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FRANJESKAI, KCI AND SAI JOAO CHOCA 20/11/2018

My GP results took a dip post-Turin, with a trio of disappointing finishes in Brussels (no day 2), Prague (7-6) and Stockholm (9-4-2), which was similar to my post-Bologna results, after I earned my first Pro Tour qualification. I had a feeble excuse that time, one of overexcitement and under preparation for the event, but now I was mostly just losing. Stockholm wasn’t too poor a result, given it was my first venture with the Ironworks Combo deck, but the results needed to start improving, and fast.

I had a few weeks to prepare for GP Lille and PT Atlanta and I planned to put them to good use, by playing 2-3 Standard leagues every night. There was a lot of hype around Assassin’s Trophy (which ended up being fairly mediocre) and Thought Erasure (which I think is good, but doesn’t have a home), and so I started testing with Sultai Midrange, a deck that was handily destroying all the Lyra-Shalai decks from the first week of SCG Opens. However, as the format evolved, the Golgari menace picked up traction and the Trophy-Erasure combination couldn’t quite match the resilience of Golgari Findbroker and friends.

After many 3-2 leagues, I finally got a trophy with RB Burn, a deck I tried mostly as a dare - after all, Sword-Point Diplomacy couldn’t possibly be playable, right? Burn was the deck I had the most fun with, and it came with positive results (16-4 in 4 leagues), and I quickly locked it in as a backup choice for GP Lille, should no better contender show up. After 2 weeks of testing and a lot of losing, I decided to listen to George and register White-Red Weenies for the GP.

13 Plains
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Sacred Foundry 

4 Dauntless Bodyguard
4 Legion's Landing
4 Skymarcher Aspirant
2 Leonin Vanguard
4 Adanto Vanguard
4 Knight of Grace
2 Tocatli Honor Guard
4 Benalish Marshal
4 History of Benalia
4 Heroic Reinforcements 

2 Baffling End
1 Pride of Conquerors

Sideboard

3 Experimental Frenzy
3 Shield Mare
2 Banefire
2 Tocatli Honor Guard
1 Baffling End
1 Citywide Bust
1 Fight with Fire
1 Huatli, Warrior Poet
1 Mountain

Day 1: GB 1-2, GB 2-1, Mono Blue 2-0, GB 2-0, Mono Red 0-2, GBu 0-2

I wanted to register 2 copies of Silverbeak Griffin in my maindeck, as I found flying to be very relevant in the GB matchup, but couldn’t find any - hence the maindeck copies of Tocatli Honor Guard. The tournament itself went poorly, going 5-3 and missing day 2 (lost to Mono Red, GB and GBu). This was made worse by the feature match in round 8, which had me showcase a really poor draft deck, rather than a good Standard deck. I couldn’t find another deck overnight and registered the same 75 for the PTQ, again having middling results vs GB (1-2) and going 2-3 drop.

The PT was fast approaching and I still didn’t have a deck I was happy with for Standard - I was happy to discount both GB (too hated) and Weenies (too miserable after such a poor performance) and had a sinking feeling I’d end up registering the RB Burn backup choice… With a house move straight after Lille and no time to test, I just tried to instead relax and be happy I was going to visit the U.S. for the first time.

The travel into Atlanta was surprisingly smooth, and I even saved money by bumping into fellow UK grinder Charles Eliatamby on the plane, who happened to be staying in the house. We didn’t really have much time to test Standard, since we had this super awkward format GP beforehand (why Modern?!). At the request (order) of Francesco, I spent zero time planning for Modern and registered the 75 Rob gave me, together with the sideboard plans he wrote down. The plan was to get lucky and get a couple of pro points, maybe some cash too, whilst playing a fun deck.

Then I somehow didn’t lose much and accidentally Top 8’d the Gp. Oops.

Day 1: Burn 2-1, Bridgevine 2-0, Bant Spirits 1-2, Humans 2-0, Humans 2-0, Infect 2-1

Day 2: Ad Nauseam 2-0, Dredge 2-0, Humans 2-0, Bridgevine 2-0, RG Shift 0-2, Tron 2-0, Humans 2-1, Infect 0-2

I lost my worst matchup (Bant Spirits) day 1, but was thrilled to end day 1 with a 7-1 record, courtesy of Sai, Master Thopterist, the best card in the format (not really, but it did win many games by itself). Day 2 had me face 7 positive matchups (#Modern!) and I only lost one of them as Ruric Thar, the Unbowed is not a reasonable Magic card for KCI to face. I was promptly dispatched by Kazu Negri on Infect in the quarter-final and we rounded the weekend off with Maggiano’s, source of unlimited pepperoni risotto balls, which were just as good as they sound.

Monday was fairly simple, we relocated to our AirBNB home and were warned about the possible snakes in the garden as well as our inhospitable neighbourhood. We heeded both pieces of advice religiously and only left the house to walk to the Uber waiting for us. We went to Atlanta’s main (only) attraction, the World of Coke, which was great until the tasting session, which left us all sick - if you do end up there, you will certainly join me in wishing you had never learned about Sprite Boy, or wondering why anyone would invent something as truly awful as Beverly.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent chaining drafts and realising no one in the house had a clue about drafting Izzet without the Parun himself. I had sleeved Franjeskai (Francesco’s take on Jeskai Control) to get some games in and was happy enough with how the deck played out to lock the choice in, rather than register Sovereign’s Bite in a Professional-REL event. I laid the deck out, wasn’t really happy with the 75, but didn’t know what to change either, so went ahead and registered it. Francesco, George and Matt Brown registered the same 75, where Jelco Bodewes, Valerio Luminati and Alexander Gordon-Brown were on team GB; and Charles and Nick Waugh were both on White-Red Weenies. Dani Anderson rounded up the testing house being the sole Temple Garden representative with the GW tokens deck.

This deck, aptly named Franjeskai by virtue of being a Jeskai deck concocted by Francesco, was brewed up before Lille as a way to beat the expected GB-heavy metagame. Rather than play Crackling Drake, which was extremely poor against Ravenous Chupacabra/Vivien Reid/Vraska, Relic Seeker, we played Rekindling Phoenix, which is great against all 3 cards. You lose a few points by not being able to utilise both modes of Deafening Clarion with Crackling Drake to beat the weenie decks, but you gain a card that is harder to remove and better at jumping in front of things to protect Teferi. Our GB matchup is good (Francesco went 7-1 against it in Lille) and there’s few matchups/cards that are super hard to beat.

Francesco would have it no other way, so Thursday was spent drafting, then going to the venue to register and sneaking another draft in. A pick order discussion followed and it ended with Giorgio’s sage advice ‘play good cards, don’t play bad cards’.

The PT itself was an interesting experience. I started day 1 sitting between Huey and Remi Fortier with Willy Edel 3 seats to the right. No pressure. I took an Arclight Phoenix over Emmara (which I think is super close) and was promptly punished with a P1P2 Emmara. I took white cards looking to go into either Boros or Selesnya, a choice which was made easy by a P2P1 Nullhide Ferox. I ended up with a Selesnya deck short on pump spells, which I was expecting to go 0-3 with.

I got destroyed by Zhiyang Zhang’s Dimir deck containing Dream Eater and was never really in the game as I never drew any of my powerful rares. I beat Jake Flaczinski’s Izzet splash Aurelia and 2 Deafening Clarion deck, mostly by having a clutch pump spell in response to Clarion game 3 and then beat Remi’s fairly average Golgari deck by having turn 2 Emmara both games. I was super happy to go 2-1 with this deck, but didn’t really know what to expect in the standard portion.

Marcus Luong - White Red Weenies 2-0

Lukas Blohon - Selesnya Tokens 2-1

Oliver Tomajko - Mono Red 2-0

Guillaume Matignon - Jeskai Control 1-2

Atsuki Kihara - Esper Control 2-1

Marcus mulliganed to 5 and didn’t do anything game 1, Lukas missed land 3 game 3 and I had the Phoenix-Teferi draw to punish him. The mono red decks were fairly straight forward, with Phoenix G1 and Lyra G2 providing a fast clock backed by Ionizes. The Jeskai mirror was not close to being close, with Matignon sporting the full playset of Niv-Mizzet, Parun in his deck, whilst also featuring copies of Spell Pierce - he was very prepared for the mirror, which was the matchup we devoted the least attention to. Atsuki had a very poor draw game 3, which allowed me to resolve Phoenix/Teferi with countermagic backup.

My aim was to day 2 the PT, and I certainly achieved that with a strong 6-2 record. The draft deck played well, the standard deck seemed like a good choice for the field and I was looking forward to having a similarly good day 2. We rounded the evening out with pizza, cheesecake and much mockery of Francesco, both by being the only Franjeskai player to not day 2 as well as his 2-5 record matching the stats of Wishcoin Crab, a card he had repeatedly described as ‘terrrrible’.

The day 2 draft contained some good names, such as Scott Lipp, Fabrizio Anteri, Edgar Magalhaes and Oscar Christensen. I was happy to take a P1P1 Truefire Captain, followed by Luminous Bonds and Fresh-Faced Recruit to go into my ‘comfort’ archetype Boros. Pack 2 had a P2P2 Boros Challenger which led me to believe I was correct to be in Boros, but a pair of Findbrokers, a Crackling Drake and 2 Chemister’s Insight in consecutive packs suggested otherwise - I probably should have taken, and played, both Insights, especially as I already had an Izzet Guildgate and could probably pick another up. I ended up with a Boros deck that looked ok, but was bad compared to what I thought the table would shape up like.

I was plucked apart by Maxence Duroy’s army of Devkarin Dissidents and removal spells for both Hellkite Whelps. I don’t particularly think his deck was better (or worse) than mine, but his draws lined up very well against mine. I beat Oscar Christensen’s low curve Boros deck fairly easily, taking a more controlling stance and having key tricks when he tried to alpha strike; then was promptly beaten by Edgar’s Grixis deck (that’s where the Insights ended up). As sad as it may be, I was unable to beat a Whispering Snitch and his Quasiduplicated token.

I was disappointed to only go 3-3 in draft after all the work we put in, but also happy to not go 0-3 with what I thought was a particularly poor deck. At 7-4, I was still in decent position to get points/cash, and I was currently 4-1 in constructed after all…

Hironobu Sugaya - GW Path of Discovery 0-2

Aaron Barich - GB 1-2

Vasily Kholopenko - Boros Angels 2-0

Naoya Nanba - Mono Red 2-0

Mike Chen - Izzet Drakes 2-1

I started with a mana light G1 and mana heavy G2 against a deck I had little experience against, and lost to a resolved Trostani making Memorial to Glory much better than it ought to be, before The Immortal Sun simply ended game 2.

Round 13 against Aaron may be the closest match I played across both tournaments - game 1 was over quickly with an unanswered Phoenix dealing 12 before Lightning Strike and Explosion closed the game out. Game 2 had me playing with close to full information due to the explore mechanic, but a topdecked Assassin’s Trophy allowed Aaron to kill my Ral and destroy my plan of protecting it with Nova and Rebuke for long enough to emblem - without a planeswalker, I was left cold to the pesky Carnage Tyrants that simply refused to die. Game 3 had me win the early game with a pair of Phoenixes, but ultimately losing due to blocking a 3/5 Wildgrowth Walker with an egg to protect Teferi - in a matchup of such close margins, mis-evaluating the important of Phoenix/Teferi on a key turn allowed Aaron to spiral the game out of control with Tyrants and Vivien. The game was still close, but would have been fairly easy if I had let Teferi die and simply added a 2nd Phoenix on my turn after finishing Vivien off after he shot the Phoenix to pressure Teferi.

I was now sitting at 7-6, disappointed by losing 4 in a row and potentially ending up with nothing after a 6-2 finish. I took a deep breath, vented at Francesco and was promptly rewarded with Boros Angels, arguably the deck’s best matchup. Vasily didn’t draw the Banefire G2 and I was able to deal with everything he played before Teferi won the game. The mono red matchup played out much like before, with Phoenix or Lyra pressuring Naoya whilst the countermagic made sure nothing happened to my fliers. In the final round, I was able to steal game 1 with a timely Phoenix brickwalling my opponent’s Crackling Drake and allowing me to switch gears, before he destroyed me with the Parun in game two. I replied in kind in the final game - a pair of Ionizes targeting his copy of the Parun to deal the final 6 points of damage.

I was a little disappointed with the day 2 results, and in particular the draft, but I have to be happy with a 10-6 finish off of a 7-3 constructed record to earn me 6 points. The entire trip was excellent, with two good tournament finishes, great company and good food, even if a little over the top on the fat/sugar!

I went to the US with a single PT invite and came back with almost 2 more (need one point in 6 events to hit Silver and snatch an invite for PT London). Axion Now is sitting at 16th in the Team Series and we have at least 4 players qualified, after Autumn’s alright run in Atlanta with a 11-4-1 record (who am I kidding, Autumn is a machine!). The team has started the year well, and I can only hope this carries on. I’ll be battling this weekend at Grand Prix Warsaw, where hopefully I will have a chance to redeem my poor draft decks! 

PS: As is tradition, we had a top 8 celebratory dinner - and as it soon will be tradition, we also had a re-Q celebratory cake (strawberry cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory)

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.