Extended RUG at GP Atlanta (9th)

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
1/27/2011 9:58:00 AM
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This week I have a few related topics I'd like to touch on. First I'd like to offer a method I periodically use in order to keep my tournament performances in perspective. If you ever find that you are not having the tournament success you would like to be having, this method could be just what you are looking for. I would also like to talk about Grand Prix Atlanta and the deck I piloted to a 9th place finish, which was only 2 cards off from the 75 I wrote about last week, including a matchup analysis and sideboard guide, along with a handful of cards from Mirrodin Besieged that I think should be tested in the deck. Finally as an appendix I talk briefly about Standings Math and how one single error can end up costing you a top 8 birth.



Reflection as a Tool for Generating More Wins

If the goal is to improve as a Magic player and to thereby win more tournaments, then I find it to be a worthwhile exercise to reflect on your recent tournament performances. Reflecting in this way should give you a somewhat objective way to estimate where you are as a Magic player lately and a way to measure how your tournament preparation methods are working out. You can then take steps to improve in the areas that need improvement.

After this past weekend I had some time to reflect on my recent Grand Prix performances and I came to a few realizations about where I am as a Magic player as well as some of the advantages and shortcomings of my preparation methods.

Since the beginning of last season, I played in four constructed Grand Prix, and these were my results:

Atlanta – Extended – 9th place
Columbus – Legacy – 10th place
Washington, D.C. – Standard – 105th place
Houston – Extended – 15th place

Average finish – 35th place

Three top sixteen finishes out of four tries is pretty good, especially if you consider that I lost playing for top 8 in the final round in each of these three tournaments.

I prepared for all but Columbus by playing a bunch of matches on Magic Online and some individual testing in person. For Columbus I mainly prepared in person with Ervin Tormos since I do not own a Legacy deck online. I have to conclude that my Constructed GP preparation methods have been good so far and I plan to continue them, with the small addition of playing more last minute matches in person against other well-prepared players piloting expected decks (Like I did against AJ Sacher in Houston, Brian Kibler and Steve Sadin in Columbus, and Ben Stark in Atlanta).

Now compare these results to those of my past four limited Grand Prix – failed to make Day 2 even once. My methods have been mainly drafting online and some drafting in person against other pros. I win a lot more than I lose in preparation, but the problem is not that I am losing Grand Prix drafts – it is that I am not even making it to the draft portions of the tournament!

I lost in the final round playing for Day 2 almost every time, so it wasn't that I was way off in my preparation. What is more likely the case is that I was spending not enough time testing Sealed Deck as opposed to Draft. My plan for improvement then is to practice more Sealed Deck tournaments online prior to a Limited Grand Prix, striking more of a balance between the two limited formats.

The one time I did focus on Sealed Deck, I won the TCGplayer 5K Open in Texas the following weekend. This leads me to believe there is some promise to this method and that it is worthwhile to continue.

For what it's worth, I would recommend reflecting on your own tournament performances and preparation methods so that you can be in a good position to analyze your results and failures and to thereby make improvements similar to the ones I plan to make for myself.

Grand Prix Atlanta Results

In last week's article I provided the deck I would later use at the Grand Prix, along with individual card explanations and brief matchup overviews. After some last minute testing before the tournament, I moved the 4th Spreading Seas to the maindeck and replaced the two Inferno Titans with a Deprive and a 3rd Negate (both in the sideboard). I kept the other 73/75 of the deck the same.

RUG Seas by Craig Wescoe
Finished 9th - 16th Place at 2011 GP Atlanta
Main Deck
Sideboard
3 Frost Titan
3 Kitchen Finks
4 Lotus Cobra
Creatures [10]
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Planeswalkers [6]
2 Burst Lightning
4 Cryptic Command
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Preordain
4 Spreading Seas
Spells [18]
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Flooded Grove
2 Forest (154)
5 Island (148)
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain (152)
2 Raging Ravine
4 Scalding Tarn
Lands [26]
Deck Total [60]


2 Burst Lightning
3 Deglamer
1 Deprive
2 Double Negative
4 Great Sable Stag
3 Negate
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


After playing in an Extended Win-a-Box (since the prize payout is much better than a trial when you already have 3 byes) against 3 consecutive Tuscaloosa players, playing a few games against Ben Stark and his RG Valakut deck, and battling Jonathan Medina and his UW Control deck, I decided I wanted a few more Counterspells and the fourth maindeck Spreading Seas, mostly for the Valakut matchup, and that I didn't need so much hate for the aggressive decks (i.e. the Inferno Titans).

As it turned out, I played against the following decks (and opponents):

Rd 4 (Win): RG Valakut (Wesley Wise)
Rd 5 (Win): Faeries (Andrejs Prost)
Rd 6 (Win): RG Valakut (Tom Ross)
Rd 7 (Win): Faeries (Matt Nass)
Rd 8 (Win): UG Valakut (Andrej Selivra)
Rd 9 (Win): Jund (Charles Gindy)
Rd 10 (Win): Faeries (Ari Lax)
Rd 11 (Win): RG Valakut (Adam Pannone)
Rd 12 (Loss): Faeries (Owen Turtenwald)
Rd 13 (Win): RG Valakut (Phil Samms)
Rd 14 (ID): Faeries (John Runyon)
Rd 15 (Loss): RG Valakut (Ben Stark)

All things considered, some pretty tough competition (half my opponents were pros), but not the most varied combination of decks: 6 Valakuts, 5 Faeries, and 1 Jund. I went 5-1 against Valakut, 3-1-1 against Faeries, and 1-0 against Jund.

Last week I predicted the decks comprising the top of the field would mostly consist of (roughly, in order):

Faeries
Naya
Jund
Valakut (both RG and Wargate versions)

And I picked the following to have an uncharacteristically big weekend:

Matt Nass playing Elves
My version of RUG

The top 8 consisted of 3 Faeries decks, 3 Valakut decks, a UW deck, and a Jund deck, which closely mirrored my own individual pairings (not unsurprisingly since I was paired against 5 of the 8 players during the Swiss rounds). The only deck I overestimated was Naya. Not sure why it was under-represented since it has strong game against Faeries and can be made to have good game against Valakut.

As for my sleeper picks, Matt Nass did have a strong weekend, finishing in 31st place, albeit receiving one of his losses from me in round 7 and despite not playing Elves (for once in his life). My version of RUG also had a strong weekend, placing 9th in the main event and 8th in the hands of Alex Bertoncini in the Sunday PTQ.

Now that we've eaten our vegetables and done our crunches, time for the real reason you clicked on the article: sideboard plans!

Matchup Analysis and Sideboard Guide

Faeries

+4 stag, +3 Deglamer, +1 Negate, +1 Deprive
-3 frost, -4 seas, -1 garruk, -1 gorge

If you can land a turn 3 stag, they're usually in a lot of trouble. Your backup plan is to just go about your business with cobra into walker and/or finks. Usually when you side out the titans you want to cut a land so as not to get flooded without a way to utilize the extra mana. Deglamer is a great answer to Bitterblossom, and when they don't have Bitterblossom you're usually winning. The times when they don't have any targets for Deglamer and you have Deglamer are offset by the fact that when they have Bitterblossom and you don't have Deglamer, you're probably losing (unless you have a strong board position, usually involving at least one stag). Jace usually comes down to save the day when you have multiple Deglamers and no targets. Jace always saves the day.

Valakut (all versions)

+3 Deglamer, +1 Deprive, +3 Negate, +2 Double Negative
-2 Burst Lightning, -2 bolt, -3 frost, -1 garruk, -1 gorge

In this matchup I can see leaving in the gorge because you often always want to keep mana untapped, but for the sake of not breaking the rule I just laid down, I will recommend boarding out the land when you board out the titans. The basic plan is to get a quick clock on the board (Cobra or Finks) and then sit behind a wall of counter-magic. Deglamer is great against Khalni Heart Expedition and Prismatic Omen. If they run Oracle of Mul Daya and/or Vexing Shusher I would recommend leaving in a 3rd bolt. Just make sure you still have enough threats to reliably put them on a clock. Otherwise they'll eventually run you out of counters and kill you since most of their win conditions are actually just “win the game” upon resolution.

Naya

+2 Burst Lightning
-1 seas, -1 frost

In my testing I went 5-0 against Naya, yet I did not face it once at the Grand Prix. I still believe this is a good matchup for the deck since we have enough burn spells to keep their Fauna Shamans and mana production from getting out of control. We then have a better midgame in the form of walkers, cryptic, and frost titans. Compound this with the times when you just blow them out with a bolt for their turn one mana dork followed immediately by a Spreading Seas to completely halt their development. The only “free wins” Naya has against us are when they have Fauna and we don't have the answer to it. There are also the times when they snap kill cobra and you're stuck on 3 lands, but that doesn't happen often since they have no way to stop us from casting Preordain to draw out of Mana Screw.

Mono Red

+3 Negate, +2 burst, +1 Deprive
-3 frost, -2 garruk, -1 Misty Rainforest

This matchup was the main reason I ran finks over Vendilion Clique and Burst Lightning over Arc Trail in the board. If the deck declines in popularity, it's possible that going back to clique is the right call. Having the early red mana is extra important in this matchup, so I keep in all the red mana sources. Also, be sure not to ever tap out of red mana when you have burn spell in hand. Keeping one mana open is a small price to pay for not having to take a Ball Lightning to the chin or having to make terrible blocks to stay out of burn range. Every time I think it's safe I end up paying the price. Unless you feel compelled to learn your lesson the hard way, take my word for it, play conservatively.

Jund

+2 stag, +2 Double Negative
-2 cryptic, -1 jace, -1 frost

I beat the lone jund deck I faced all tournament (Charles Gindy), who happened to be the highest finishing jund player in the tournament. Double Negative is a way to counter a Bloodbraid Elf without losing cards advantage, so it basically serves a similar role to that of Cryptic Command but for 1 cheaper. Stags are great because bolt is their only answer to it, but unlike in the faeries matchup they are not the stoneblade, just a solid card. I would side in more of them but then I would have too many 1-for-1 cards and not enough ways to keep up with their card advantage spells. The matchup usually involves two long attrition battles and one blowout game where they just getting spreading seas'd out of the game before it ever gets going.

Mythic

+2 burst, +2 Double Negative, +1 Deprive
-3 seas, -2 finks

The finks are mostly in there just to protect the planeswalkers, and the seas mainly just to keep colonnade in check. Neither of these functions is particularly relevant, and I would rather have more ways to kill their early creatures and ways to counter their Sovereigns of Lost Alara. I have not tested this matchup enough to know whether this plan is optimal, so it's entirely likely that there is a better plan to beat mythic. This one seems fine though and is the one I would begin with.

You might be questioning why Frost Titan is in the deck if I board him out in so many matchups. Well, he wins a lot of games when the opponent does not expect him. I beat Tom Ross (RG Valakut) when he cast Primal Command to put Jace on top of my deck and to search out Primeval Titan. I simply landed Frost Titan and tapped down one of his green sources and he was never able to recover. Also he is your only way to deal with cards like Sun Titan in the U/W matchup and your best way to avoid getting hit by the 6-7 mana sorceries that end the game right away in the 5cc matchup. I like Frost Titan a lot as a generic answer to a lot of problems, but post-board you get to bring in specific cards tailored to better handle specific threats, so taking out your generic answers is usually the best plan.

What does Mirrodin Besieged have to offer Extended RUG?

Mid
Low
 Green Sun's Zenith
$5.78
$3.47
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FlyingMonkey Games 1 $3.47
Soundthedrumsofwar 1 $3.56
Packfresh Nashville 1 $4.00
Liberty Comics 2 $4.00
Card Monster Games 1 $4.27
North Valley Games 2 $4.28
The Game Shoppe 1 $4.35

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There are a few cards that stand out to me as cards that would improve the deck. The first is Green Sun's Zenith. If I included it, I would likely also include a Birds of Paradise and an Acidic Slime in the maindeck, along with a couple bullet targets in the sideboard. I would likely also include a singleton stag main over one of the finks so you can tutor out the stag against faeries.

Mid
Low
 Phyrexian Hydra
$0.78
$0.22
Store QTY Price  
prodeck games 1 $0.30
Average Games 1 $0.36
Western Ohio Gaming 1 $0.47
Mom's Basement Games 1 $0.50
Kher Keep 1 $0.53
Full Grip Games 1 $0.54
Malcolms Store 1 $0.54

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Phyrexian Hydra might also be a nice card in matchups where it attacks twice for the win. Ramping into this guy on turn 3 off a cobra can be pretty sweet against, say, a deck trying to win with Prismatic Omen.

Mid
Low
 Sword of Feast and Famine
$26.27
$16.53
Store QTY Price  
asofad 1 $23.21
Wizards Keep Games 1 $24.56
mtgmazza 1 $24.63
Dream Wizards 1 $24.75
OmahaMTG321 1 $24.85
Spellhold Games 1 $24.97
Through The Decades 6 $24.98

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Sword of Feast and Famine might be a nice trick to accelerate your clock while being able to counter any sorcery-speed spell your opponent is trying to kill you with. The discard effect as well as the increased size of the clock each force the opponent to start playing out their spells in hand instead of casually building up their mana for one big turn. This can be particularly useful against RG Valakut I think, assuming you can stick a threat early.

Mid
Low
 Phyrexian Revoker
$1.25
$0.69
Store QTY Price  
Canvas Studios 2 $0.70
Mom's Basement Games 2 $0.80
DNA Comics and Games 1 $0.81
Ancestral Resale 3 $0.85
Liberty Comics 1 $0.87
TeamDeeJay 2 $0.87
Gamers Refuge 1 $0.89

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Lastly, Phyrexian Revoker is the little Pithing Needle that could. Like Pithing Needle, he Threatens to turn off whatever the opponent plans to use. He seems particularly interesting against khlani heart expedition if they don't have the bolt immediately. I almost ran the needle until I decided Spreading Seas was a better overall card. It's possible the revoke is simply better than Spreading Seas and deserves maindeck inclusion. Then again, this would seem to make the deck too vulnerable to Volcanic Fallout.

I won't be paying much attention to Extended anymore since I do not plan to attend Grand Prix Kobe, which is the only Extended tournament left that I am eligible to play in. Instead I will be focusing mainly on Standard, a format most readers probably prefer anyway. I still believe RUG is a good choice for the PTQs going forward. It may have to mix things up a bit and experiment with some of the cards from the new set in order to maintain its surprise factor. Only time will tell, and at this point the deck's fate is out of my hands and it is up to the PTQ grinders to determine whether the deck was a fluke or a breakout sleeper.

Appendix: Doing Standings Math

In the penultimate round of the Grand Prix I accepted my opponent's offer of a draw, thinking a draw would virtually lock me into top 8. I had started the tournament 11-0 and had the highest breakers of anyone else in the tournament. So worst case scenario I would be the highest ranked 12-2-1 and so unless there was a clean break at 13-2 (which almost never happens), I would make top 8 even with a last round loss.

After the round I sat down to do the math to find out for sure whether I was a lock for top 8, and to my chagrin I was not. I had failed to account for the fact that Ari and Owen would each get paired down in the last round and so if either of them lost, Christian Valenti won, I lost, and none of the other 36-point matches ended in a draw (and no one gets disqualified), I would finish 9th. As it turned out, all the things that had to go wrong went wrong in the final round and I finished outside of top 8.

If I had played and lost my last two rounds and in retrospect could have drawn myself in, I would look foolish. Likewise, if I took the draw and everything that had to go wrong went wrong, I look foolish. Otherwise I look like a genius. It was a calculated risk that did not pan out, and one that feels a bit extra disheartening because I left my fate out of my own hands.

Had I been given more time to properly do the math (instead of the 3 minutes or so they give before pairings go up), I would have realized it was about 50% either way, so in that case I would have rather put my fate in my own hands instead of in the hands of others. But either way it was a close decision and 9th place out of 1200+ participants is not a bad way to start the 2011 season.

See you in New Orleans next week!

Craig Wescoe
Nacatls4Life on twitter



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