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The Bochum Experience

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Adrian Posoiu
Adrian Posoiu

About Adrian Posoiu

I've started playing Magic when I was 18 years old, around the time when Mirrodin reared its head in Standard. The jump to semi-competitive play came shortly thereafter, as I started grinding local events on a regular basis. I attended my first Grand Prix in Athens 2006 and made my Pro Tour debut in Nagoya 2011. Recently, I won the Romanian Nationals and am currently set on participating at the World Championship. For those interested in what goes on outside my realm of Magic influence: I'm currently studying for a Master’s degree in Astrophysics, as I find it one of the most interesting and rewarding branches of science at the moment.

The Bochum Experience

Last time I traveled to Bochum for a Grand Prix, I salvaged my early exit from the tournament by making the finals of the PTQ held on Sunday. As such, I was eyeing this year’s event ever since it was first announced on the competitive schedule. Fortune smiled on me and my schedule opened up, giving me the possibility to attend, as well as enough spare time to get some proper testing done.

Two years ago, the format was one I did not care as much about since both Sealed and Scars of Mirrodin were not high on my list of preferences. I am the first one to admit that my selling point as a Magic player is Constructed. I have an affinity for 60-card decks and the results to back up this statement. I enjoy proper deckbuilding, tweaking and playing with my creations more than the novelty aspect of always playing with a previously unknown set of cards. Since this year’s GP Bochum was going to be Standard, I was confident that I could improve on my performance and chain together three consecutive day two appearances in Constructed GPs.

At a glance, the format seemed healthy, with a variety of decks contributing to a broad metagame. There were no dominant strategies, although each week a new archetype attempted to seize power from the masses, only to be promptly overthrown in the coming tournaments. Multiple SCG Opens had either Bant Control, Reanimator and Jund take the title, with respectable appearances from Green/White Aggro, Junk and Humans in the mix. Zombies appeared to have disappeared from the map completely. Regardless, it was hard to tell if the deck was clearly not viable, or just flying under the radar and waiting for its chance to strike.

It quickly became apparent that I had to be prepared for cards, rather than decks. In a relatively fresh format such as this, where there is no set mix of 75 that defines an entire strategy, it may seem daunting to test against all the possible variations. It’s even harder still to put that effort to good use and come up with something that is strong against the entire field. Instead, the deck I would eventually choose to run had to have solutions to the pillars of the format, as exhibited by recent results.

The main offender, as you can imagine, was Thragtusk. The beast pulled its weight across a great number of matchups, either by undoing the efforts of aggro players, or by forcing your midrange/control opponent to grind through a threat that was very hard to deal with. Most of the popular decks ran full playsets and some copied found their way even into some BG Zombies lists that sideboarded them in as a trump in beatdown mirrors. The best answer to it, one that could nullify its entire potential, was the one that did not allow the creature to enter play at all. Any vestige of prominent counterspell presence in Standard was extinguished when Mana Leak rotated out. Although a large permission suite was still available to players, most of these were either overpriced or quite situational. Aside from counterspells, the next best thing were pacifism effects. If I would play a deck that largely did not care about the opponent’s life total, I could bypass the more annoying abilities by locking the creature down with Arrest. Unfortunately, Restoration Angel, as well as sideboard cards such as Ray of Revelation, made this a risky proposition, one that did not provide the reliability I was looking for over the course of a 9-16 round tournament. Lastly, if all else failed, I could simply run my own Thragtusks and try to keep parity by joining the dark side.

Entreat the Angels was a card I had high up on my list of threats at the time.  I gave some thought to how I could beat this effect, especially given the already proven viability of a ramp-control shell in previous events, but regardless of what deck I ran or which solution I found, there were many game situations where I was dead to a topdeck that spawned upwards of six angels of the board. We know now that Entreat has all but vanished from the format, but the card concerned me for quite some time in testing.

Going back to the world of five drops with game-ending potential, Thundermaw Hellkite was a creature that had been gaining a lot of steam and was quickly becoming the go-to finisher in multiple strategies. It had surpassed Geist of Saint Traft in the UWR Midrange decks and had become a mainstay in Jund as a universal finisher and an efficient way to clear multiple Lingering Souls tokens from the battlefield. There weren’t many instant speed removal spells that could deal with the dragon’s 5 toughness. It basically came down to either having access to Ultimate Price or simply taking damage for one turn and dealing with the threat on my upcoming turn. Multiple Hellkite draws were something I feared from my opponent.

The last card on this shortlist was the definite trump for all the midrange archetypes that were populating Standard. Unburial Rites made it possible to go over the top of Thragtusk and looping multiple copies of Angel of Serenity enabled Reanimator decks to out-grind even the most hardened board control builds. While it was possible to bring in considerable quantities of graveyard hate, thus forcing the deck to play out its cards in a fair manner, it did not seem possible to tip the win percentage in my favor for game one. In typical Dredge fashion, those decks relied on taking the pre-board game and hoped to eke out a victory in one of the uphill sideboarded confrontations.

To sum up, it seemed that midrange strategies were the kings of the format, with contenders either trying to go bigger than anything the former could muster, or going for the quick kill via an efficient beatdown curve. With this in mind, I settled on Jund as my frontrunner. It ran two of the four cards on my shortlist and had a solid gameplan against the others. In addition, the limited amount of testing I had done until that point was at the helm of the Jund deck, so I felt it was a natural choice going forward. This was the list I had worked on, as it presented itself one week prior to the Grand Prix.

Thundermaw Jund

The extended removal suite was excellent at keeping aggressive decks at bay. Its wide selection could keep up with the variety of threats presented by Green/White or by black-based beatdown. In my initial analysis of the format, several weeks ago, I mentioned that control decks would be hard pressed to adapt to both very aggressive early drops such as Strangleroot Geist, as well as expensive heavy hitters like Wolfir Silverheart, especially when those were coming from the same deck. Fortunately, between Pillar of Flame, Dreadbore and Sever the Bloodline, very little could slip through the cracks. Falkenrath Aristocrat was a known issue and I had seen builds that were maindecking several copies of Tragic Slip in order to deal with the menace (with the added bonus of killing Thalia quite efficiently), but I was not sold on it since the card seemed to have narrowed uses than any of the other removal spells I was already playing.

Snapcaster Mage
Versions:
Innistrad (Foil)

It was quite a few days before reaching this list that the UW Flash deck piloted by Adam Prosak had taken the format by storm. The list managed to showcase several counterspells, cantrips, conditional removal and efficient threats, all bunched up in a neat little package. When the deck took home the SCG title the next weekend, everyone was convinced it was the real deal. I took it to a 4-round FNM and was impressed with how smoothly it operated and how well it could position itself in comparison to the cumbersome midranges I had grown accustomed to. The fact that almost all of the maindeck spells could be played at instant speed provided great mobility and gave out a Faeries-vibe more than anything else. I could compare playing it to how a lightweight boxer might dance around a bulky sumo warrior, evading blows and tiring out the opponent before making the final move. The counterspells were so good in the format that UW actually managed to gain a favorable game one percentage against Reanimator. What was even more concerning though, was that Jund had a very tough time beating it. Indeed, dropping Olivia Voldaren and any other such haymakers could end the game on the spot, but oftentimes it was impossible to manage your spells well enough in order to break through the counterspell wall. One Dissipate could be bought back with Snapcaster, which in turn could be reused with the help of Restoration Angel. Even with Jund’s high density of ‘I win’ cards, I found it hard to position myself well on the board when squaring off against UW Flash.

It was with deep regret that I abandoned my midrange princess, but I was looking forward to piloting the crafty blue-based control that had stolen my heart. With the Grand Prix looming on the horizon, I had very few days to optimize the list, especially given how much the metagame was expected to change for the coming weekend. By then, everyone will have taken notice of the deck, with Magic Online heralding a new age for free-rolling counterspells across the field.

Everyone, myself included, felt that Sphinx’s Revelation was a great card for the deck, since it was often the gamebreaker against all of the slow, grindy matchups. The instant allowed you to refuel after expending most of your answers and helped you pull ahead without fear of dying to combat damage in the next turn. It could be argued that UW only needed to cast one Revelation to perform well. However, any additional copies made it easier to actually have a Revelation in hand at the opportune time and could also fight against random discard or occasionally miling yourself with Thought Scour. Being forced to Snapcaster one back would net a loss of two cards and two life, both of which could be crucial in some situations. The card I chose to cut in order to make room for another x spell was the third Think Twice. Although, most players removed one of the Unsummons, under the reasoning that the deck was not as tempo-oriented and would be hampered by the added card disadvantage, I think that cheap bounce effects are vital for the deck’s survival in game one, when facing hyper-aggressive strategies. Lacking access to the sideboarded removal spells, simply buying time by chaining Unsummon into Azorius Charm can make the difference between stealing the win with Runechanter’s Pike or being raced by Loxodon Smiter.

My gut instinct told me to add a 24th land. The deck played out as a draw-go in the early and mid game and all I wanted during that time was to make my land drops. Nonetheless, when actually playing the deck I noticed that the large amount of cantrips and draw effects would allow me to dig for lands quite efficiently and I would even flood out in rare occasions when my Thought Scours binned two spells and drew me a mana source. As a compromise, I opted to leave the maindeck land count at 23, but add additional Cavern of Souls to the sideboard. The mirror was all about gaining a mana advantage, and stumbling on lands was a sure way to fall behind. In addition to blanking opposing counterspells, the Caverns ensured that this would not happen.

The last change I made, literally on the night before the event, was to swap out the Geist of Saint Traft and Detention Spheres for an extension of the mass removal package. After I heard Green/White Aggro was a popular choice among the players at the event, I knew I needed a way to shore up the matchup, especially given how tough it was to come out victorious out of game one. In the end, this is the list I registered for the Grand Prix:

Flash Pike

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White
Blue

Deck played at GP Bochum 2012

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After I had enjoyed the single bye I had earned in the previous season (I was lazy, I know), I had to fight through two exhausting rounds against white-based aggro. Both matches played out in similar fashion and I was close to coming out unscathed from the entire thing.

To begin with, I ran into GW Aggro, thus confirming my speculations from the night before. Most of the problems arose even before we were done shuffling, since I lost the die roll and was relegated to playing last. This issue was further augmented by the turn two Thalia, Guardian of Thraben that I was forced to stare down, with two useless Essence Scatters stranded in my grip. Although I did my best to hold off the onslaught, a curve of turn three Loxodon Smiter into turn four Cavern of Souls + Supreme Archangel was too much to handle. I boarded in my five sweepers and took out the two copies Think Twice, as well as some of the conditional counterspells. The second game started out quite poorly, with me muliganing to six and whiffing on a turn two Augur of Bolas. To note, throughout this match I played a total of four Augurs, three of which had failed to deliver a single spell to my hand. Nonetheless, the 1/3 body was enough to hold off some threats at bay and, virtue of a pair of Unsummons that broke vital soulbonds, could block 2/2 Silverblade Paladins. The crucial moment saw me dig for the second Unsummon by casting a Sphinx's Revelation for five, leaving up a single blue mana in the event I drew it. This would become a recurring theme for the day.

A quick aside on the Sphinx's Revelation ‘desperation play’: I had practiced casting the x-spell as a last ditch resort quite thoroughly before the Grand Prix. Oftentimes in these cases, you want to find either Unsummon or Azorius Charm, in order to get rid of an essential attacker, order blocks in your favor and hopefully turn the game around. There are, however, some computations to be made with regard to how much mana you need to leave untapped in order to maximize your chances. By holding up two lands to cast Azorius Charm you are taking away one extra card that could be used to find Unsummon, while the opposite might leave you stranded with an otherwise life-saving 2CMC instant in your hand. Depending on how much you can afford to pay for x and on how many copies of both Charm and Unsummon are still in your deck, the decision can always be different. I advise anyone wishing to take up the deck to practice this aspect for a while, especially given the popularity of aggro nowadays.

Coming back to the game situation, I knew that my best odds were to cast the Revelation holding up for Unsummon. Surely enough, I peeled the instant as my last card and was allowed to untap into a new turn. Among the cards I drew, I also found a Supreme Verdict. The sweeper reset the board and allowed me to carry on chaining spells until I got a Runechanter's Pike online. Nonetheless, I was unable to attack until I drew my second equipment, since my opponent was also threatening lethal if I could not provide a blocker for his Loxodon Smiter. In the end, I salvaged a win out of a tough game. 

Although I was on the draw for game three, I used three copies of Supreme Verdict to the fullest. The first cleared out several accelerators and a Silverblade Paladin, whereas the others dealt with individually large threats like Wolfir Silverheart. After the game, my opponent showed me the one Sigarda, Host of Herons that he was running, which made me wary of how I spent my last Verdict. Fortunately for me, she never made an appearance and I seized the game with a pair of Restoration Angels that outmatched his late game flood. 

Unfortunately, my second round did not go as planned, although the events closely mimicked those in the previous game. I lost the opening game against UW Humans to a turn two Thalia, but managed to turn around a mulligan and tie the game at one apiece post sideboard. At a key moment in the decider, the board state was as follows: I had several untapped lands in play, with a Snapcaster Mage and a Sphinx’s Revelation in hand. My opponent fielded a Thalia, a Champion of the Parish, as well as another random creature that I cannot recall. The plan was to flash in the mage, use a flashbacked Azorius Charm to put the legend on top and block the 2/2 Champion. Then, on my opponent’s next turn I could cast the Revelation for full value, in response to his Thalia. He only had two cards in hand that he hadn’t played for some time, and I thought those might be some copies of Sundering Growth or other conditional removal. True enough, the Snapcaster went in the way of the attacker, but my opponent tapped three mana and cast Rootborn Defenses. Wow, I almost got blown our by that card. In the event of casting a Supreme Verdict, this would have completely left me powerless. As things stood right now, I was glad that the Defenses were out of the way and I could dig for a sweeper with my Revelation. On his next turn, my opponent drew Thalia and proceeded to cast her. I stopped him and tapped all of my mana, almost certain that I had the match locked up. Unfortunately, the five cards I drew included four lands and a Runechanter’s Pike. My subsequent draw step brought about another land. I sunk in my chair, knowing that lethal damage was on the way next turn and all I could do was bluff my six card hand and hope he made some sort of mistake. He didn’t and I took my first loss of the tournament. Congratulations to Jonas Wienand for his top 16 finish and a big thanks for being such a nice opponent.

I bounced back in the thick of things by scoring two clean sheet victories against UWR Midrange. Testing showed that this archetype was one of the best matchups I could hope for, alongside Jund. They relied on a few imposing threats that they had to sneak through my counterspell wall, a game that I knew how to play very well. Even though Geist of Saint Traft is cheap enough to come into play before I can represent Dissipate, the combination of Snapcaster Mage and Restoration Angel make it possible for me to ambush the legend once I establish a foothold on the board. Naysayers will point toward the newest addition of Cavern of Souls in the UWR arsenal. I can assure you that Cavern is much more threatening when it can ensure that a Thragtusk hits play, rather than any other threat that can be disposed of with less effort. In both of my matches, my opponents had a Cavern naming 'dragon', with one of them actually casting three separate copies of Thundermaw Hellkite in one game. Although it was not easy to claim victory there (I needed to hit Unsummon or Charm with a Revelation for four cards), I still pulled through and came out ahead. Post-board, Supreme Verdict can handle any of the large threats that get through the counter wall, further easing the potential pressure of Geist of Saint Traft.

What came next was a difficult matchup against a hardcore UW Control deck piloted by Olivier Ruel. I was unfamiliar with the exact contents of the list and chose to play cautiously throughout the entire first game. I held on to a Dissipate for far too long, fearing a random Entreat the Angels topdeck from my opponent. My only other counterspells at the time were two copies of Essence Scatter, both of which sat idly until I got to shuffle them back for game two. I quickly realized that Olivier was not running any creature spells, not even Snapcaster Mage and his win condition was none other than Jace, Memory Adept. Backed up my his younger 4-mana brother, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and Elixir of Immortality, the planeswalker ensured that I could never escape being decked out. The Blue/White deck showcased its true late game strength when, after activating the Tamiyo ultimate, big Jace could mill back ten cards directly to my opponent's hand. With the help of Elixir, Olivier could never deck out and could take all the time in the world to craft the perfect 20-card hand. 

I scrounged together a win in the second game with a topdecked Moorland Haunt that activated the derelict Runechanter's Pike I had on the board. After having my initial onslaught dampened, I knew I didn't have much time before my opponent's deck started firing on all cylinders. Luckily, his hand contained sweepers and counterspells and the land came down before he could find an instant speed answer to creatures. 

My good fortune hastily turned around in the decider. Only a few turns into the game, I knew I would have a very difficult time winning. The cards responsible? Two Pithing Needles that disables both Runechanter's Pike and Moorland Haunt. One of the reasons Pike was such a dominant force in the UW Flash mirror match was the lack of a reasonable Disenchant effect - Divine Offering and Revoke Existence have rotated out and Sundering Growth requires two white mana to be cast. Unfortunately, this gap also meant that the deck was vulnerable to other artifacts, such as the Needle. With no way to remove those nuisances from the board, I had to rely on my army of 1/3s and 2/1s to deal the full 20. Given that I was facing a deck full of sweepers, spot removal and counterspells, it was not long before I was overwhelmed. Although Olivier had full control of the match, with Jace, Memory Adept thinning my library more and more, time was called before I reached the critical draw phase. I left out a sigh of relief and, after a brief contemplation, took my draw headed for the next round. 

A quick aside on this match. I have mixed feelings regarding my decision not to concede the match to my opponent. At that time, I still felt that I had a good shot of reaching day two and any additional point would help greatly in my quest for top 64. Regardless, Olivier had game three locked up and would have definitely finished me if he had gotten another turn. This sentiment is further enhanced by the fact that my opponent displayed copious amounts of fair play, proving that he is a symbol worthy of the hall of fame. Apart from keeping spirits high throughout the match, Olivier ensured to quicken his pace of play after claiming the first game, thus giving me a shot to turn the match around. He could have rightfully chosen to take his time both during shuffling and in the decision making process, but he played in a rhythm that I myself found hard to match even when my best interest was on the line. Kudos to you sir !

While shuffling up for round seven, I couldn't help but look to my left and right. Across all of the nearby tables, players were fielding several copies of Cavern of Souls, ready to make life uncomfortable for anyone running Essence Scatter & co. After I played a first turn Island, my opponent looked relieved and admitted that he had kept a hand that was only good against control. Sure enough, he dropped a turn two Cavern of Souls and surprisingly elected 'vampire' as the relevant subtype. A few land drops later, my curiosity was sated. Bloodline Keeper entered the battlefield unhindered and all I could do was bounce it several times with Unsummon before finally allowing it to become active. With Azorius Charm acting more like a Think Twice, all I could do was watch it create an army of vampires and eventually flip into a game-ending threat. After sideboarding, I was able to sweep the Keeper off the battlefield with Supreme Verdict, but found my life total dwindling at the hands of two Rakdos Keyrunes. My last draw step yielded an Azorius Charm, which would have kept me alive for one more turn. These calculations were quickly nullified by a hasty Falkenrath Aristocrat, which forced me to bet all my money on topdecking my one Terminus. I paid two mana, dropped the Charm from my hand and drew... Pithing Needle. I had completely discounted this card from the list of possible solutions. Cycling the charm on my turn would have allowed me to lock down both Keyrunes, although I am unsure if that would have been the correct decision. Without knowing about the Aristocrat, holding up the instant as a removal spell would have ensured another draw step and it would have been foolish of me to give up this apparent certainty in hopes of drawing a singleton answer. In addition, Terminus was also a singleton in my deck and it is arguable that drawing into it would have yielded better results overall. As things stood though, I was facing down lethal damage and had no option but to accept defeat.

With this, my adventure in the world of Standard GPs was over, at least for the foreseeable future. In terms of deck choice, UW Flash definitely exhibited significant power and consistency. Nonetheless, the field had adapted to it in the weeks it took for the archetype to become a mainstay, and the increased density of Cavern of Souls even in three color decks was a clear sign of hositilty toward counterspells. Many players are advocating the addition of a third color, in order to diversify the threat selection and to shore up the deck's dependency on counterspells. Playing proper removal such as Pillar of Flame and Searing Spear, as well as some number of Thundermaw Hellkite might be the direction to follow for the next few tournament. Although the deck would feel less like a dedicated flash strategy and more like one of the midranges, the high degree of mobility and the ability to react on the fly would still be preserved within the common shell. I encourage you to test the deck's viability yourselves, since I strongly believe that as long as grindy Thragtusk decks still populate Standard, UWx will remain a viable choice to tackle the metagame.

With the end of the current season drawing near and with the winter vacation looming, this will be my last article published for Blackborder in 2012. I will take advantage of this occasion to wish you happy holidays and I hope to see you all back here next year for more content and discussions.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Adrian

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