Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The 2012 Blowfish Invitational: Enrico Agostino Guarneri


My preparation for the Invitational really started before I left for Seattle to attend the Pro Tour, since Return to Ravnica Draft would form part of both events.

After my dismal performance on the Friday at the Pro Tour I wasn't really in the mood for Magic for the rest of the weekend.  On the Saturday I decided to take a downtown tour of Seattle on foot which resulted in me getting lost and having to ask some police officers for help getting back to my hotel.

On the Sunday morning I spoke to my fiancĂ©e Nicole (who had not come with) telephonically and she pointed out that if I was serious about doing well at the Invitational I should do some drafting at the Pro Tour side-events.  I took a walk to the neighbouring hotel (where registration for the Pro Tour had taken place on Thursday night) and found a couple of players who told me that free unsanctioned Drafts were being held at the Pro Tour.

I lost count of how many Drafts I did that Sunday.

On my return to South Africa, I felt quite confident about RTR Draft but was rather worried about what I would play in Standard.  I played in three tournaments the weekend before the Invitational.  I played BR Zombies at the FNM at THUG and AI Fest on the Saturday morning and concluded that the Thragtusk-deck match-ups were just too tough.  I tried BG Zombies on the Sunday Game-day at THUG and found it even worse.

By Sunday night the deck I liked most was WUR Midrange.  However with less than a week before the Invitational I felt that there would be too little time to become comfortable with the deck and the various match-ups.  I felt my only chance to do well would be to play Aggro.

It seemed like Selesnya Aggro was the best Aggro deck.  However I also knew that most of the top players would be prepared for it and decided to give Azorius Aggro a try at Warfare on Tuesday night.  I finished 4th after losing a very close match against WUR Midrange.  I felt comfortable with the deck.  It was easy to play and had a lot of raw power.

Later that night I found a list by Tomoharu Saito.  For the next three days I tested the list against Jarcque, Damian, Robert and Nicole.  From the testing I knew that my Control match-ups would be tough but I would have a reasonable match-up against Midrange (especially Jund) and Frites (especially post boarding).  I knew that my Aggro match-ups would be close but I suspected that most of the top players would not be playing Aggro and I could therefore avoid these match-ups in the later rounds.

Day 1 - Standard
I got a bye in the first round because of the points I had scored in the qualifiers. 

In the second round I faced  Quentin Henn in a mirror-match.  Now for all the testing I had done the last couple of days, I hadn't really given much thought about testing the mirror.  Quinton and I each won a game.  In game 3 Quinton got more fliers on the table and took the game and match.

To my dismay in the third round I was paired with my team-mate and friend Robert Wild.  We both lamented on how much it sucked having to face one another so early in the tournament.  Robert quickly took game 1.  In game 2 I mulliganed to six, and then kept a one land hand with two Champions of the Parish and a War Falcon.  I missed my second land drop but I got such a strong start that it didn't matter and I took the game.  In game 3 Robert mulliganed to five.  This time he was stuck on one land.  He never saw the second land and once again I got a very fast start and took the third game and match.

At the end of the Standard portion I was 2-1 but not feeling particularly confident.  It felt like I had gotten very lucky in beating Robert and now I had to Draft M13 which I was hopelessly unprepared for.

Day 1 - M13 Draft
I had mistakenly believed that both drafts would be RTR.  So when I found out on the morning of the Invitational that the first Draft would be M13 I started wondering if I would be bothering to come back on Day 2.  I can't remember having done a single draft in M13 before the Invitational. 

Luckily I met up with Alon Chalmers outside.  Alon was not playing in the Invitational as he had missed most of the qualifiers due to working on Friday nights.  He had however done a fair number of M13 Drafts.  After explaining my predicament  he gave me a crash-course in M13 Drafting theory which would prove invaluable.

At my Draft pod I quickly saw a gap for Black and White.  I remembered Alon telling me that BW exalted was a really good archetype and went for it.

I played against Neil De La Rey, Sergei Pringiers and Brent Burt in the M13 Draft portion but I can't remember much of the specific games.  I won all three games 2-0 and ended 5-1 at the end of day 1.  I'm glad I finally met Sergei.  I often see his posts on the Magic FB group.  We had a couple of chats on day 2 and I think he's a really cool guy.

Day 1 - Return to Ravnica Draft
I proceeded to the RTR Draft pod.  Russell Tanchel expressed his surprise at seeing me at the table 1 pod.  I shrugged it off and started the draft.  I soon picked up a signal that Rakdos was open.  Everything seemed to go smoothly except that I couldn't seem to find a second 5-drop.  I had passed up a Golgari Longlegs and Spawn of Rix Maadi to fill up on 3 and 4 drops.

In the last pack I was passed a Hypersonic Dragon and picked it.  During deck-building I decided to splash three Islands just to play the Dragon.  Almost immediately after handing in my deck-list I regretted my decision.  I felt that I had given up mana consistency for a single card.

Knew We could Win

After we left the event, Jarcque, Damain, Nicole and I went for a couple of drinks at a bar called Giggs in Lambton.  I told everyone about how stupid I felt for splashing blue for a card that was powerful but not game-changing.  Jarcque and Damain assured me that it was not the disaster I was making it out to be.

We chose a couple of Queen songs on the Jukebox.  It felt like a soundtrack to the event (It’s a Kind of Magic, Under Pressure, Another One Bites the Dust, We Are the Champions).  By the end of the night I felt confident that one of us would win the event.

Day 2 - Return to Ravnica Draft
Day 2 did not quite start as well as I had hoped.  In round 7 (the first round of the RTR Draft pod) I faced Christopher Cleghorn.  Game 1 was a grindy game and Christopher eventually took it.  I came out very fast game 2.  He put up a good fight but I eventually overwhelmed him.  As we finished game 2, time was called.  We agreed that neither of us could win the last game in five turns and the result was entered as a draw.

I went outside to have a smoke.  When I finished the smoke I took a look at the time and realised that 50 minutes had only just passed since we started the round.  I went back to the Judges to inquire and received confirmation that the round had been called 10 minutes early.  Nothing could however been done about it since I should have complained when time was called.  When I told Christopher about it he was equally miffed.  I guess we both were confident that we would have won that last game.

In round 8 I was paired with Russell Tanchel.  Russell again commented on how surprised he was that I was at the top draft table as he believed that drafting wasn't my thing.  I replied that just because I didn't attend his drafting on Wednesday nights it didn't mean I was incapable of drafting well.

Game 1 Russell got stuck on two mountains.  I curved out well and I think he conceded on turn 5.  In game 2 Russell did get land but I came out very aggressively again.  I drew  the Hypersonic Dragon, felt a massive adrenalin rush and rather smugly attempted to cast it.  Russell however pointed out the lack of blue mana sources on the table which took the wind out of my sails.  However on my very next turn I top-decked an Island and sealed game 2.

I faced Sylvester Mudaly in round 9.  Sylvester had finished an impressive 6-0 at the end of day 1.  I won the match 2 – 0.  I can't remember much of the games except that I he didn't deal me any damage in game 1, and only two damage in game 2.

The draft portion was over and I was very pleased with my record of five wins and a draw.  Christopher had been the only player who had taken a game from me.  At this point I wished that the last three round would also be draft as I wasn't feeling particularly confident in my standard deck.

Day 2 - Standard

In round 10 I was paired against Michael Strauss.  At this point Michael was 8-1.  He asked me if I wanted to ID.  I reluctantly had to refuse as I was on 7-1-1 and knew I had to win one of the remaining three rounds to get into the top 8.

I won the dice roll but then mulligened down to four.  I conceded on turn 3 or 4.  I fought back and managed to win the next two games.  I can't remember the specifics of the games, but I know they were really, really tough.

After beating Michael I knew I was in the top 8.  I ID’ed with Sunny Huang and Jarcque in rounds 11 and 12 respectively and ended the Swiss portion on 8 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss.

When the final standings for the Swiss rounds was posted I was very pleased to find myself in 1st place.  I had learned how important it was in PTQ Return to Ravnica earlier this year.  As things turned out, it only really mattered in the final match.

Quarter-Final - Andrew Wright
Andrew was playing UW Midrange.  This ended up not being a match at all as Andrew was unable to draw a hand with more than one land.  He had to mulligan himself to oblivion in both games.  At the end of it I told him that I didn’t like winning this way (but I'd rather win this way than lose).  Andrew laughed and told me that if I continued cutting my opponents decks “like a ninja” I'd be unstoppable. 

Semi-Final - Michael Strauss
Michael had knocked Jarque out in the quarter-final.  After doing so, I heard that Dale Fienberg had asked Michael if he should call Peter (Lee) to organise a celebration.

I looked at Michael’s Jund list and noticed that there was almost no instant-speed removal, which meant that I wouldn't be blown out if I attempted an exalted alpha-strike.

I used my top-seeded position in the Swiss rounds to go first in game 1.  This time I didn't have to mulligan and was quite happy with my hand.  Michael however overwhelmed me with a Thundermaw Hellkite, a Vampire Nighthawk and Huntmaster of the Fells. 

I've known Michael since 2004 and he is one of the players I have the most respect for.  He always seems focused and never underestimates his opponents.  I don't think I've ever had an easy match against him.

In game 2 I managed to get off to a super-aggressive start (War FalconKnight of GloryGeist of Saint Traft).  Michael managed to clear these threats with a combination of Pillar of Flames and a hard-casted Bonfire of the Damned but by this stage he was on a very low life total.  He played a Nighthawk and Hellkite which I neutralised with a combination of Fiend Hunter and Sublime Archangels and took the game.

In game 3 Michael complained about never getting a miracled Bonfire against me.  I joked that it I had performed black magic.  Michael paused and then said that at least he had Jesus on his side.  I replied that I very much doubted that since he is a lawyer [That comment almost had me dying from laughter, Ed].

I mulliganed to six and got a hand with double Champion of the Parish.  I drew a third one and managed to play three Champions early on.  Michael managed to finally play a miracled Bonfire which would have wiped my board except for one Champion of the Parish which was a 4/4 but I managed to a second one (that was a 3/3 at this stage) using Faith’s Shield.  After this I started applying serious pressure on Michael despite drawing five plains in a row.

Michael cast an Olivia Voldaren.  The match ended after he miscalculated and blocked the bigger of my two Champions with the Olivia.

After conceding, Michael showed me that he had a Golgari Charm in his hand.  He berated himself for not having blocked with the Olivia (he had to block as I was attacking for lethal), used the Charm to regenerate the Olivia and then stolen my bigger Champion the next turn.

I felt empathy for him.  There are a lot of armchair critics out there who are quick to point out play mistakes, but after 14 rounds of magic the fatigue starts to take its toll.
The Final - Christopher Cleghorn

Chris was also on Jund and after taking a look at his list I noticed that he also was lacking instant-speed removal and no Bonfires (he opted for Mizzium Mortars instead).
I quickly take game 1 curving out with War Falcon, Precinct Captain and Silverblade Paladin.
In game 2 Chris managed to blow me out with a Radkos's Return followed by an overloaded Mizzium Mortars.
In game 3 I draw a hand containing no one drops but three Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (I had boarded in a fourth one).  I knew that Thalia would be a massive pain in the ass for Chris as it would delay any Mortars blowouts.
Chris managed to deal with the first two Thalias.  I played the third Thalia which bought me some.  I managed to get Chris down to 3 life before he finally managed to clear the board with an overloaded Mortars.
The following turn I played a Fiend Hunter on a clear board and I commented on how sad it was.  Chris had no answer for the Hunter and so I hit him for 1 point of damage the following turn putting him on 2 life.
Chris must have drawn a blank and on my next turn I drew a Silverblade Paladin.  I cast it bonding it with the Hunter and attacked for lethal.
It was an awesome feeling to win the Invitational. 

I would like to thank my team and the following individuals in particular: Nicole Van Scoor, Jarcque Henning, Damain Andrews, Robert Wild, Andrew Wright, Clinton Smit, Wayne Wang, Wesley Lamprecht.  A special thanks also goes out to Alon Chalmers.  If it had not been for his advice on the M13 draft, I wouldn't have finished 3-0 in that portion of the event.

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