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Bg Devotion in Vienna - A GP Report

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Bg Devotion in Vienna - A GP Report

Hey everybody! In today’s article, I’m going to talk about my GP Vienna experience. The GP took place this past weekend. My record there was by no means breathtaking (I managed to lose the last round playing for day two), but I think that I’ve learned a lot about the format and also would like to talk about the experience in general.

Since Vienna is pretty much „next-door“ from Prague, only some four hours by car, I was planning to attend the GP as soon as I saw it in the GP schedule. A few weeks before the GP, I bumped into Pavel Matousek, an old-school Czech player who doesn’t play almost at all nowadays, and we struck a deal – he would provide the transportation and I would give him a sleeved up 75 and a guide on how to play the deck and how to sideboard. Since he was not familiar with the format at all and would need to read most of the cards his opponents played, I decided that the deck that would serve him the best would be the most aggressive version of RDW with the lowest possible curve and all the good burn spells. I borrowed the necessary cards, read a few articles about how to play the deck and was ready to provide Pavel with all the necessary cardboard and information.

As for the deck that I’d play, for a long time, I was in the Esper boat, since blue-based control is the archetype that I’ve played by far the most in the past couple of years. Esper felt like the „safe choice“ and I’ve had a reasonable amount of success with it in my local tournaments. But then, several different things made me change my mind. First, a few people in my local store started to play a monoblack deck with a green splash for Abrupt Decays and Golgari Charms. This splash was especially potent against Esper, since it meant swapping the  useless removal for answers to Detention Spheres, meaning that Esper could never really keep Underworld Connections off the table and would often lose the card advantage battle (Sphinx's Revelations are fine and all, but Connections can often more than keep up). Second, I had often problems with closing the matches with Esper, particularly in the mirror (meaning against other Esper or UW control decks). There was almost never enough time to finish all three games and often not even two, even when both players would play at a reasonable pace. It’s not like the Esper mirror match would be that complicated – there are actually only very few things that really matter (usually the midgame Revelations for 5 to 7 and then the Aetherlings. Apart from these, Esper decks have answers to everything else). But even if the players are playing quickly, it just takes a lot of time to go through the motions when so many games are won with less than five cards in the library (that number of cards often even being „zero“). Time is such an important factor in the Esper mirror that sideboarding is profoundly influenced by how many minutes are left on the clock and who’s winning. Being down a game and with less than ten minutes on the clock, I will always side in my aggro package (Soldier of the Pantheon and Pack Rats) in the mirror, while being up a game with the same amount of time, it is often correct to side out all your late-game finishers (Aetherling) and just be on the „all-defensive, no win-conditions“ plan, since the opponent is very likely to bring in the beatdown plan.

I expected Esper to be quite a popular deck at the GP and the first draw would generally mean that my chances of playing against more Esper decks would increase dramatically. Since draws are close to useless on day 1 of the GP (and the second draw pretty much equals a loss), I didn’t want to be in danger of having too many of them. Also, a nine-round GP is pretty demanding in terms of physique and I tend to get quite tired towards the end of the long tournaments and I’m aware that this can influence my plays. All these reasons combined, I decided to switch to monoblack with a green splash, despite having a lot of practice with Esper and having literally zero games played with the black deck. However, I had some good friends of mine working on the deck and I fully trusted their conclusions and also that they would teach me how to play the deck correctly. This is the list that I ended up running in Vienna.

Bg Devotion, GP Vienna

I’m sure that if you’re familiar with Standard, this deck is nothing new for you – it basically plays exactly like the stock monoblack deck, but has a worse manabase (with a splash for green that can still support Nightveil Specters, courtesy of Temple of Mystery and Breeding Pool), but far superior removal suite. Abrupt Decay is great in the mirror, where it can deal with Underworld Connections as well as Nightveil Specters, against Esper, where it turns from a dead piece of removal into a Disenchant for their Spheres and also against all kinds of green decks where it takes care of Domri Rade, among other things. Golgari Charm is simply amazing – it takes out Spheres and Connections just as well, demolishes the board of Monored, kills Master of Waves, Bident of Thassa and even Domestication and can even regenerate your team when you’re hit by a Supreme Verdict or Mizzium Mortars. I’d say that Golgari Charm might serve even a more important role in the deck than Abrupt Decay, even though you don’t want more than two, since it can be dead when you draw multiples.

Another good reason for the green splash is the sideboard. Mistcutter Hydra is the usual anti-blue sideboard card of choice, but i think that Skylasher does an even better job. Your lategame is already very solid, but an early piece of defense that can ambush an attacker on turn two and then simply stand there before your Desecration Demons and Pack Rats take over the game is invaluable.

I won’t go through a detailed round-by-round description of my matches, since many of the games were quite uneventful, but I’d like to mention a few moments that were interesting, involved some decision or are worth mentioning for some other reason.

Skylasher
Versions:
Dragon's Maze (Foil)

I started off with two byes and then played against David Reitbauer, one of the Austrian pros. David was on monoblack with no splashes and in the first game, I had an interesting decision to make. On turn four, David played a Desecration Demon (after previously Devour Fleshing my Nightveil Specter). I untapped, played a fourth land and my hand was: Desecration Demon, Hero's Downfall, 2x Abrupt Decay, Swamp. Basically, I have two options: to kill his Demon with my Downfall or to play a Demon of my own. What would you do in this situation? In the end, I decided to play my own Demon, mostly for two reasons. First, I wanted to be mana efficient and to be able to play both Abrupt Decay and Hero's Downfall next turn. Second, since I thought that I’d kill his Demon next turn, I wanted to give him one less turn to draw an answer to my Demon in case he didn’t have it already. I was on 23 life with three removal spells in my hand, so I was likely to win the race and I just wanted to shorten it by one turn. It turned out that this decision was wrong and I was promptly punished for it. David untapped, Thoughtseized my Downfall, killed my own Demon and I didn’t draw any answer to his 6/6 flyer and died a few turns later. What I should have realized was that our deck – with the green splash – had actually way fewer answers to the Demon (since we cut some Devour Fleshes and Ultimate Prices for all the Abrupt Decays and Golgari Charms), so it was important to kill it while I could. With double Abrupt Decay in my hand, I had all the minor threats covered, so the biggest danger was dying to his Demon, which I opened myself to by playing my Demon first.

Another interesting situation happened in round 6 against Riccardo Ippoliti with monoblack splashing white for Blood Baron of Vizkopa. The games didn’t really involve any difficult decision making, but they showed why green is superior in the mirror match to white (at least that’s what I think). In the second game, my Desecration Demons and Gray Merchants were able to race his Blood Baron of Vizkopa. This is, by the way, also one of the reasons why Desecration Demon is better in the Bg deck than Reaper of the Wilds – it can fly over Blood Baron. But the reason why the green splash prevailed over the white splash is that I won the early Underworld Connections battle thanks to Abrupt Decay and then even though the Baron had hit me three or four times, I was able to outrace my opponent because I simply had more gas from the Connections.

In round 7, I played against Ondrej Stransky, my fellow countryman, who I knew was on Monoblue. In game one, on the play, I decided to keep a hand of Pack Rat + six lands and while many people who I talked to later on were very skeptical about this keep, I still think it was a good one. In game one, a turn two Pack Rat wins the race pretty much no matter what, as long as the opponent doesn’t have a Rapid Hybridization, which is usually a 1-of or 2-of in the deck. If the Rat lives, I don’t really care about the other cards in my hand, because they’re all going to turn into more Rats, and the odds of the first Rat living are somewhere close to 80% (depending on how many Hybridizations the opponent has in his or her deck). It turned out that Ondrej kept a hand with double Rapid Hybridization and wasted no time dispatching my turn-two Rat. Needless to say, I didn’t win that game (although it was still kind of close, because my draws were pretty good).

I think that this just shows how powerful Pack Rat is and that it can win games that no other card could. Turn two Pack Rat is simply back-breaking and I don’t think any black deck should play less than four. Martin Schanka, my teammate who gave me the deck, managed to win after a mulligan to four on the play in the mirror match, when his keep was Thoughtseize, Pack Rat and two lands. However, it is probably fair to say that the fact that the turn one Thoughtseize revealed a hand that contained a Doom Blade (in a post-board game, mind you) helped him somewhat.

After round 8, my score was 6-2 (after starting 2 byes into 2-2) and I was playing for day two. My round 9 opponent – Ari Faggin – went, on the play, Elvish MysticVoice of ResurgenceVoice of ResurgenceMaster of Waves. Yep, the Voices are Elementals and the tokens that they produce are Elementals as well. And no, I didn’t win that game. Game two was even worse, as I quickly found myself on the receiving end of some token-beatdown, including a Scion of Vitu-Ghazi (an Elemental too). I had an interesting decision as well in this game – I was holding a Golgari Charm against a tapped-out opponent and could sweep several of his Elvish Mystics and 1/1 bird tokens with it. I decided to wait with the Charm into my opponent’s upkeep to also shrink some of his other attackers and prevent a few precious life points. However, when I tried to go for the Charm in his upkeep, it was met with a Syncopate. This is exactly one of the advantages of playing a rogue deck – if this was a stock list that everybody knew, people wouldn’t throw away games against you with a tricky upkeep Charm, because they would be aware of the possibility of having it countered by a Syncopate (which they saw in the list). But when they don’t know what’s going to hit them, they’re likely to walk right into your traps.

I finished the GP with a 6-3 record, the same record that I posted in my last three Grand Prix. It’s true that this time, I wasn’t playing a deck that I was really familiar with, which probably took its toll (in round three, for example), so next time I’m going to make sure to know the deck inside out, if possible. Also, next time is going to be in Prague again – the Modern GP here is rapidly approaching. Therefore, I’m likely going to write a few articles about Modern in the next few weeks. Let me know if you’re interested in this format!

We spent Saturday night drafting and hanging out in the hotel bar. The rest of my crew was joking the whole time that they wanted to attend a GP Trial in Prague the next day, but since it was 3 a.m. and the trial would start at 11 a.m. in a city that is some four hours of driving from Vienna, I didn’t really take them seriously. My assumptions proved to be wrong when I was woken up at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning and it seemed that everybody was ready to depart (except for the single member of our team who made it into day two... and who was traded with another guy who wanted to be early in Prague). Talk about dedication to Magic and willingness to bend your schedule in order to play in tournaments!

That’s it from me for today. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam Koska

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