About Richard Bland
Richard is an English pro
player. He started playing Magic on a foreign exchange trip to Germany
in the dark days of Darksteel, and was running sick homebrew Shared Fate
decks at FNM while everyone else was playing affinity mirrors. While he
has learned better since then, he still retains a soft spot for combo
decks of all hues.
- Platinum Pro Player
- 98 Lifetime Pro Points
- 2nd Worlds 2011
- 2nd GP San Diego 2011
- 3rd GP Barcelona 2011
- 3rd GP Madrid 2010
- 2nd Great Britain Nationals 2010
Smells Like Team Spirit - GP San Jose and Pro Tour Seattle
I’ve just returned from an
eventful couple of weeks stateside, and there are so many things to talk about.
Let’s get to it.
I flew out early on the
week before the Pro Tour to take part in Grand Prix San Jose, and the
triumphant return of the team limited format to the GP circuit. Joining me
there were the other 5 members of my regular PT testing group: Daniel Royde,
Eduardo Sajgalik, Andreas Nordahl, Sveinung Bjornerud and Andy Ganz.
GP San Jose
The flight out was
memorable for all the wrong reasons. Having the ‘talent’ of being able to fall
asleep pretty much anywhere and the key window seat, I was asleep before the
plane even left the runway at Heathrow. When I woke an hour or two later, I found
myself with my head and arm feeling like they were frozen to the window of the
plane. The side of the plane and the area around it had become bitterly cold
for some reason and I felt like death. After moving to an empty center seat and
burying myself in my jackets and some blankets, I spent the rest of the flight
shivering intensely and downing painkillers, trying to remember what warmth
felt like. Thankfully, once we landed and I got to breathe some non-recycled
air and walk around properly, I felt much better. Definitely one of my
least-pleasant travelling experiences of the past few years – I figure the
United flight must have been on an older model jet that didn’t have
particularly good insulation.
I was fully recovered just
in time for the GP, and it was a good thing I was, as the event was
staggeringly huge; 571 teams. Day one started on-time and the round had no
significant delays, but when there were eleven rounds on day one, all the
efficiency in the world can’t help things. The last round finished around 1am,
and with an 8-3 record, the team of Eduardo, Dan and myself failed to make the
cut. Andy, Andreas and Sveinung did make it through, however, and finished in
The team limited format
itself is great fun, and pools are challenging and rewarding to build. Our pool
left us with many powerful Golgari and Izzet cards, no Rakdos at all, and a
smattering of powerful Selesnya and Azorious. Our decks ended up as Izzet
aggro, with multiple copies of one of my personal favorite commons, Pursuit of Flight, a Golgari control deck with removal, solid creatures, a good late game
plan with 3 Ogre Jailbreaker + scavenge, and the infamously unfun rare Pack Rats. The third deck was a cobbled together Wgu build with such platinum hits
as Seller of Songbirds, multiple Selesnya Sentries, Concordia Pegasus and other
highly mediocre men. The deck did have a few bombs to give it a chance though,
with Collective Blessing and Angel of Serenity being the most common way to
make up for my rather poor creature quality. I played this deck of castoffs and
managed a respectable 5-4 record, though I felt I could have done better.
With European Team event GP
Utrecht scheduled in March, I have mixed feelings about the team format. It was
a really fun event to play, and I had a great time team drafting and playing
sealed with friends, and getting to shout at Dan Royde to stop being terrible
and just play the damn card legally in an event is priceless, but with San Jose
attracting roughly 150% of the usual GP turnout for the area and hitting 11
rounds, Utrecht looks like it might be a very long tournament indeed. The
2-round drafts on day 2 really cap the day 2 rounds at 6 and we might be left
with up to 12 rounds on day 1. With such late finishes on the Saturday and early
starts on Sunday, this structure doesn’t really seem feasible in the
long-term. I talked to a good number of players, judges and Wizards’
staff over the weekend and the suggestions of how to deal with the attendance
problem were varied and interesting. Some were in favor of 3-day events, others
on holding multiple GPs in the same area to divide the playerbase. Other
suggestions included scrapping teamdraft day 2’s in favor of more sealed,
changing the top-8 requirements to the double-elimination x-1-1 rather than the
current x-2-1, or even scrapping byes altogether in favor of awarding
matchpoints to those who would have byes, allowing tournaments to virtually
eliminate the bye-rounds. All of the solutions have problems, and I’m honestly
not sure how Wizards is looking to solve them, but when a significant portion
of the players aren’t playing a single round until 4pm, or when you have people
playing 20 rounds on under 5 hours sleep, or 1am finishes, you have a problem
that isn’t going to sort itself out on its own.
Pro Tour Return to Ravnica
The trip to Seattle was
less painful all round, and due to our super organizational skills we managed
to take three different flights between the six of us, and yet, due to
coincidental delays, arrived within a few minutes of each other. The house we
rented was impressively decked out, with 5 bedrooms over 3 floors, 3 bathrooms
including one with multiple sinks and a TV.
Seattle itself was a
surprisingly steep city. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco, and I can’t
imagine how bad it must get for pedestrians and drivers alike once the weather
gets really bad. Our 7th team member, team Scotland’s Brad Barclay
joined us and we got right into the most fun (and therefore the most important)
part of testing. Lots and lots and lots of drafts.
Our limited testing threw
up a number of interesting results. Firstly, that I was really not good at
winning in this format. I failed to 3-0 a single one of the dozen drafts we
did. Another key thing we learned was that the format was aggressive, both in the
sense that it was fast, and that there wasn’t a good way to play control. Cheap
removal was almost non-existent and making big guys was the best way to get
through the playable 0/4 walls and 3/3 tokens that were commonplace.
Manafixing was quite
limited, with the new guildgates being nowhere close to the old bouncelands in
power level and only really useful for splashing a third color, and not even
that great for doing that, as the enters the battlefield tapped ability could
be quite clunky in multiples. Transguild Promenade was potentially very slow
and clunky, and wasn’t enough to make multi-colored control decks viable. When
compounded with the already slow duals and lack of cheap removal to offset the
tempo-loss it makes the control decks heavily reliant on bombs to not just roll
over to any average aggressive start. Cards like the guildmages, Scavenge
cards, Golgari Decoy, Pursuit of Flight, Deviant Glee and Common Bond make it
too difficult for the control deck to build a defensive wall to hide behind and
cast big card-advantage spells, though Trestle Troll helps a little.
We came to the conclusion
that, despite being a gold-colored format, you really want to settle into a
single guild as quickly as possible, with only a minimum splash of a third color,
if any. We recorded the results of our drafts by guild, and by the end of the
week it was clear that Selesyna had the highest win percentage, with over 60%
of matches won, followed closely by the mid-50 win percentages of Rakdos,
Golgari and Izzet. The big loser was Azorius, with a mere 38% win percentage
against the field. This felt in line with our general feel of the format, and
most of us agreed that we would prefer to be Selesnya or Rakdos if possible.
Our constructed testing
wasn’t as involved as in previous Pro Tours. Modern is a large format, and
Return to Ravnica, while introducing several new cards and strategies, wouldn’t
have anywhere near the impact it would on a much smaller format. We tested
online in the week leading up to the Pro Tour, and tried new cards in various
decks and ran our gauntlet decks against them to get an idea of which decks
were likely to show up and which decks would beat them. We found that the most
important decks in the format were what we dubbed the ‘big 7’ Jund, U/W, Affinity,
UWR Delver, Scapeshift, RG ‘tron, and Birthing Pod.
We found that Jund was a strongly-performing
deck all across the board, strong against random combo and aggro, as well as Affinity.
It had bad matchups against RG ‘tron and U/W, and the mirror was on the random
side. I liked UW a lot for its strong Jund and combo matchups and its
resilience to hate after sideboard, in that there really wasn’t very much that
opponents could sideboard against it. Affinity was somewhat of a problem, and
RG ‘Tron was a very difficult matchup, but I anticipated a field of combo and
Jund. Half the team agreed with this outlook on the metagame, and four of the
seven of us settled on Blue/White. Dan and Sveinung opted for Jund, looking for
a better game against the aggro matchups. And Andy played Storm, as Andy always
does when he can, and there was nothing he could do to convince us to play it
nor we convince him away from it. We were confident he had the best version of
storm out there, but it was still a little too inconsistent and vulnerable to Jund Charms, Relic of Progenitus and other incidental hate that would be
commonly played in sideboards.
Here is the final list I
|Converted Mana Cost|
The sideboarding for this
deck is fairly intuitive.
-2 Mana Leak +2 Threads of Disloyalty
There’s not much need for a
big sideboard against Jund – so many of your cards match up well against theirs
at all stages of the game. Everything you do wins you either tempo, card
advantage or invalidates their cards, and they have to have the exact right
combination of removal spells and guys to interact with you favorably.
-1 Mana Leak +1 Vendilion Clique
There isn’t much needed to
change in the mirror match, everything is fairly useful. On the draw you might
consider boarding in a Supreme Verdict for another Mana Leak. The mirror is
often very grindy, and finding Sword of Feast and Famine to make your Angel
bigger than theirs or Eiganjo Castle to protect your Geist of Saint Traft from
Angels/Clique or Finks can be key.
Against UWR Delver
+2 Supreme Verdict +2 Threads of Disloyalty -3 Vendilion Clique/Mana Leak, -1 Sword of Feast and Famine
Spell Snare is good here,
as they will have Lightning Helix and possibly Tribal Flames. Trade with their
threats when possible and beware of using Dismember too liberally, but it’s too
good at trading with a 1-drop to cut. Your Geist is there to wasteland theirs – Restoration Angel blinking Kitchen Finks is how you will win most of your
Against RG Tron
-2 Path to Exile - Dismember - 4 Kitchen Finks -1 Mana Leak +2 Negate + Stony Silence + 2 Annul + Vendillion Clique + 2 Aven Mindcensor
You’re not that favored
against ‘tron. Their Pyroclasms and Relics do a surprising amount of work
against you, and your Spell Snares and Mana Leaks won’t stop the cards that
matter. If you can Vendilion them out of their last threat, then Tectonic Edge
their Eye of Ugin, you have a chance, and hitting with Sword of Feast and Famine
is obviously a big game. After board you want to be trading 1-for-1 with their
cards when possible, and try and keep them off-balance with Mindcensor and
Clique. Save your Spell Snare for Pyroclasm and keep a Path or two in for
-1 Sword of Feast and Famine -3 Geist of Saint Traft - 4 Mana Leak/Vendilion Clique (Leaks out on the
draw) +2 Supreme Verdict, +2 Annul +1 Stony Silence +1 Disenchant +2 Threads of Disloyalty
Game one is difficult,
though Spell Snare can completely crush a Plating-centric hand. Post board
you’re playing the control role and looking to grind card advantage with
Snapcaster. Be very aware of Blood Moon and fetch basics when possible.
-1 Dismember -4 Path to Exile +2 Negate +2 Aven Mindcensor +Vendilion Clique
Keep your life total above
18 at all times. Tectonic Edge Valakuts whenever possible. Geist isn’t as good
as you might think due to Snapcaster. Try to counter their ramp spells early
whenever you can, as you won’t be able to win the Scapeshift counterwar when
they have 8+mana. Tectonic Edge is your best card against them. Post-board, you
play the same game, drop and early threat and counter their mana development.
Be aware of Volcanic Fallout, and try to resolve and protect the Mindcensor.
You can often take 18 from a Scapeshift and still win the match if you draw Cryptic Command, Mindcensor or Finks and are presenting a clock. When games go
long, they might well draw enough Valakuts and Mountains naturally that Scapeshift becomes a dead card. Be aware of this.
Against Birthing Pod
-4 Spell Snare - 3 Kitchen Finks +2 Aven Mindcensor +2 Supreme Verdict +1 Vendilion Clique + 1 Stony Silence + Annul
Game one can be difficult.
They tend to flood the board with mana and your countermagic doesn’t do a great
deal. If they resolve a Birthing Pod game one you pretty much lose.
Post-sideboard you’re in much better shape, as you have trump cards in
Mindcensor and Supreme Verdict and they often have to board Ancient Grudge in
case you have Grafdigger's Cage. Attack through with Vendilion and Angel,
counter what you can, keep Birthing Pod off the table and their deck shouldn’t
be able to do a great deal and will often lose to its own inconsistency.
Next time I’ll cover the
Pro Tour itself and our team’s overall performance,
Thanks for reading,