by Tom Vandevelde
This weekend, Jelle Ghyselinck won his second consecutive Gentry Finals event (note: he actually split the finals with Arthur Hugaert in the first event, while he won the second fair and square), beating my brother Niels in the finals. Congratulations to both! Myself? I lost in the semi-finals for the second time in a row. Certainly not bad, but I will admit I had higher hopes.
I had prepared thoroughly, and felt that my knowledge of the format and the match-ups would give me an edge over other competitive players like Jelle and Arthur. It was not to be, but I felt I played well (especially considering my condition, more on that later) and I was very happy with the deck, so I have no regrets. At first, I wanted to write a deck tech on the deck I wound up playing, but then I realized that the deck will probably not survive the upcoming rotation, so I decided to go for a full tournament report instead. It’s a long one, strap in tight!
Preparations: Picking A Deck
Having had to playtest for Grand Prix Paris up until the week-end before the Gentry Finals event, I had not been able to prepare much beforehand. Around 8 decks stood out to me as possible ‘best decks’, and I did not have a firm grasp on their match-ups yet, so there was work to do. I launched a call on the League’s facebook page to try and find testing partners for Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday evening. I also asked my Team Wrecking Ball teammates, knowing that most of them unfortunately could not make it to the Gentry Finals. Luckily, Sander De Canck, who had already clinched an RPTQ slot, was looking for something to play during the weekend, so he decided to join and meanwhile try and figure out what deck to play himself. Thijs Weytens (who had won both of the previous monthly Gentry tournaments) and Laurens Brusselmans, two more teammates, also helped us test, despite not being able to attend the Finals event themselves. Several players from the League also joined, and we had a productive testing session. These were the decks I brought:
Bant Fliers (with Reflector Mage)
UR Eldrazi (which Thijs brought)
I also brought Gr Ramp and Wg Aggro, but I already knew I would not be playing either, as I considered them Tier 2 from the start. They are fun to play, but have bad match-ups against some of the more popular top decks in the format, so I ruled them out early in testing. You might be looking for the very popular BW Midrange decks (either with the lifegain/Ally theme or the enchantment theme), but I strongly felt that these decks, while certainly good decks in general, would struggle against both the heavy control variants like Tutelage and UB Control, and the token-based strategies like UR Eldrazi and BR Tokens. They pack a lot of removal, which gives them way too many dead cards against control decks. In addition, their removal is usually one-for-one, and their best threats mostly cost between three and four mana, which lines up very poorly against the red removal spells like Outnumber and Fiery Impulse. I was fairly sure, then, that I was not going to be playing either of these WB variants.
While testing, I quickly ruled out UB Control, because it felt a little bit underpowered, especially against the blue decks that could bring in Negate and Dispel after board. WB Warriors and UB Aristocrats (my initial favorite) were ruled out after I realized the red-based decks had a significant advantage in their ability to board in Boiling Earth in these ‘mirrors’ full of one-toughness creatures. Meanwhile, Sander had taken a liking to the UR Tutelage deck, beating one opponent after the other. We discussed a number of smaller changes to the deck, and he settled on Tutelage for the Finals event. I was perfectly happy with this, as I did not feel like playing Tutelage anyway. This left me with UR Prowess, UR Eldrazi, BR Tokens and Bant Fliers as contenders. At this point, I firmly believed both UR decks to be the two best decks in the format, and BR Tokens seemed to have a bad match-up against both. While Bant Fliers had few truly bad match-ups and felt powerful enough, I also did not think it had a +50% match-up against the other two decks (it seemed very play/draw-dependent), and I also did not like playing the deck much. You would always curve out flier after flier, racing them and hoping to disrupt them enough to win. It just did not feel like the kind of deck I wanted to play. On top of that, its manabase was the shakiest of all the top contenders. UR Eldrazi gave me a similar feeling. Very powerful, probably the best deck in the format, but very few interesting decisions. You just curve out, remove a threat and beat them down. By midnight, I had a better grasp on the format, but still no idea what deck I wanted to play.
On Thursday, there was a final practice tournament with the players of the League. I had more or less decided to play UR Eldrazi. Mostly to get used to the deck, as I had not tested much with it, but also to see for myself if it was the actual best deck. In the hours before the tournament, however, I decided to revisit the drawing board and brew up a deck idea I had had in mind for a long time: a more controllish build of the Flier deck, in the Esper colors. During testing, I had noticed how good Flaying Tendrils was against most of the top deck not called Tutelage, UB Control or UR Prowess. I also valued fliers highly, and Thunderclap Wyvern was one of my favorite cards by this point. In addition, I had a soft spot for Ulamog’s Nullifier, another flash flier that I figured would work well with any number of instants (say Complete Disregard) and the exiling ability of Flaying Tendrils. The idea of having open mana every turn, allowing me to postpone decisions, and surprise my opponents with counterspells, instant-speed removal and flashed-in fliers sounded exactly like the kind of deck I like playing. In the end, I decided to add a number of very powerful two-drops that had the potential to survive Flaying Tendrils: Topan Freeblade and Seeker of the Way.
These enabled me to pressure the more controlling decks, and figured to be reasonable blockers against the many token decks I was suspecting. The mana base, requiring double black, white early and blue as well, was a little bit shaky, but I loved the look of the deck. I sleeved it up and brought it to the practice tournament, where I got to do a deck tech on it. The deck performed well, as I became the first player to beat Thijs’ UR Eldrazi deck (which was 10-0 at that point), before losing to Stijn Bogaert in the finals of the event. Although Stijn, also playing UR Eldrazi (which, at this point, I considered the best deck in the format), beat me, I felt like the match-up was very close, and maybe even in my favor, and that was a feeling I had not had with many other decks. The Esper deck was also immensely fun to play, with lots of decisions to be made, which gives you the feeling that your play actually impacts the outcome of games. The final decision to be made then: play this Esper Midrange deck, or play the Eldrazi enemy. I decided on the former, mostly because I prefer playing the decks I designed myself, and because I thought the deck would be more fun to play.
On Friday, I worked on my final decklist. At the Thursday tournament, it had felt like I wanted a 25th land, so I cut an Anticipate and added a 13th tapped land. I also felt like I had one too many flash fliers in my deck, which made the curve a little clunky sometimes. One Ulamog’s Nullifier got the cut, and was replaced by a Murderous Cut, a card I hoped would smooth out my curve and help with problematic cards like Vile Aggregate and Nantuko Husk. Having added a 25th land, I felt less need for a Flooded Strand in my mana base, so I decided to add a 4th powerful rare. Linvala, the Preserver was a consideration, as was Ojutai’s Exemplars, but in the end I decided on Sorin, Solemn Visitor, because it would be good in both creature and control match-ups. Spell Shrivel, which was less of a requirement now that I had cut a Nullifier, was my final cut. This is the deck I played:
Having decided upon a decklist, I went out and got drunk at a fancy ball. Way too drunk.
I arrived at the tournament with about 5 minutes to spare, an enormous hangover, and several decks to hand out. Jelly Ghyselinck played my UR Prowess deck, to which he made some last-minute changes. Laurens Veys played the WB Warriors deck and Sander De Canck played UR Tutelage. I quickly ordered a coke to keep me on my feet, and the tournament was underway.
Round 1 vs. Anouk Burny (GB Elves)
I know Anouk well, and was fairly certain she was playing her trusty Elves. With all the 1/1s, 1/2s and 2/2s in that deck, this was exactly the kind of deck I was hoping to face playing multiple maindeck Flaying Tendrils. The first game was a tight battle, with both of us mulliganing to six. Anouk was on the front foot for much of the match, making combat difficult with a Gnarlroot Trapper (man, that card is powerful in that deck!) and hitting the perfect Sylvan Messenger revealing four elves (!). My larger creatures and removal overwhelmed her in the end, however. In the second game, she ran out of gas a little bit earlier, and a Flaying Tendrils swooped up the remains of her board before my fliers finished her off. 1-0, off to a good start!
Round 2 vs. Arthur Hugaert (UW Tutelage)
For round 2, I got called to the fancy-schmancy feature match area. I was not happy to sit down facing Arthur, and neither was he. I know Arthur, a finalist of the previous Finals event and the person who had knocked me out of the semi’s, and considered him one of the best players in the room by far. As such, I was hoping to dodge him until the final rounds of the swiss, where we would hopefully be able to draw. I knew Arthur was playing some kind of an UW Tutelage variant, but I was not sure what cards he was playing exactly. I figured my match-up in game 1, when I still had 10 dead removal spell in my deck, would be fairly bad, but I gave myself a decent chance to win both post-board games, with good sideboard cards like Felidar Cub (which deals with Tutelage, and can’t be Negated or Dispelled), Duress and more counterspells. Game 1 turned out to be closer than I had expected, as my draw was land-light, and so I could keep providing creatures to pressure him. I fell just short, however, with Arthur milling me out while at 1 life.
In game 2, my counterspells immediately did good work, allowing me to counter a Tutelage as it came down on turn 4. A small counterwar went my way thanks to Dispel, giving me breathing room to start pressuring Arthur’s lifetotal. Arthur was forced to tap out during combat several times, which allowed me to resolve some of my rares which I was fortunate enough to draw. One interesting decision I had to make was whether to plus or minus Sorin. I chose to plus, putting maximum pressure while playing around End Hostilities and Planar Outburst, but was punished for this by a Suppression Bonds, a card I had not seen game 1. Luckily, I managed to resolve a Gideon a few turns later, and with an Ulamog’s Nullifier online to protect it, and Arthur down to one or two cards, I could ride it to victory.
Tournament Organizer and sexy-voiced commentator Niels Viaene informed us we had only 5 minutes left in our round, so we both upped the pace significantly. I thought I had the victory when I got to resolve a raided Wingmate Roc, but a Pacifism and a Silkwrap from Arthur dealt with that threat. My follow-up Ojutai (I sure drew a lot of my rares this match!) resolved the turn before time was called, and with Arthur at 20 life still, I calculated my odds. I figured I had to hit creature into creature to get to 20 damage, while keeping Ojutai alive. When I attacked with two mana open, I was hoping to hit a Freeblade or Seeker off the Ojutai, so when Arthur played Gideon’s Reproach, I was sure the game was over. I had Dispel, but this would take me off the two mana to drop a creature into play that turn. This might have been a miscalculation on my part, however, as I could actually have Dispelled the Reproach, and next turn try to hit two Seekers or a Seeker and a Thunderclap Wyvern (Freeblades or Nullifiers would not do it at this point) to still try and win the game. This would require no more removal from Arthur, however, which was very, very unlikely. But still, I think I made a mistake in conceding the draw too early. 1-0-1, and I now probably had to go 2-1 to make Top 8.
Round 3 vs. Jonathan Van de Wyngaert (GR Ramp)
Jonathan was playing a list similar to my own GR Ramp list, and I recognized it early enough in the game to know what I was up against. The way to win this match-up is to kill their ramp creatures or counter their ramp spells to keep them off of the 7+ mana they need to resolve their big spells. I am an underdog in game 1, but a favorite in game 2, I feel. In game 1, Jonathan got lots of mana in play, but drew his pay-off card (a Plated Crusher) way too late. By that point, my fliers had him within lethal range. Having won game 1, I felt confident about winning at least one of the next two. My plan of keeping him off mana creatures played out perfectly in game 2, as he stalled on 3 lands while I removed mana dork after mana dork. Finally at six mana, he needed to resolve his Chandra Flamecaller to deal with my board, but a Disdainful Stroke took care of that and Ojutai and friends flew in for the win. 2-0-1 and in 5th place going into round 4. While the first two tables (the 3-0 players) could double draw into the Top 8, I still needed another win.
Round 4 vs. Ruud Merckx (BWu Midrange)
I was hoping to avoid playing one of my friends from the League in this spot, as the loser of the match would be out of Top 8 contention. I felt bad, then, that I had to face Ruud. On the other hand, I knew that I had an edge in this semi-mirror match, as my deck played a little bit more interactively. The plan was to remove his early creatures, flash in a flier and then protect it with counterspells.
In game 1, Ruud mulliganed to 5, and we never had much of a game. I dealt with his early threats and then resolved Gideon, which won me the game. I just had to make sure not to plus it because of Stasis Snare.
Game 2 was not much better, as this time I got stuck on two tapped lands while Ruud got a Blood-cursed Knight in play on turn 3 with plenty of removal in hand. I knew I could not play out a 2-drop here, as it would get met with a Pacifism/Stasis Snare/Isolation zone, making his knight a 4/3, which I could not deal with with Complete Disregard or Reave Soul. Instead of playing one of my 2-drops in hand then, I discarded, hoping to draw an untapped land next turn. Ruud then resolved a Gideon on turn 4 and I drew a tapped land, which spelled my doom. On to game 3.
Game 3 was more of a normal game, but my draw was better than Ruuds, allowing me to overpower him in the midgame.
3-0-1 and locked for Top 8! Meanwhile, my brother Niels and my teammate Sander had also won their third match, presumably also putting them into the Top 8. With Jelle Ghyselinck and Stijn Bogaert already in because of their pristine records after three rounds, there were plenty of friendly faces in the Top 8 already, great! Meanwhile, it seemed like my hangover was getting worse by the minute, as continuous mental action was taking its toll.
Round 5 vs. Niels Vandevelde (BR Tokens)
I was paired against my brother in Round 5, but as it turned out, there were only 8 players on 9 or more points at that point, with none of them downpaired, so we could all draw into the top 8, which we were happy to do. The Top 8: Luca Van Deun and Kasper Brauns, two of the Leuven players, playing UR Thopters and UW Tempo respectively. I did not know them, but Sander could tell me that they were very solid players. Jelle Ghyselinck, trying to defend his title, playing my UR Prowess deck. Sander, my teammate, playing UR Tutelage. Nick Vandenbroeck, whom I did not know, but is a League regular, playing Bant Fliers. Stijn Bogaert, who beat me in the finals on Thursday, again playing UR Eldrazi. And my brother (playing BR Tokens) and me. A fine Top 8! I discussed some of the match-ups with Sander, Stijn and my brother and while doing so, we ordered a pizza which somehow took about an hour to heat up, so we wound up eating a lukewarm pizza in and after our quarterfinal rounds.
Quarterfinal vs. Kasper Brauns (UW Tempo)
In the quarters, I was paired against Kasper (who Niels Viaene somehow kept calling Brauns during coverage, which was pretty funny – Kasper, if you read this and your first name is actually Brauns, do forgive me, but it just seems unlikely). I found myself wishing I had watched more of his match on coverage, as I knew he would know the entire contents of my deck (as it had appeared on coverage), while I had very little information about his. I knew he was playing Seekers, Freeblades and Reflector Mages, as well as Whirler Rogues, but that was about it. In a mirror of two-drops and against a deck with Reflector Mage, I did not feel confident in being on the draw, but I figured my removal could maybe flip the match in my favor.
That is exactly what happened in game 1, as I took a lot of early damage from his two-drops followed up by Reflector Mage and Whirler Rogue. I finally managed to stabilize with a lot of removal and a Nullifier to hold off Thopter Tokens, however, and a Gideon took over the game. I made sure not to plus it, as he had shown me a Stasis Snare, and played extremely conservatively, making about 7 knights before I started to go on the offensive. I was not sure what cards to play around, and figured I needed to keep my Gideon alive at all costs. That plan worked as Kasper could only answer with a Roil’s Retribution and a Stasis Snare, and eventually succumbed to my army of knights while drawing too many lands. Few, that was a close one.
Game 2 played out fairly similarly, as I tried to deal with his threats while he kept adding them. He played around Flaying Tendrils perfectly, following up my sweeper (which I had no choice but to play at that point) with a Whirler Rogue and a Topan Freeblade. A Seeker threatened to gain me life, but he had an Icefall Regent to stop it. While my Pacifism could answer his flier, my Seeker was still locked down. My 2/3 fliers made attacks difficult for him, however, so he had to resort to Whirler Rogue activations to drop me down to 6 and then 4. Meanwhile, I had found a second Seeker and could go on the offensive, gaining me life in to process, while my fliers and again Gideon finished the game.
This match was very interesting, and Kasper played very well, I wish this had been one of my matches on coverage. Our match was the last to finish, and in the meanwhile Jelle had beaten Nick to secure a spot against Sander (who had beaten Stijn) in the first semi, while Niels had dispatched of Luca to set up an all-Vandevelde second semi. The story lines for coverage for this Top 4 were almost too good to be true. The defending champion trying to get to the title once more. The ‘Brother’s War’, as Sander called it on commentary, in the semi’s, and the potential for an all-Team Wrecking Ball final between Sander and myself. Too many stories to tell almost.
Unfortunately, Sander lost his semi, removing the possibility of an all-Wrecking Ball finals.
Semifinal vs. Niels Vandevelde (BR Tokens)
Before I could dream of the title, I had to go through my brother, however! Knowing each other’s approximate decklists and having played the match-up before, we knew that my deck was a pretty big favorite going in. Not only was I on the play, but my bigger creatures and maindeck sweepers were all very good against his deck. He had to hope for very aggressive draws with several removal spells to stand a chance, or for my deck to stumble out of the gates due to the manabase. Both were definite possibilities with these decks, however, so I wasn’t counting my eggs yet.
Game 1 played out exactly as I wanted it to. I kept a hand with a lot of removal and good mana, and my deck could answer each of his threats in timely and efficient fashion, cruising to victory on superior creature quality.
Game 2, Niels had to mulligan to 5 on the play, which left him with very little chance to win the game against a grindy deck like mine. I mulled over my opening hand for a long time, because it featured two Plains and an Evolving Wilds, which is not exactly pristine mana. But it had a Flaying Tendrils, my best card in the match-up, and on the draw, with 12 more lands that can get me to my three colours of mana, and 14 that get me up to double black, I felt like the hand was keepable. Niels opened with a Duress which took my Flaying Tendrils, an then proceded to curve out perfectly, adding creatures while removing my early Topan Freeblade. I did not draw my fourth land until turn 5, and it was (as was to be expected) a tapped land too, which meant I could not deploy any of my 4-drops. After he dashed in not one but two Reckless Imps, I knew I had no more outs. On to game 3!
Game 3 was a beautiful game. I mulliganed to six, but I could keep a reasonable hand. Unfortunately, I again stumbled on mana for one turn, which turned out to cost me the game in the end. Niels had correctly sided in Impact Tremors, and these provided him with too much damage for me to overcome. There were many interesting decisions in this game, including whether to Reave Soul before attacking with my Freeblade (I decided to try and trick Niels into triple blocking and Murderous Cutting one of the tokens, which worked out, but not having the Cut in the end could have been relevant), and whether to double block the dashed Ambuscade Shaman taking me down to 2 or not. In the meanwhile, I have gone back to the match twice, and I still can’t find a line that would have given me the win if Niels plays correctly, so I guess there was nothing to be done. In the final turns, I decided to put Niels on a 2-turn clock, and crossed my fingers that he would not be able to find land + creature/removal spell in his final draw. He did (not too unrealistic, to be sure), and I lost to a dashed 4/4 Reckless Imp (thanks to Ambuscade Shaman). I lost a good match-up, which was disappointing, but if someone was to beat me, I was happy for it to be Niels, and I was rooting for him in the finals.
I wanted to watch the finals on camera, but sitting next to him, Niels Viaene then asked me to chime in for coverage, so I did. Unfortunately, the finals were not particularly close, as Jelle’s draws were insane, while Niels’ were mediocre. Jelle defended his title beautifully, not dropping a match in the tournament, congratulations to him! I also wanted to congratulate Niels Viaene, Sander De Quick and Nathalie Heylen, for a well-run event and very enjoyable coverage. I am very curious to see how things look once the new camera’s and lighting are ready for use.
The deck was great, and I probably would not change a single card. Unfortunately, the loss of the lifegain lands will mean that this deck can probably not survive the rotation, so it will have been my last time playing with it. For my next article(s), I will probably take a look at how the upcoming rotation will affect the Gentry format, and what cards from Shadows Over Innistrad to look out for in the coming months.
Until next time!
Tom Vandevelde has been playing Magic since Tempest, and competitively since Time Spiral. Deckbuilding is his favorite part of the game, which has led to him taking an interest in less conventional formats like League Standard. Alongside his teammates on Team Wrecking Ball he is shooting for the Pro Tour, but you will just as often find him playing Pauper, Pack Wars or Mental Magic, or helping out newer players. You will often find Tom streaming on twitch.tv/wreckingballmtg, where you can actually challenge him to League Standard matches in between rounds! Be sure to come hang out and don’t be afraid to ask questions!