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A Champion Returns
Feature Article from Paul Rietzl
Paul Rietzl
9/9/2010 10:43:00 AM
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Preamble

Before Pro Tour Amsterdam, I think the best way to describe my career would be to say "He put himself in position to lose a lot of important matches."

My name is Paul Rietzl. I was losing feature matches when Julien Nujiten was in diapers. Please join me for a quick trip down memory lane. This is my Magic life.

A few turns later it was all over, and Paul could only shake his head. As the killing blow fell, Rietzl said something you don't hear often: "I just got outplayed."

"Despite playing "Necro" Paul Rietzl found himself in an 0-2 hole after the close of the second round."

"Paul plays a Psychatog on his turn and passes back the turn with five land open. Mindslaver got countered, but a Tinker resolved to get Myr Incubator. Paul didn't draw an answer and the game was over. Peter Szigeti defeats Paul Rietzl 2-1"

"A few laughs later, he conceded, shaking his head."If I had just attacked with the Slith it would have been a very different game." Gerry Thompson 2 - Paul Rietzl 0"

"As if on cue, the Karma gods blessed Drew Dumanski with a Broodmate Dragon and he mercifully cast it immediately rather than taking his time before revealing his opponent's fate. Paul untapped and tried to use Unmake on the 4/4, but Dumanski was ready with Cryptic Command to counter. Rietzl's chatter came to an end, and with grace and professionalism he extended his hand in defeat."

"Rietzl couldn't catch up from here, though he drew land after land to stay in the game. Kibler stayed in Braids control mode the entire game and eventually beat Rietzl down in the end with a Braids and a Nantuko Shade."

"The board continued to develop in Kenji's favor. With a Jotan Owl Keeper and another Surging Sentinel Paul, obviously mana flooded, failed to play any more cards besides a red Martyr of Ashes. Once again he was forced to concede to Kenji's white army."

"With a Grapeshot in Asher's hand, the game was effectively over, but Rietzl wasn't convinced.'I'm at 20, he doesn't have creatures. What could he possibly do?' The East Coaster joked. After a few more spells and a Remand, out came the handshake. Asher Hecht defeats Paul Rietzl 2-1"

"I just don't want to see running Sowers here." Naturally, the first Sower jumped off the top of Probasco's deck after one shuffle and a Top activation. The Tombstalker jumped in front of Tarmogoyf, and Probasco had the second Sower, just as Rietzl feared.
"I can't beat that draw," he said. "We need a Snuff Out here." Instead he found only a land, and with a quick handshake Andy Probasco advanced to the finals of Grand Prix Chicago."

"Paul was holding four lands and he could see his glass slippers about to Shatter. When Berkowitz played a Call of the Herd and flashed it back it all but sealed the deal. A face-up Firecat on the next turn left Paul at five. An Arrogant Wurm off the top wasn't the miracle Paul needed. The feature match erupted with jubilant CMU/TOGIT supporters while the YMG crowd drifted in to offer sympathetic words to a crestfallen Paul Rietzl."

"Mitamura was all smiles. He shook Rietzl's hand and went to talk with a crowd of excited Japanese players-he was in the Finals again!"

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When I returned home from my first Pro Tour Top Eight a little over a year ago, PT Los Angeles '98 Finalist, the legend "Tight" Tom Guevin sent me a series of instant messages. The conversation went something like this:

Guevin: Good job in Honolulu.
Guevin: It's about time.
Me: Thanks, Tom.
Me: Too bad Mitamura destroyed me.
Guevin: But it's all about championships here at Your Move Games. Third place is for losers.
Guevin: You embarrassed yourself, your country, and me.
Me: Yea?
Guevin: How did you not figure out the sideboarding? Take out your 1-toughness guys against his Vithian Stingers and you might have amounted to something.
Me: Hm.
Guevin: Now you're still a nobody.
Me: =(

Fast forward to the night before the Top Eight of Pro Tour Amsterdam. In playtesting and discussion with Jay Elarar and Hall of Famers Gabriel Nassif and Jelger Wiegersma, game one against my quarterfinal opponent Thomas Ma looked favorable. The combination of his Great Sable Stags and Blightnings created a high likelihood that his cascades would miss removal. I was going to be on the play, as a result of my higher seed. It seemed likely I'd be able to overwhelm him with some combination of Spectral Procession and Ranger of Eos, tempo him out with Steppe Lynx, or protect one of 8 Levelers with a timely Brave the Elements until my little guy could get there.

But Tom's words a year earlier stuck in my head. "How did you not figure out the sideboarding?" Naturally, against a deck with red burn spells and big creatures, I'd want to bring in my Burrenton-Forge Tenders and Path to Exiles, to clear the way for my smaller creatures to get through. Even the ability to Celestial Purge a key Putrid Leech seemed relevant. Problem was, I was getting crushed over and over. The necessity of Pathing his 2-drop meant that I was running into devastating cascades from both Bloodbraid and Bituminous Blast far too early as well as setting him up to be able to fire off a one-sided Wrath with his Jund Charms. I wasn't even getting the free wins one usually deserves against Jund as a result of their shaky manabase.

I cannot remember who it was who first suggested it, but the idea of boarding in 1 or 2 Relic of Progenitus was broached. Relic would be able to Shrink Tarmogoyf, prevent Kitchen Finks from persisting and could possibly take out the ability to return Punishing Fire if I could catch Ma tapped low or with too small a graveyard. We tried a few games and the Relics were surprisingly effective. 1 or 2 became 3. 3 became 4 as I literally begged my deck to let me draw them. Still, the risks were great. Nassif, ever the Devil's Advocate, worried that Ma, who was being assisted by Conley Woods, would catch on to our plan and take out his Tarmogoyfs and/or Finks, leaving me a nearly dead draw and 2 mana cycler. In addition, getting Relic online early meant giving up the ability to get out to an explosive start, initially thought important against the far more powerful spells of Jund. But the matchup was simply too terrible - I had to take a chance. Not only did I need them to not figure it out, I needed Ma to not adapt on Sunday.

I was initially disappointed at not being able to sample the clubs, coffee shops and cultural idiosyncrasies of the city of Amsterdam. That Saturday night, the club was brought to me. The Scars of Mirrodin release party included a DJ whom Gabriel Nassif described as "the best of all time" and a full (cash) bar. Many people, including fellow top-eighter Brian Kibler came by and brought me small white shots of sweet, sweet alcohol. He toasted to our bad matchups in the Quarters and we hoped to meet each other in the semifinals, somehow. The shot glasses were plastic, and less than 1 ounce each. Tiny. They were filled with something that wasn't quite Bailey's. I couldn't tell you what it was. They were delicious. Aggressive. Surprisingly disruptive.

We decided to call them, "White Weenies."

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Here is my story of Pro Tour Amsterdam.

Preparation

At some point during my preparation for this tournament, I conversed or played against Kai Budde, Ben Rubin, Brian Kibler, Tom Martell, Matt Sperling, Jay Elarar, Patrick Chapin, Eric Froehlich and many others. I did not so much have a set team as a group of Trusted Advisors with whom I explored the format. But I spent the most time chatting on AIM with HOF class of 2010 member Gabriel Nassif. We had come to many of the same conclusions independently. The combo decks were real, but easily disrupted and slow. Faeries were a non-factor (we didn't know if people had caught on to that). Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows had to be kept in mind at all times.

Interestingly, we both were having success in 2 and 8-man queues with aggressive white decks on Magic Online, centered around the core of Steppe Lynx, Honor of the Pure, Spectral Procession and Brave the Elements. But whereas I used Soltari Priest and Knight of the Meadowgrain in the two-drop slot, Nassif had found success with Knight of the White Orchid and Ethersworn Canonist. The Canonist made sense. When playing a deck like WW, the natural fear is that you are soft against the combo decks such as Ad Nauseam and Pyromancer's Ascension, not to mention cascade-based decks such as Living End and Restore Balance. Canonist neatly fixed many of those problems and is efficiently costed. Combined with an Honor of the Pure, it can simply "turn off" Punishing Fire, as they lose the ability to cast their burn spell, recur it and cast it again in the same turn.

Knight of the White Orchid took some more convincing. Again and again I tried to cut it from the deck and Nassif would force me to leave it in. Eventually I realized that this was not the old Extended. You weren't facing a Progenitus or Marit Lage on turn 2 every game. If you didn't have a third turn Spectral Procession, White Orchid into either Canonist or Honor of the Pure was a more than acceptable substitute. The decks were more "fair." The natural synergy with Steppe Lynx put the card over the top. He was too powerful not to play.

Much of the rest of the deck built itself. Fetchlands and Flagstones for our Steppe Lynxes. Figure of Destiny and Student of Warfare were simply the most effective 1 drops available. We tried many cards in the remaining 5 slots, including Baneslayer Angel, Ajani Goldmane, Elspeth Knight-Errant., Celestial Crusader, and various multi-color Lieges, before settling on 2 Ranger of Eos, 2 Mana Tithe, and 1 Path to Exile. I'd love to sit here and tell you about the science that led us to this decision. We were literally putting it together at the last moment. We had heard of a lot of Mystical Teachings/Cruel Ultimatum decks and reasoned that Mana Tithe could catch some people by surprise.

We specifically avoided come into play tapped lands such as Windbrisk Heights. Matt Sperling explains, "If you draw Windbrisk Heights and a fetchland, you have to lead the fetchland to get the Lynx out, now you only attack for 2 on turn 2, and guess what, you had to play a tapped land so you couldn't level your Figure of Destiny/Student of Warfare or Brave the Elements to counter a Punishing Fire. All that so that if you attacked with 3 creatures (a position from which the opponent will need to wrath or kill you) you could put another guy out and not change the game state."

In the sideboard, 4 Relic of Progenitus is a must. Many decks relied on creatures such as Tarmogoyf, Knight of the Reliquary and Kitchen Finks to defend themselves, all creatures made worse or irrelevant by an active Relic. As previously mentioned, Punishing Fire-Grove of the Burnwillows was a pillar of the format. Pyromancer's Ascension needs many things to go right to defeat an active Relic. And Living End needs to work extremely hard and play fair to beat one.

The Burrenton Forge-Tenders are obviously excellent versus Mono-Red burn and decks that attempt to Wipe Away your weenies with Volcanic Fallout or Jund Charm. Two interesting side uses are countering a lethal Conflagrate from Ad Nauseam and instantly removing any Bridge from Belows from a Dredge player's graveyard. Remember, you don't need a target to sacrifice Forge-Tender and they are a high-priority target with Ranger of Eos.

Path to Exile was our most important tool against Doran, the Siege Tower. It also was a nod to the RG Bloodbraid/Vengevine decks that had been doing well on Magic League. It was also a catch-all against other creature decks.

Rule of Law came in as Canonists 5-6 against Ascension, Ad Nauseam and Cascade combo decks. The Celestial Purge would be useful against Dorans, Putrid Leeches, Hellspark Elementals, and Pyromancer's Ascension. Lapse of Certainty was designed to give us one more turn to kill them against a critical Damnation, Cruel Ultimatum, Cryptic Command, Consume the Meek, or Ad Nauseam. Many players who we expected to burn with a game one Mana Tithe might play around it in games two and three and be especially unprepared for a harder counter. The Angel's Grace was the last card added and designed to let me tap low and still survive a massive Conflagrate or Scapeshift.

White Weenie by Paul Rietzl
Finished 1st Place at 2010 PT Amsterdam
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Ethersworn Canonist
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Knight of the White Orchid
2 Ranger of Eos
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Student of Warfare
Creatures [22]
4 Brave the Elements
4 Honor of the Pure
2 Mana Tithe
1 Path to Exile
4 Spectral Procession
Spells [15]
4 Arid Mesa
4 Flagstones of Trokair
1 Horizon Canopy
4 Marsh Flats
10 Plains (230)
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]


1 Angel's Grace
3 Burrenton Forge-Tender
1 Celestial Purge
1 Lapse of Certainty
3 Path to Exile
4 Relic of Progenitus
2 Rule of Law
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


I'll skip the normal tales of travel woes and poor airplane sleep. In fact, Russell Crowe's Robin Hood on the 11.5 hour flight was the only Ambien I needed.

Day 1

I do not keep notes on my matches, so this will be from memory.

Round 1 - Stefano Rampini (Italy) - RG Scapeshift
This match demonstrated to me that we had a real deck. Game one Canonist and Honor of the Pure kept his Punishing Fire at bay. Game two I got off to a fast start aided by Steppe Lynx and Knight of the White Orchid and eventually put him to 1 with no cards in hand and 7 lands out. He slowly slid his draw onto the table, Nassif-in-Kyoto style and announced that his only out was Scapeshift. After revealing the Mountain he drew, I was able to "still have all these" him with the Lapse of Certainty and Angel's Grace in my hand.

1-0 (2-0)

As an aside, I'm not sure the "still had all these," in which the victorious player reveals all the cool toys he could have used to dispose of his opponent and deal with their outs, is always unsporting. I know, for one, that I'd like to know if I was drawing dead, which I frequently am.

Back to the tournament.

Round 2 - Adam Rubinovitz (USA) - Ascension Combo
It's a sad fact of the modern Pro Tour that the established "Pros" would rather face a non-name player from the United States than almost anywhere else. This is true for me as well, but not for the normal reasons. I don't think the average American PTQ winner is a soft opponent. Quite the opposite. I'm quite sure I'd have trouble qualifying that way (and would likely not even try). I just don't feel like the average American is going to cheat me. Call it xenophobia, call it nativism, but don't call it naďvete. I've bee around the block a few times and I can tell you when I see a kid playing it straight. Adam, from New Jersey was playing in his first Pro Tour. I tried to regale him of tales of Neutral Ground, TOGIT, and YMG battling it out in the legendary PTQs of yesteryear, but I could tell they weren't registering. I explained how Jon Sonne stayed on the Pro Tour for 7 years without cashing, but he asked me who that was.

The match was largely defined by my ability to resolve Rule of Law in game two and multiple Relics in game three, rendering his win condition, Pyromancer's Ascension, moot. After the match, I told Adam not to worry, as the players on the Pro Tour were not as great as he probably feared.

Adam: "I'm sure they're better than me, though."
Me: "I highly doubt it."

2-0 (4-1)

Round 3 - Koutarou Ootsuka (Japan) - Ascension Combo
Koutarou and I played in San Juan, where he thoroughly outplayed me in ROE limited, cold-reading me for Staggershock, waiting until I tapped out for Ondu Giant and then slamming down Mammoth Umbra on a Skywatcher Adept, pointing at me and saying, "No Staggershock." In this match, we split the first two games, with a surprise Sower of Temptation giving him game two. Game three he was destroying me with a trio of Tarmogoyfs that threatened to give me my first loss. He then tapped two Grove of the Burnwillows, said clearly "Red-Red, 13," indicating that I would go from 11 to 13 and he would have RR in his mana pool. After a few moments, he said, "Red-Green." "You said, Red-Red, 13, it was clear," I asserted. He looked unhappy, but agreed, then cast Punishing Fire to bring me back to 11. He attacked in such a way that I was force to chump and left one blocker at home. I drew Relic of Progenitus, removed our graveyards, and the few creatures I had out took it from there.

I give him a lot of credit here. Yuuya Watanabe came up after and Koutarou pointed at himself and simply said, "mistake." Some less scrupulous Japanese players, such as Katsuhiro Mori or Lan D. Ho, have been known to chalk similar situations up to "the language barrier" and the stupid American "misunderstanding." Koutarou took the high road here and is squarely in the Watanabe-Tsumura-Fujita Japanese crowd of honor and respect in my book.

3-0 (6-2)

Round 4 - Yuri Kolomeyko (Ukraine) - Red Deck Wins
Finally, I play my supposed best matchup and win game one uneventfully. Game two I make my first major mistake, neglecting to Path his Keldon Marauders and play Knight of the White Orchid before attacking with Lynx, preferring to let him chump block (I had played a fetch that turn) and save Path for an incoming Ball Lightning. This logic, and line of play, is naturally atrocious, as White Orchid can block Ball Lightning all day. Thus I use the Path after playing my White Orchid and miss a critical two damage, attacking him with the Lynx down to 3. Yuri untaps, fires off two bolts and a Volcanic Fallout to bring himself to 1 and me to dead. Had I not erred, I'd be up 1-0-1. As it was, I mulliganed in the third game and never found my footing (or a Forge-Tender).

3-1 (7-3)

I had to find a way to center myself. Justin Bieber wasn't doing the trick. I instead looked to the Last Emperor.

"The one who doesn't fall never stands up. It happened that people made me an idol. But everybody loses. I'm just a human being. And if it's God's will next fight, I'll win." - Fedor Emelianenko, Russian Mixed Martial Artist.

That would be the last match, the last fight that I would lose in Amsterdam.

Round 5 - Ace Reunis (Australia) - RG Scapeshift

We played three largely noncompetitive games, with me winning the die roll and the player going first winning each. The only interesting part of the match was game two, when Ace fired off a lethal Scapeshift (by a lot) and I forced him to go through the motions, finding the mountains and choosing targets. This is a good practice for anyone to follow, as perhaps he will make an error, miscount, or not have enough mountains left in his deck. It takes on particular importance when a piece of your sideboard package is Angel's Grace. If we should be in the same position in Game Three, but this time I'm holding the spell, I don't want to have to remind him and tip him off that something might be amiss. Something as simple as saying, "All targeting me?" in game two will imprint that as the correct play in his mind and prevent him from seeing what's going on. That being said, I drew two Steppe Lynx and a bunch of fetches game three so it was irrelevant, but whatevs, you get the point.

4-1 (9-4)

After winning, I went outside to get some fresh air and clear my mind going into the draft. I ran into none other than the Dragonmaster, Brian Kibler, who was 5-0. I was happy for him, but also bitterly jealous. We discussed the various responses to the standard question, "Record?"

"2-3." (or worse)
"Oh man, sorry. Battle back!

"3-2."
"Not bad, man! Draft well!"

"4-1"
"Great job, buddy! Keep it up! Good luck!"

"5-0."
"**** you."

Everyone wants their friends to do well, doubly so if they are doing well. But seriously does Kibler have to start every tournament 5-0?

M11 draft is an odd duck. Blue is far and away the best color, but everyone is aware of that. White/x or Mono-white aggro decks give you a great chance of outpacing the various bombs, and the Black/Red Act of Treason/Fling/Bloodthrone Vampire/Viscera Seer deck has the most synergy. When you talk to the great players, they will have a strong attraction to one color or archetype (forcing), a weak attraction (preference), or none ("reading" the table, staying open, taking what's coming to them). I've found my greatest successes in limited have come when my attitude has been the latter, as it reflects a deeper understanding of the intricacies of each archetype and the ability to adapt to changing variables with each sequence of boosters.

That being said, my first draft pod was fairly difficult, with Olivier Ruel, Guillaume Matignon and Gaudenis Vidugiris as obvious roadblocks. I open my first booster and am confronted with a difficult choice: Royal Assassin or Pacifism. These cards are very close in power level - the Pacifism being a more aggressive card and not susceptible to red removal. The games that Royal Assassin wins you are more subtle. Oftentimes, you will not actually activate it, but it will prevent your opponent from effectively attacking. I took the full amount of time with this decision, but eventually settled on the Assassin. Second pick, I stared down at almost no playable cards, save a Garruk's Packleader and an Unsummon. While I'd certainly prefer a U/B tempo deck to G/B, the power level of the cards is simply not close. From there, I settled into a G/B deck, opening up a Garruk Wildspeaker in pack two and being passed a Liliana Vess. Pack Three I opened Doom Blade and Liliana Vess again, taking the removal spell - a pick I would have made even if I didn't already have a copy of the planeswalker. Pick two I filter through some good cards, including a Yavimaya Wurm that would combo nicely with my 2 Packleaders, and come to the last card in the pack - Chandra Nalaar.

Hm. Consistency or power? To this point, my two planeswalkers, three Black Knights and solid removal would argue for staying G/B. But at this difficult of a pod, not only did I feel like I needed to take some chances, but in order to 3-0 and put myself in a position to make a run on Day Two, I didn't want to have to face the red planeswalker. Here is the final deck I registered, about as powerful a draft deck as I have ever had. The only question would be the mana:

8 Swamp
7 Forest
2 Mountain
1 Rootbound Crag

3 Black Knight
1 Fauna Shaman
2 Garruk's Packleader
1 Liliana's Specter
1 Reassembling Skeleton
1 Royal Assassin
1 Spined Wurm
2 Sylvan Ranger

1 Assassinate
1 Chandra Nalaar
1 Corrupt
1 Cultivate
1 Diabolic Tutor
1 Doom Blade
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Liliana Vess
1 Sign in Blood

Relevant Sideboard: 1 Barony Vampire, 2 Llanowar Elves, 1 Rotting Legion, 1 Nether Horror, 1 Greater Basilisk, 1 Plummet, 1 Rise from the Grave, 1 Disentomb, 2 Stabbing Pain, 1 Giant Growth.

Round 6 - Adam Barnett (England) - W/U

Adam had drafted a solid, aggressive W/U deck topped off by a Sleep and a Triskelion. In game one it took ALL THREE planeswalkers before I was able to finally win on the back of Liliana Vess. Game two, my turn two Fauna Shaman started discarding Sylvan Rangers to find first Royal Assassin and then a never-ending stream of Black Knights and Garruk's Packleaders to overwhelm his defenses.

5-1 (11-4)

Round 7 - Gaudenis Vidugiris (USA) - W/U

This was a "fake," or uncovered feature match. Gaudenis was never really able to get much going in these games, as he was forced to use Unsummons to stop me from getting my Packleaders going. A funny thing happened in game one, when my Fauna Shaman first discarded a Sylvan Ranger to find Black Knight to start the assault and then later discarded a different Black Knight to find another Sylvan Ranger to find the second mountain to cast Chandra Nalaar.

6-1 (13-4)

Round 8 - Olivier Ruel (France) - W/U

That's right - three opponents, three W/U decks. Olivier crushed me game one on the back of an aggressive start and a timely Sleep. The next two games were a Whirlwind of Planeswalkers, Black Knights and finally a timely Corrupt to ensure I wouldn't die to a topdecked Sleep. What a day.

7-1 (15-5)

I went out to eat with a group including Rubin, Kibler, Martell, Brad Nelson, Tom Ross, and a few others. I had a disappointing Viennese Schnitzel and a "Big Beer" which really amounts to about a pint of Heineken. Ben was generous to pick up the tab. I went to bed early, quite a contrast to my normal Friday night routine.

In Honolulu last year, I lived in the "baller beach house" and took full advantage of the weather and the surroundings, destroying my brain and body with alcohol, Hawaiian food, and late night swims deep into the Pacific Ocean. My hands, legs and feet were cut raw by the razor-sharp coral, such that Randy Buehler declared I was "playing hurt," and an opponent early on day 2 asked me to "please stop bleeding on his cards." If gambling were legal, the odds on me being eaten by a shark were probably something like 6-1 against. Said another way, there was a 14% chance I would be eaten by a shark and NEVER HEARD FROM AGAIN. During one excursion I swam so far into the ocean that I lost sight of our house and swam back to another house entirely. I don't know how I made it home.

In Amsterdam, it was one beer and done for me and I drifted off to sleep before midnight.

Day 2

The only players I immediately recognized at Pod 2 were Japanese uber-star Yuuya Watanabe, my roommate for this tournament Ben Rubin, and Portuguese player Marcio Carvalho. Everyone on tour knows how young Marcio likes to help himself in matches. A quick google search for "Marcio Carvalho cheater" yields over 500,000 results. He has been banned in the past. I did not want to have to play him. The mental energy one must expend to defend themselves from known cheaters is exhausting. I miss the days of cowboy judges disqualifying players at the smallest hint of impropriety.

I've always tried to play the game the right way. Clean. Cheaters disgust me.

Anyways, to the draft. I opened a pack containing two good white cards and Crystal Ball, a card I like, but don't love. Passing to Watanabe and knowing the Japanese preference for white decks, I took the Ball and passed a clear signal. He had opened Royal Assassin to my left, Carvalho was red on my right, and my draft was a mess. I had no early drops, my overall creature quality was terrible. Here's the final result:

9 Swamp
8 Mountain
1 Dragonskull Summit

2 Berserkers of Blood Ridge
1 Canyon Minotaur
2 Fiery Hellhound
1 Gargoyle Sentinel
1 Gravedigger
1 Howling Banshee
1 Juggernaut
1 Liliana's Specter

1 Act of Treason
3 Assassinate
1 Corrupt
1 Crystal Ball
1 Diabolic Tutor
1 Doom Blade
1 Fling
1 Necrotic Plague
1 Pyroclasm
1 Whispersilk Cloak

Relevant Sideboard: 1 Bog Raiders, 1 Combust, 1 Duress, 1 Lava Axe, 1 Stabbing Pain

I told myself as long as I could get ONE match, I'd be alive going into Constructed with a chance to make a run.

Round 9 - Yuuya Watanabe (Japan) - B/U

Game one I manage to get some early damage in but Yuuya stabilizes and fires off a pair of Foresees. On turn eight, however, he taps out for Stormtide Leviathan, giving me the window to show him a Fling and Corrupt in my hand that would do the final 9 damage. Game two Yuuya badly stumbles on mana, but stabilizes with a Royal Assassin. I Duress him and see 2 Redirect, a Negate, a Sign in Blood and a Nightwing Shade, taking Sign in Blood. I then chump-attack with my Liliana's Specter, which he promptly kills. Thus when I go to Assassinate his Royal Assassin (oh the irony), he is force to Negate it as there are no legal targets to Redirect it to. This allows me to resolve Whispersilk Cloak, which finds a buddy in Berserkers of Blood Ridge and Yuuya dies in 5 turns.

8-1 (17-5)

Round 10 - Kevin Grove (The Netherlands) - R/B

This is covered here:

9-1 (19-6)

Round 11 - Ben Rubin (USA) - W/U

Forced to battle my roommate for this trip, at least I had faded Carvalho and knew I wouldn't have to watch Ben's hands at all times. We had an exceptionally fun and close three-game match, decided in game three by my drawing a critical 6th land to Corrupt his Stormfront Pegasus for 2. It always sucks to play your friends in tournaments, but this victory meant I was in phenomenal position to make my second top eight. Somehow I had 3-0'd a tough pod with a slow, clunky deck.

10-1 (21-7)

And back to constructed! I knew our WW deck could get me the 2-2 record I required, but I really wanted to get the wins out of the way early. I have been known to…choke in the past.

Round 12 - Brad Nelson (USA) - Doran

This is covered here:

Brad is, quite simply, an extremely technically proficient player. Making outlandish bluffs against him, as I did in this match, is a fool's errand. He simply does not know how to make a mistake. Somehow, I win despite myself.

11-1 (23-8)

Round 13 - Guillaume Wafo-Tapa (France) - Teachings Control

The first game I get to go first, and handily defeat his mulligan. I had some bad intel on Wafo-Tapa's list - namely that he didn't have access to Volcanic Fallout after sideboarding and neglect to bring in Forge-Tenders. Naturally he follows up a turn 3 Fallout with a turn 5 Baneslayer Angel and we were on to game three. Of course, here I get my best draw of the tournament.

Turn One: Plains, Steppe Lynx.
Wafo: Creeping Tar Pit
Turn Two: Fetch, Crack it, Attack for 4, Steppe Lynx, Figure of Destiny.
Wafo: Land, Smother a Steppe Lynx.
Turn Three: Fetch, Crack it, Level Figure, Attack for 6, Burrenton Forge-Tender, Student of Warfare.
Wafo: Dead.

And just like that, all I needed was a draw.

12-1 (25-9)

Rounds 14-16 I took intentional draws with Marijn Lybaert, Michael Jacob and Brian Kibler, in the process costing myself the #1 seed but helping some of my friends make top eight. This would of course, only be relevant if I actually played Brad Nelson in the finals, and come on, what are the chances of that?!

12-1-3 (25-9)

As previously mentioned, I spent the evening testing my quarterfinal matchup which proved anything but unwinnable. Thankfully, no one told me that Jund had over a 90% win rate against WW during the swiss, as that may have discouraged me.

Brian Kibler, Ben Rubin and I explored Rembrandt Square for a while and had a few more "Big Beers" before finally settling on this little corner bar with two women standing outside. Ben, with an array of worldly scarves adorning his neck and upper body, approached them with a mixture of Southern California cool and Soho swagger.

Ben: "How is this place?"
Woman #1: "I don't think it's your type."
Ben: "Maybe you're my type."
Woman #2: "You're a lesbian?"
Ben: "I'm afraid I don't follow."
Woman #1: "Unless you're a lesbian, find another bar."

I get it. Europe is supposed to be this advanced, progressive culture with their modern attitudes on religion, drug laws, and freedom. But when three white men are denied entrance to a bar because of our sexual orientation? I went to bed dismayed. Amsterdam was not the wild social experiment I had thought.

Day 3

Quarterfinals - Thomas Ma (USA) - Jund

The match played out much as I had hoped and is described here.

In the first game, Thomas forgot that the Brave the Elements-Green I had cast to counter Maelstrom Pulse would also allow my "chump-blockers" to survive his alpha-strike and counter-attack for the win. Top eight jitters, I suppose. The next two were dominated by multiple Relics of Progenitus, including two in the 1-land hand I kept in game three that effectively contained his Tarmogoyfs and Punishing Fires, allowing me to kill him at my leisure. Still, congratulations to Thomas for making top eight in his FIRST Pro Tour. An amazing accomplishment and a good guy.

13-1-3 (28-9)

I walked with Kai to the top eight luncheon and filled my plate with some Tuna, a slice of Pizza and a small salad. Everyone around me laughed and told jokes and stories. I buried my head in Michael Jacob's Teachings list and made a list of his spells by casting cost to help myself imagine what each turn would be like. Turn 1 he'd be playing a CIPT land or casting Lightning Bolt. Turn two, Terminate, Mana Leak and Punishing Fire came online, etc. I did my best to memorize his list and be prepared for each particular phase of the game.

In Honolulu, I had gorged myself with cookies and told anyone who would listen that Mitamura was "going down." What a difference a year makes.

Semifinals - Michael Jacob (USA) - Teachings Control

Here is the coverage of this match.

Michael was one of a few players in consideration for "Best player without a PT Top eight" before this tournament. Game one came down to one critical turn where, with two cards in hand, he had to decide whether to cast Jace and bounce the Student of Warfare that threatened Level 7 next turn or Cruel Ultimatum me, tapping out. Let's look at each play:

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
-If I have Brave the Elements (I have 4), he is dead on the spot.
-He is not guaranteed to win if this line of play works. I may draw Spectral Procession the next turn, rendering his Cruel useless.

Cruel Ultimatum
-If I have Mana Tithe (2), he is dead on the spot.
-If Cruel Resolves, Michael is a massive favorite (over 90%) to win the game.

On balance, barring some sort of physical tell, Michael MUST cast Ultimatum. The play is not close, in my opinion. As it was, I had the best Mana Tithe in history and took the game.

Game two I was able to resolve multiple Honors of the Pure and my Ranger of Eos survived Consume the Meek. I had a scary turn where he cast Preordain twice to find a copy of Damnation, but to no avail.

In game three an early Forge-Tender saved my army from his Fallout, but he was able to reset the board with Damnation not long after, tapping out save a lone Grove of the Burnwillows. I drew my card for the turn, and hastily played Spectral Procession before casting a third copy of Honor of the Pure. He, of course, Lightning Bolted one of my 3/3 flyers, buying him a critical extra turn to find answers. However, my deck blessed me with consecutive spells off the top and just like that I was in the finals.

14-1-3 (31-9)

Waiting for me in the Finals was the hottest player in the world, the American Magic Online legend himself.

Finals - Brad Nelson (USA) - Doran

Here is the coverage of this match.

The most interesting game of the finals was certainly game one, where Brad put me under an enormous amount of pressure with a Tarmogoyf that was already 6/7 on the third turn. On the penultimate turn of the game, I had the ability to pump my Figure of Destiny and Threaten lethal damage, unless Brad's last card in hand was his one maindeck copy of Slaughter Pact, in which case I would just die. I instead opted to Ranger of Eos up another chump blocker and say go. Brad did indeed have the Slaughter Pact, but failed to draw another removal spell to clear the way and I was on my way.

The next two games I had the all-important turn 1 Steppe Lynx, backed up by a seemingly never-ending stream of Fetchlands and Flagstones. In the third game, when Brad missed a land drop, I rechecked my hand, which was excellent and let out a deep breath, saying to myself:

"Don't screw this up."

And for once, I didn't.

When I played the second Honor of the Pure and Brad extended the hand to offer congratulations, I was overcome by a variety of emotions. Relief - that all the years of dedication and all the losses I had endured finally amounted to something. Shock - that I had managed a 9-0 run through one of the toughest top eights ever assembled in the largest individual Pro Tour ever. But mostly, I felt gratitude. Gratitude towards all the great players who have let me play their decks, bounce questions off them, taught me how to sideboard and focus and win. Gratitude towards the pioneers of the game who toiled for much less money and fame. Gratitude towards my parents, who drove me to tournaments hundreds of miles away. To my girlfriend Kat, who Endures the long stretches that I take these mini-vacations without her. And mostly, gratitude toward the game of Magic which has allowed me to explore the world and meet so many amazing people from a variety of cultures and taught me important life lessons.

Magic has always had a place in my life, sometimes a central place and other times it's been on the periphery. But I always come back to it.

And I always will.

Thanks for reading,

Paul



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