ast week's column addressed the impact of Conflux on a handful of formats that fall outside of the Pro Tour tournament structure. This week we get to see the first wave of Standard and Extended decks that incorporate the new cards from the second set in Shards of Alara block.
Post-Conflux PTQs results have started to roll in, and I talked with two of the winners this week who will be heading to Hawaii this spring to tackle the Shards of Alara Block Constructed format and full block draft. One is a Pro Tour veteran and the other a fixture on the PTQ scene.
Tiago Chan is a Pro Tour veteran from Portugal with two Top 8 finishes on his resume from his breakout 2006 season that saw him reach the highest levels of the Players Club. Adam Boyd is a 20-year old personal banker from Independence, MO who had a taste of the Pro Tour last season in Kuala Lumpur and has experienced modest success at the Grand Prix level. I talked with both players about their decks, expectations for Hawaii, and the much-ballyhooed Path to Exile.
First up was the Top 8 competitor from PT–Honolulu and the 2006 World Championships.
BDM: Congratulations on winning your PTQ and getting a chance to return to the site of your first PT Top 8. You parlayed that into a breakout 2006 season with a pair of Sunday finishes. How did you find yourself playing in PTQs in 2009?
Tiago: Thank you, nice to hear from you! I'm flattered you want to feature my PTQ win in your column. I'm also looking forward to catch up with everyone!
Halfway through the 2007 season I felt my life needed a change, but at the time I was a Level 8 and couldn't just move away as there were lots of benefits to gain. I finished that season and then in 2008 I moved from Portugal to China, and I skipped all the Pro Tours after Kuala Lumpur.
BDM: What deck did you play in the PTQ?
Tiago Chan's Naya Aggro
BDM: Did you play any PTQs prior to Conflux being added to the format? If so, how did Conflux change things?
Tiago: I didn't, but as for my deck, Path to Exile just covered for most of the weaknesses red-green-white had.
BDM: There has been a lot of debate lately about how over-/underrated Path to Exile is. Can you speak specifically to your experience with the card?
Tiago: I was having some troubles against certain creatures like Swans, opposing Tarmogoyfs, Master of Etherium, Kitchen Finks, Burrenton Forge Tender and Path to Exile solves them all. They're good against so many Extended decks that it seemed like the card this deck was missing on the sideboard before Conflux.
It seems worse in Standard. I would say there are less dangerous creatures, and the average casting costs of the decks are higher, but it will be played at Pro Tour–Kyoto for sure. The card seems fair; it just depends on your deck and the metagame.
BDM: How different is it to play in a PTQ where there is only one spot on the line that ultimately matters vs. playing at GPs and PTs where the prizes pass down much more deeply?
Tiago: There's no difference in mentality; in all tournaments your goal should be winning your next match. But sometimes it can affect the deck choice of certain players. In a PTQ you can only lose one match the whole tournament, while at the Pro Tour you can lose like 4 matches and still win the Pro Tour. So in the PTQ you need a deck to win the Top 8, while at the PT I would say most of us would be happy to Top 8 or Top 16.
BDM: What have you been doing since your last PT event besides playing Magic?
Tiago: I moved to China and already finished two semesters of my Chinese language course. I've been your average college guy, living at the school dorm in a different country, though I do study a lot, as I started from zero.
BDM: How did your appreciation of the Pro Tour change when you found yourself away from it?
Tiago: I love the Pro Tour; I think it's one of the best Magic inventions. Since I wasn't playing I was not checking the internet for deck lists and strategy but occasionally I check magicthegathering.com to see what's happening on the big events.
BDM: Do you see this as a return to full-time play or just a let's-see-what-happens kind of thing?
Tiago: I don't plan to return to pro Magic (even if I win) until my life is stable, but I'm also not going to pass on a free trip to Hawaii.
BDM: Who will you be working with to prepare for Hawaii?
Tiago: I'm a playtest junkie, but I don't see myself having the time to playtest after the Spring semester starts next week.
BDM: What do you think of the new split formats for the Pro Tour?
Tiago: As a player I don't like it. You have to playtest for each Pro Tour two times as much, for only half of the reward. As a Magic fan, I think it's good for the health of the game. The people who make the decisions are really good and they love Magic more than anyone, and all the changes are done for the health of the game.
Next up was Adam Boyd who won the St. Louis qualifier with a deck that smacked of Michael Jacob's Grand Prix–LA list.
Adam Boyd's Loam
1st Place, PTQ-Honolulu - St. Louis, MO
You can find all the Top 8 lists from that event here.
BDM: Can you give us a little Magic background?
Adam: I was introduced to the game during Invasion but didn't play anything other than Arena, Prereleases, and JSS until Mirrodin block when I started PTQing. Since then I haven't really done much. Tons of PTQ Top 8s, I monied in 2 GPs, and I just qualified for my second PT last weekend.
BDM: How did you decide to play the deck you ended winning with?
U.S. National Champion Michael Jacob pilots a deck much like Boyd's in the quarterfinals in Los Angeles.
Adam: I played Death Cloud in a PTQ the same weekend as GP–LA and lost in Top 8 to an obscene amount of Extirpates. I loved the Loam engine but didn't like how much it relied on the graveyard. Meanwhile at GP–LA Michael Jacob and Ben Weinburg had already found the solution. After MJ made Top 8 with the deck I was sure it would be the next big thing. I added 2 Shred Memory to the main since I thought the deck was going to be really popular and splashed Ancient Grudge out of the board because Affinity is always popular in the Midwest and two had just Top 8ed the GP.
BDM: What are your decks good matchups?
Adam: Fae and Elves are really good matchups. You can demolish just about any deck if you happen to draw the right part of the deck but against Fae and Elves just about every card in your deck is good against them.
BDM: What are the bad ones and how do you adjust for those?
Adam: Mono-Red Burn and the red-green-white burn-heavy Zoo variants aren't good matchups unless you happen to draw multiple Finks or Tarmogoyfs or are lucky enough to get some counters on a Jitte. TEPS can be sketchy too if you don't draw Raven's Crime. You really need to mulligan aggressively to find the cards you need. I have also considered changing the red splash to white for Kataki over Ancient Grudge, Circle of Protection: Red over Baloth, and maybe some number of Gilded Light for TEPS but not before I had 4 Raven's Crime and 4 Thoughtseize.
BDM: How do you think the new split format of the Pro Tours will impact you? Do you think it is rewarding or punishing for the average PTQ player?
Adam: I like the changes but I don't think it will affect me very much since I'm not really better at one format than I am at another. I think it will be fun to play multiple formats at the PT and is probably just another reason average PTQ players should want to qualify.
BDM: Who will you prepare for the PT with?
Adam: I have no idea. I haven't even begun to think about Block.
BDM: What Conflux cards should people be keeping an eye out for during the remainder of the PTQ season?
Adam: Nothing really sticks out besides Path to Exile, which isn't even nearly as good as most people think, although I do like it in Affinity as a answer to Kataki that is also really good in the mirror. You're probably going to start seeing Scattershot Archers in Elves to help with Fae.
Conflux in Standard
Pro Tour–Kyoto is only one week away and this coming weekend will provide an advance look at the two relevant formats. The second day and Top 8 of Grand Prix–Rotterdam will be Shards / Shards /Conflux draft, which is going to represent six rounds of the main event in Kyoto. Be sure to tune into the Tournament Center all weekend long to find out what cards you should be first-picking when you open a Conflux pack. (Editor's note: It was erroneously reported here that the Top 8 for Kyoto would be Booster Draft. It is Standard. We apologize for the error.)
The first of ten Star City $5,000 Standard Opens will also take place this weekend in Richmond, Virginia, and by Sunday we should be able to see the Top 16 deck lists from that event complete with Confluxy goodness.
Perhaps you don't want to wait that long. Maybe you want to some post-Conflux Standard deck lists right now. Perhaps you want some post-Conflux Standard deck lists including one played by a former Player of the Year. How about a winning deck list from Tomoharu Saito at a 60-person Standard tournament in Japan that—if I am understanding the translation of the web page correctly—earned Saito a bye for the 2009 Finals in Japan?
The Top 8 was overwhelmingly red and white with the early Conflux standouts being Banefire, Path to Exile, Volcanic Fallout, Celestial Purge, Martial Coup, and Rakka Mar. You can find the original coverage of the event, including deck lists in Japanese and English, here.
Tomoharu Saito's Red-White Lark
Champion, LMC Yoyogi 202
Firestarter: The End of Faeries?
Looking through the lists from Japan one thing is glaringly obvious through its absence in the Top 8; it feels like this is the first Top 8 in more than a year that does not feature Spellstutter Sprite. Are all the weapons from Conflux—from Scattershot Archers to Path to Exile to Volcanic Fallout to even Celestial Purge—going to keep the Fae at bay? Or will the most dominant deck over the past 12 months find its way back into the Top 8 in Richmond or the top tables in Kyoto?