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THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE DUCK: THREE WEEKENDS JOAO CHOCA 04/08/2018

The Good

If you’re anything like me, you also hate alarms. Especially when they go off that one time when you were actually getting some quality sleep. This time, though, I was quite looking forward to the Team Axion draft camp - two days of nonstop drafting in preparation for the three large M19 events coming up (MKM Prague, Grand Prix Turin and English Nationals).

Team Axion had convened for a draft camp once before, in an attempt to crack Hour of Devastation before Nationals last year. I had played over twenty online drafts but was still unable to reach a single final. As a man that loves drafting, I was very much looking forward to travelling to the Axion Centre in Amersham for the privilege of drafting with the team, but was also very wary of how disappointing it was to repeatedly lose...

We eventually had all 9 people in the room (10 if you count a curious Francois), with George being the unlucky one to sit out the first draft. My very first pack of M19 saw an Isareth the Awakener staring at me and some blue cards later, I ended up with a reasonably sweet deck:

 

 

One draft down, one 3-0. It was a weird draft where we didn’t quite know what was or wasn’t good, but I was happy to start on a good note. We quickly got the second draft underway and I saw an Arcades, the Strategist staring at me. An Elder Dragon P1P1? How lucky! The draft went reasonably well and I ended up with what I thought was a reasonable concoction:

 

 

 

I proceeded to not win a single game with this. The ol’ 3-0 into 0-3 dream, everything regressing to normal. I focused on getting as much information as I could from the drafts and ended up having a reasonable draft camp record - a trio of 2-1 decks (UW, UBw, UW) before playing poorly with a RW deck to go 1-2.

Our conclusions were similar to many of the articles out there: white is great, blue is good, green isn’t very good, red and black are both fine. Most archetypes are playable, with the Esper trio (UW, UB, BW) being the most consistent non-trainwrecks, with the sole exception of UG, which we couldn’t quite understand how to actually end up in.

The set felt like a decent core set, you can attack, you can block, there’s few weird interactions and a collection of ‘good’ cards can win games, you don’t need all the synergy for your deck to function (such as UG Merfolk in Ixalan). Mostly we tried to define how the archetypes should look ideally for future drafting purposes. The fact blocking is an option felt very refreshing and lead to some good old combat blowouts - Magic as Garfield intended, indeed.

 

The Bad

A week before the camp, Francesco Giorgio messaged us something akin to:

"I’m bored, haven’t played an event in a while; MKM Prague before Turin?"

I was also a little rusty, having not had any paper events in weeks, and I do love Prague, so I decided to make a terrible life choice - an event abroad where I would fly out Friday evening after work and back Monday morning before work (if you have a shred of love for yourself, don’t do this - Monday was not a good day…!)

The weekend started approximately how one would expect, with ‘The Curse of Giorgio’ kicking in and delaying our flight. We arrived at the hotel at roughly 1AM and crashed before Saturday’s Sealed event. Once we got to the venue, we had the amusing experience of the vendors seemingly not being aware M19 existed and being completely oblivious to the fact a new Nicol Bolas was printed.

The sealed event was fairly unexciting, as we both opened some fairly weak pools. I put together an average RW deck and picked up a loss due to not being able to count, before losing to Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner and a turn 4 Demanding Dragon. Giorgio almost steered his pile into an unlikely Top 8, but he was unable to find the correct colours of mana in the last game, so we ended up on mediocre 2-3 and 3-3 records.

 

 

This deck was fine, but the quality of the creatures was low - Guttersnipe with few spells, Onakke Ogre isn’t great, Dwarven Priest in a deck that wants to be attacking… The deck was close to being solid, but it wasn’t quite there for a RW deck in this format. The only saving grace was having a large flier (Demanding Dragon) capable of winning games by itself when the rest of the deck didn’t help.

In between rounds, we played a fair amount of Standard in preparation for Sunday’s event. I got to find out exactly how embarrassing Bomat Courier can be when your opponent has Goblin Chainwhirler in their deck, but Giorgio found out that Nicol Bolas, the Ravager does not beat The Eldest Reborn (mostly because I get to use his Dragon against him!). I successfully picked up an ankle injury to boot, which really should have been the sign I needed to just stay in bed on Sunday.

Standard went about as well as Sealed had, with me failing to draw a third land in 8 turns in the first round, before being dismantled by both the third mirror I played and UB, ending on, yet again, a 2-3 record. Giorgio was mildly more successful (again, a shiny 3-3 record), but overall, we resigned ourselves to good food being the only positive of the weekend.

On the bright side, Magic weekends can’t get much worse than this one, so I will always have ‘remember that one time in Prague, where I could barely walk on Sunday?’ to put things into perspective.

 

The Duckling

All this was in preparation for Grand Prix Turin, an event I was nervous about in a city I had never visited, but a country that never disappoints food-wise. It started well, with the correct decision to not fly with Giorgio - everything ran smoothly and we even got a free hotel upgrade due to a slow trainee receptionist (perhaps this too was a sign!).

I had 3 GPs I planned to go to this season (Turin, Brussels, Prague) and needed 6 Pro Points to hit Bronze. It was by no means an easy feat, but it wouldn’t be the first time I 11-4’d 3 GPs in a row, so it wasn’t outside the realms of possibility for this to happen again. One step at a time though, I needed to get 2 points here in Italy first...

Since we were in Italy, we found the least Italian place possible to have dinner at on Friday, treating ourselves to a combination of wings, beer and steak. We also made the correct play of finding gelato (mmm, gelato) and were all in fairly high spirits, despite still being a little nervous.

Saturday rolled around and we got to the venue nice and early to avoid the scorching morning heat. I checked my pool and was happy to see I had many of the good uncommons capable of taking me to Day 2 - a happiness that quickly dissolved when I struggled to put 23 playables together. Every colour had 3-5 standout cards, but the quality dropped very fast - I had some fixing at least (Dragon’s Hoard, 2 Manalith, 3 duals), so push comes to shove, I can probably play a 4-colour high power monstrosity.

In the end, however, I ended up on a fairly aggressive but serviceable RG deck, with 2 Vine Mare as the card most likely to carry me into Day 2 (spoilers: this was accurate). I failed to notice Dragon Egg was a 2nd Dragon in my deck, so I didn’t play Dragon’s Hoard over Talons of Wildwood - an error that was duly corrected for sideboard games (Hoard overperformed in combination with Dragon Egg and Transmogrifying Wand).

 

 

I didn’t think this deck was very good as it didn’t have a powerful late game plan - it is prone to flooding, or drawing the bad half (Sentinel, Guttersnipe, etc). However, what it does have is a curve and creatures large enough to stay ahead of the curve. A well-timed trick allows your Vine Mare to tangle with their 4 or 5-drop and still leaves mana remaining for you to deploy another threat and remain further ahead. Thankfully, I had a keen-eyed Tom Law looking at my deck and noticing Dragon’s Egg (rather obvious) creature type - once I replaced Talons with Dragon’s Hoard in post-sideboard games, the deck was running much more smoothly.

Not pictured, but used from the sideboard: Plummet, Lava Axe, Poison-Tip Archer, Foul Orchard, Hieromancer’s Cage and Tranquil Expanse. The sealed part of the tournament was fairly straightforward, I either curved out or had the Hoard-Egg-Wand ‘combo’ mentioned above, losing to not drawing a 3rd land with the ‘combo’ in my opening hand and then a combination of Patient Rebuilding and Sarkhan, Fireblood from an opponent switching decks.

Moments after we all finished round 6 (or 7), we were informed that someone was interested in joining the team. After a very quick interview, we were happy to have the towering rubber duck join the team, at least in the capacity of mascot!

 

 

I was very happy to make Day 2 with my pool, especially given that I was expecting a poor 4-3 or 5-3 finish with it. It played much smoother than it looks and capitalised on opponents stumbling via the fun and interactive mechanic that is Hexproof. Six of the team made it through to Sunday, with an undefeated Henry leading the pack and a very sad George being the only one picking up a 3rd loss in the ‘buffer round 9’.

Pizza, beer and Fanta were had and we were, again, in fairly high spirits ready to battle on Sunday.

My draft started with an easy Mystic Archaeologist and a harder Lena, Selfless Champion. I’m not going to pretend I was thrilled to start a draft with that specific pair of cards, but UW was an archetype I was comfortable in, at least. It turns out we had 5 (!) blue drafters at the table and I ended up on a fairly unorthodox build of Wu Aggro.

 

 

I was actually a little annoyed that I wasn’t paying as much attention - I took a P3P1 Lathliss, Dragon Queen over basically nothing as I could otherwise never beat the card and didn’t quite realise how close I was to being WR instead of WU. In the end, though, having 2 copies of Lena was probably better for the deck anyway.

Whilst this deck was not the prime example for the UW archetype (i.e. I didn’t have the artifact synergies that make it so scary), the deck had 2 plans and every card worked towards those goals - either putting an Axe on a flier or ‘going wide’, both of which culminate in, hopefully, a game-winning Inspired Charge. Having loads of 1/1 tokens also made Switcheroo better than the average deck, despite never actually drawing the card!

All 6 of my games ended up looking exactly the same - a bit of a board stall, Lena happens, then the game ends. I don’t think my deck was particularly powerful, but it was well positioned against the 3 other decks I played against, as I avoided the one Plague Mare in our draft pod. Marauder’s Axe on a flier was the ‘easy’ way to push through early damage before my 6 mana legend arrived to clean things up.

This was the second time (after Liverpool) that I found myself at 10-2 heading into the second draft and I was desperately trying to not panic. Relax, draft well, play well - simple really. Henry had a poor first draft and had crashed from 9-0 to 9-3, so it was down to only me and Kayure left with a shot at the trophy.

The second draft started with a slammed Banefire P1P1 and a P1P2 Aerial Engineer looking to stay open. It seemed like I was the only white drafter in 5 seats as the powerful cards kept coming, helped along by a P2P1 Leonin Warleader. A trio of Angel of the Dawn topped off a reasonable curve and I was perhaps a spell or two short, but otherwise my deck looked fairly reasonable.

 

 

The first round was won with a Banefire for 5 before a Banefire for 1 and a perfect 2-3-4-5 curve put me within reach of the Top 8. After some of the most painful maths possible, we agreed that it was unlikely I could draw into the Top 8. In my best attempts to avoid ‘doing a David’, I prepared myself to battle for my 2nd PT invite. An Onakke Ogre was joined by a Leonin Warleader who didn’t want to feel left behind, before an Angel and a pair of Boggart Brutes sealed the deal for the first game. Game 2 involved some trading, until the Angel soared over my opponent’s defences.

‘You take 3, you go to 7’

‘Yes, go to 7’

Tap 8 land, ‘7 you’

Man, I love Banefire.

I had locked up a GP Top 8, an invite to PT Atlanta and was 2 points short of locking up Bronze as well. At this point, I found out that Kay and Henry had both 12-3’d, locking up Bronze themselves, and David was about to start the Top 8 of his PTQ draft. It was ecstasy and success everywhere, but my job wasn’t quite done yet - I had one more draft ahead of me still.

The Top 8 draft started with a Vine Mare in an otherwise underwhelming pack before a Bristling Boar joined it. There were a couple of Shocks enticing me, but 6 picks in, I had a collection of fine green cards to start the draft off. A 7th pick Disperse was a glimmer of hope that blue may be open, before an 8th pick Abnormal Endurance pointed me towards black. I took a Gallant Cavalry and a Viashino Pyromancer late in pack 1 as I wasn’t sure where the deck was heading - each pack gave me signs of a different colour being open and I was worried that there was no green coming anymore…

I opened pack two with a Murder, finally having a clear 2nd colour worthy pick, before P2P2 had the toughest decision of my draft - Horizon Scholar or Elvish Rejuvenator. On the one hand, Scholar is the more powerful card and gives me a clear direction; on the other Rejuvenator will always make the deck and is a good way of getting to my top end. As I already had 2 Colossal Dreadmaw from pack 1, I didn’t want a third 6-drop so early and took the green card. P2P3 saw a Druid of the Cowl over a Skyrider Patrol, further putting me away from blue and into the ‘worst’ archetype: GB.

Pack 3 started with something I can no longer remember, before pick 2 saw a foil Hungering Hydra stare at me… to be promptly replaced with Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma. The rest of the pack was fairly uneventful and I ended up on the below, which I was very much not happy about.

 

 

I think I navigated my seat fairly well and my deck was actually very good for the pod it was drafted in - but in a vacuum, it looked clunky and unable to beat a fast curve, or evasive creatures. You can see the others decks in the draft here. However, if I got to turn 4 in a reasonable shape, the plan was to make large man after large man until the opponent has nowhere to go.

The quarters were not easy - having to navigate a decent UW deck with Cleansing Nova was never going to be easy after all. My opponent gave me one more turn than he perhaps should and let me topdeck my sideboarded Infernal Reckoning and allowing my Fell Specter to attack him down to 1. He had to cast his Cleansing Nova to not die, I topdecked Gargoyle Sentinel and the game ended 2 turns later.

The semis were also fairly straightforward - I made huge green creatures games 1 and 3 and died to fliers game 2. A Rejuvenator-fueled turn 4 Vigilant Baloth followed with a Thornhide Wolves and a Rabid Bite to clear a Skeleton Archer was enough to claim game 3 with aplomb.

I was wondering whether Goreclaw would ever show up for me, and show up he did in the final. Abnormal Endurance on an Elvish Rejuvenator allowed me to stabilise, before Goreclaw and Bristling Boar took the offense - a Murder next turn was all it took to bury my opponent. Game 2 saw a turn 5 Dreadmaw courtesy of the legendary Bear with my opponent one damage short of killing me with Act of Treason and Mighty Leap. A topdecked Swamp allowed me to attack with impunity with Abnormal Endurance at the ready once again, ensuring my opponent would go to exactly 0 life.

I guess one could say I hit the target of 2 points for Turin, eh?

About Joao Choca:

Joao started playing competitive Magic in England in 2007 and has been a Grand Prix grinder since then. Joao has retained Bronze status since induction and has been rewarded for his consistent results with a win in Grand Prix Turin 2018. He enjoys thinking outside the box and is one of the more creative team members when it comes to fresh ideas. His approach is one of gradual improvement and he is constantly looking for flaws to fix in his game. His aim is to achieve Silver and stay on the Pro Tour circuit.