the wall going into Grand Prix–Philadelphia. Instead of heading to the site on Friday, I stayed at Brett Blackman's and had a revelation. I brewed up the Blue-white Tron deck late Friday night with Josh Wludyka while playing with Brett's cat and watching a movie, got second, and qualified.

Brandon: I finished 11th at Pro Tour–Kuala Lumpur. I played Dredge in one PTQ for Hollywood, going 2-0, 0-2, 0-2 against Affinity decks with maindeck Tormod's Crypts.

Grgur: Played a PTQ. Since we don't get our trip paid, people aren't really interested in playing the PTQ, so only 14 people showed up. I almost didn't make Top 8. Sounds funny to me. :)

BDM: How did you prepare for the tournament and who did you work with?

Grgur: The beautiful thing about Faeries is that I was able to test on Magic Online. I played a lot of eight-mans, even managed to earn like 300 tickets in the process and get my online Constructed rating to 1940 at one point. I also tested via IRL with Ognjen Cividini and had some chats and day-before-the-tournament testing with Zac Hill, Stuart Wright, and Adrian Sullivan.

Brandon: I played many matches of Standard with Matt Hansen, Steve Locke, Nick Crumpton (Mnmagic.com teammates and fellow Ames players) and several other Iowans.

Adam: I had been playing my deck on Magic Online since January, so I had a huge number of games under my belt. I didn't join any real testing group, as I was pretty set on playing some form of Black-green Elves and didn't care about innovation. I tested with Owen Turtenwald and Josh Wludyka, the midwest masterminds. We played a decent amount, but I spent a lot of time just information gathering. I would check some underground Japanese sites constantly for new decklists and got a lot of ideas from there. The final list that I played Owen and I designed.

BDM: What deck did you end up playing and why did you choose it? What did you expect the field to be and how did that affect your choice?

Brandon: I played Doran because it had the strongest match-up against Faeries (5-0 in the 16 rounds). I expected the field to be around 35 percent Faeries, 20 percent Elves, and some Red decks. Since the deck I played did very well against Faeries and had a game plan for Elves and Red, I was happy about the deck choice long as the decks showed up that I wanted to face.

Brandon Scheel

Download Arena Decklist

Adam: I stuck with Black-green Elves for the PT. The deck had the best matchup vs. Faeries that we could find, and its solid matchups with the rest of the field made it a very solid choice. In the end it was my experience with the deck and its amazing flexibility that convinced me to play it. A late innovation was Troll Ascetic and Loxodon Warhammer, with no Imperious Perfects. I had been playing this on Magic Online earlier, but when Morningtide came out Troll fell out of flavor. In testing, Imperious Perfect was letting me down, so I talked to Owen about Troll Ascetic. It ended up being amazing and I think gave our deck a real advantage over traditional Black-green decks. I also completely cut Cloudthresher when I arrived at the venue in favor of the maximum amount of Squall Lines. I found that Faeries was equipped to beat 'Thresher's 7/7 body and that the fireball effect from Squall Line was much more troublesome.

Adam Yurchick

Download Arena Decklist

Grgur: Faeries. I could test it on Magic Online, so I started playing it to understand the deck better and figure out how to win against it. The more I played it, the better it became (or should I say, I did), and every new deck we tried to build just lost to Fae. Ognjen and Nikola Fercek came up with putting a Loxodon Warhammer in there which made the deck a million times better, and in the end the choice I had was either to play the best deck that exists to my knowledge (and which I have a lot of experience with) or play an inferior deck which I never played before. Not much of a choice.

I expected most people to play Faeries, so I tested mirror a lot and figured out how to sideboard (to everybody interested—no, Mistbind Clique is not good in the mirror, board them out. All of them). I played one mirror in the whole tournament, and won because my opponent mulliganed to four in the third game.

Grgur Petric Maretic

Download Arena Decklist

BDM: What other decks did you consider playing?

Grgur: At first I thought we could make a good Swans deck, but it just lost to Faeries no matter what we did. Then we tried Doran and Red-green, and it just lost to Faeries. Some people suggested Merfolk, but I never really bothered to try them, since I consider them just a worse version of Faeries with a slight edge in the mirror (against Fae, that is) and beat them up regularly on MTGO.

Adam: Late in the testing process, Owen did poorly at the SCG 5K. I then started questioning Black-green and started venturing into new territory. I spent a lot of time testing Faeries and various Reveillark builds, including the list that Yong Han Choo Top 8'd with. Josh and I also went into a testing frenzy, constantly testing and scrapping new decks. We also had some crazy ideas, like Blue-black land destruction and Blink-Faeries, but they never panned out. I narrowed it down to Faeries, Reveillark, and my default choice of Black-green Elves. I was definitely more comfortable with Elves, but when I heard that the Japanese were playing Elves, I knew that the fix was in and my gut had been right all along.

BDM: Was there any match you can point to that is the difference between making the Top 8 and finishing Top 16? If so, what happened in that match?

Adam: Definitely Round 14, when I lost 2-1 to Nico Bohny, playing Doran. He had the standard turn-two Doran draw all three games which put me on the back foot. He also ran Oblivion Ring, which was crucial in removing Chameleon Colossus. Since it was such a tight match, looking back I feel like I could have somehow won doing something differently, but really have no idea how.

With back-to-back 11th-place finishes in different formats, Brandon Scheel has become one of the U.S.'s best players.Brandon: My last loss came in the 14th round to Marijn Lybaert. I won Game 1 with quick Doran beats but really needed to draw a Mind Shatter Games 2 or 3 to have a decent shot. I should have been running a third Mind Shatter in the sideboard and almost had added one more before the tournament.

Grgur: I was 7-1 the first day. The first match of the second day I played against an extremely aggressive Doran deck. It was a really tight match. In the third game he got an early Chameleon Colossus, but I was winning the race with Bitterblossom and Loxodon Warhammer and chumps. He already cast a Squall line (or Cloudthresher) that game, maybe even two I don't remember clearly. Anyways, the turn before he dies, he draws his card and reveals one of the two or three remaining cards that could win him the game—Squall Line. After that loss I got paired against Merfolk and lost, and then again lost the fourth match of the day to a Monored deck packed with hate. If I hadn't lost that first match, who knows how I would end up. But on the other hand I might've missed out the whole top 16 thing, so I'm not complaining.

BDM: What will you take away from this tournament as part of your ongoing Magic experience? Do you find a Top 16 finish to be encouraging?

Brandon: Getting close to Top 8 twice makes me want to get to the third day even more, which has been a dream for a long time. I learned a lot about the testing process and what mistakes I made in deck design. I spent a good portion of testing with some sub-par cards in the maindeck because I didn't make changes often and early enough to know which cards weren't worth keeping in the maindeck. Not making your gauntlet too big seemed helpful in contrast to Extended formats that tend to have 12-plus decks.

Adam: It is definitely my biggest finish, and it feels good to finally place after so many other misses at Pro Tours. Missing Top 8 by less than a tiebreaker point is a heartbreaker, but no doubt encouragement. I feel like my game has reached the next level and such a finish brings a realization that Top 16'ing or even Top 8'ing a Pro Tour is not out of reach, and I expect a lot of great finishes in the future.

Grgur: It is really encouraging, and shows that if you play well, and play a deck you are familiar with, it's not really that hard to do well. In fact, the only other time I tested this much, I ended up 18th at Pro Tour–New Orleans. And that's the point people should understand—most of the Pros are just good players who test a lot. Not insane geniuses you just can't beat. And even if they are, if you don't make mistakes, you give them very little space to outplay you.

BDM: How hard is it to make the top 16 of a Pro Tour, much less a Top 8?

Grgur: Going 12-4 in any tournament is not easy, and playing against players that are on average much better than your local players doesn't help. That being said, I've always been fascinated how many people on the PT choose to play bad decks, or bad versions of good decks, and how many people play terribly or just bad. And even some Pros fall into the latter category. I should've lost at least three of the matches I won if my opponents played correctly. And it wasn't even hard to see the right play.

Adam: It didn't feel any different to me than any other tournament; I was simply just playing Magic. I just did my best to play optimally all weekend, the chips fell as they did, and I finished in the top 16. It is important not to worry about how you are going to do or have a target, just try to win every game you play.

Brandon: You have to really be on your game, have a solid deck and some luck is involved in pairings.

BDM: Are there any changes you would make to the deck you played?

Brandon: I would probably change the sideboard with -1 Kitchen Finks, -1 Primal Command, -2 Shriekmaw, +3 Damnation, +1 Mind Shatter.

Vendilion Clique
Grgur: I'd try out two Vendilion Cliques and an Inversion in the place of Sowers. Not sure if it's correct, though. I'd certainly put a third Damnation in the board.

Adam: If I did not run Troll and Hammer of Bogardan my list would look very similar to Charles Gindy's. I also like the idea of Slaughter Pact, so I would try that sideboard, maybe over two Shriekmaw. Going back, however, I don't think I would change a card before the Pro Tour.

BDM: North American Regionals are taking place this weekend. Can you make an argument for players choosing the deck you played in Hollywood? If not, what deck would you recommend?

Adam: I have been telling everyone to run either my deck, Gindy's, or Mihara's Reveillark list. I think my deck has an edge in the mirror match, against Red decks, and versus Faeries, while Gindy's is stronger against Merfolk and random decks you may face at a larger tournament like Regionals. I realized that the single most important thing you can do when choosing a deck is to just pick a deck you have a lot of experience and confidence with. When you sit down to play, everything else goes out the window. You want to know exactly what to do in every situation like it is second nature. A lot of my recent success has stemmed from precisely that.

Grgur: If you know how to play it well, then it's probably the best deck to play. You should test a bit more on how to beat Merfolk and play Warhammers. Warhammer really gives you an edge against Elves, Red decks and virtually and other aggressive deck. If you don't know how to play Faeries well, I suggest you go with Elves or Reveillark.

Brandon: Doran has a tough Game 1 against Elves. If you wanted to play another deck I would look at Faeries or Elves.

BDM: How has the Standard format changed in the wake of the Pro Tour? What are the factors affecting that change?

Brandon: I think since Reveillark made Top 8 that more players will show up with it, making Faeries better than it was at the Pro Tour. One of the big things holding Faeries players back at the Pro Tour was the high amount of mirror matchups with almost no edges on other Faeries players.

Grgur: I don't really think much changed, apart from people realizing Reveillark is still very good. There are no new decks which I consider really good, so basically the only change is you got some more-tuned versions of the already-known decks.

Adam: Faeries is no longer top dog, but simply part of the pack, and Merfolk is a major player. I think it is a bad idea to discount Faeries as it is still the clear best deck, and might be the sleeper for Regionals if everyone stops worrying about it.

Returning from the Grave to an FNM Store Near You!

This month's Friday Night Magic foil is Resurrection; a card that has its roots all the way back in Alpha but saw virtually no tournament play until the advent of Solar Flare decks from two years ago. It was timeshifted into Time Spiral but still featured its 15-year old artwork. If you want to get a facelifted version of white reanimation, head down to an FNM tournament near you throughout June.

Firestarter: Choose Your Weapon!

If you are going to Regionals this weekend, let us know what deck you have settled on—and why—in the forums. For those of you who are still waiting on Regionals, feel free to chime in and make a case for a 23rd-hour deck switch for those of that are. And if you happen to be at New Jersey Regionals, say hello to me—I will be at the low numbered tables, most likely. :)

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