Welcome to the beginning of the Sideboard Pro Tour Osaka coverage! The weekend of Magic started this Thursday with the gateway tournament for the Master's series. The format was team sealed deck (using starters of Odyssey and boosters of Torment) culminating in a top 2 rochester draft for the sole spot in the Masters itself. Only eleven teams showed up for the early morning start, and I had the opportunity to speak with Team Illuminati both before and during the deck construction period.
Team Illuminati consists of members Alex Shvartsman, Zvi Mowshowitz, and Justin Gary. I first spoke with them outside the tournament area, in a very plush lobby in the basement of the ATM building in Osaka.
Ben: So I understand there's an interesting origin behind your team name. Could you tell us about it?
Alex: We made the top 4 (of the last team Pro Tour). Originally we were called My Team, Part 17.
Zvi: (Laughs) Making fun of my articles!
A: But it was a one time joke, so Jeff Donais came up to us before the top 4 started and said, "hey guys, you know that if you wanted to change your name now, we could allow that.", so we decided to change to the Illuminati.
Justin: Which was pretty cool, because suddenly this team called the Illuminati shows up in the top 4, and they hadn't even been in the tournament before? I had friends asking where the team came from!
B: Are there any colors that you're hoping for in your sealed deck?
Z: We're hoping to use all five colors!
B: (Laughs) No, no, I mean are there any combinations that you're leaning towards, like hoping to get a Green/Red deck or a Blue/Black deck...
J: We're pretty flexible. The most important thing is to get synergy, we want to build our decks to have the most synergy possible.
B: And do you have a strategy for the Rochester draft afterwards?
A: We can't really talk about that now, since we still have the Masters and we don't want other teams to know our strategy yet. We can do this interview after the tournament is over though!
J: Plus it wouldn't be fair to the other team, Your Move Games.
B: So you guys worked with them for this Masters?
A: Justin did. (Points to Justin)
J: Yeah, I worked a bit with Your Move Games. In fact, we were seeing if we could change our name again to Your Move Games part 2!
A: But I think they already have that team, with Chad (Ellis).
B: Ok, moving on: Torment obviously has a much larger focus on black than previous sets. How does this change the strategies involved in team Rochester draft?
J: Torment is basically black. Now you need to plan to have a solid black deck, maybe even one and a half.
A: Before, you could just splash black in one or two decks, as removal.
J: Yeah, but now you really have to have at least one guy who can use the good double black spells like Faceless Butcher and Crippling Fatigue.
B: So do you like this block so far in general?
Z: I'm not happy with it at all.
A: Well, I like it, but not in draft. It's really awful in draft, because the third pack messes everything up.
J: But it's a lot better than let's say Masques block team draft. You had some really overpowered commons like Troubled Healer, where this format is really more balanced. It's very self-balancing between the colors.
B: There doesn't seem to be a large number of competitors here for the gateway.
A: Yeah, maybe we'll get a first round bye! (Everyone laughs) But seriously, we sort of got screwed on rating. We were really close to getting invited on rating, so we played in some local tournaments and went 9-0 as a team over 2 tournaments. Our team was listed as USA instead of US, which for some reason kept it from being submitted to the DCI on time, and they weren't included for this gateway. We are probably the highest ranked team here.
J: So the only ending to this story is that we have to win the Gateway and then the Masters!
B: Talking about block constructed tomorrow: at Pro Tour New York a couple of years ago, there were more Rishadan Ports played during Masques Block constructed than mountains. From what I've heard, would it be safe to say that there will be more Wild Mongrels than Plains in Osaka?
A: No question, there will be a ton more Mongrels than Plains.
J: There's going to be many cards that show up more than Plains, and possibly Mountains as well.
A: The problem is that in my testing there's been only four viable decks.
B: Yeah, you've had that experiment on the Sideboard over the past few weeks, where you've been openly playtesting your decks and soliciting people's ideas about the metagames. How did that work out?
Z: I know that whenever Alex posted a deck, I'd call up my friends and say to them "hey, here's Alex's decks, now build me a new sideboard for my deck that can deal with his new decks!" (Everyone laughs)
A: I have no way to really answer how successful that was until this is over. I did get a billion e-mails though—probably over one thousand. They gave me a good idea of how the average player thinks. The average player is a lot worse than I thought.
B: Do you want me to include that in my interview?
A: Yes, I even said that to a lot of people in my e-mails to them. I said it nicely, but I'm not exaggerating when I say over 5% of the decks people submitted were for T2. They just didn't even realize I was talking block constructed.
B: What was the worst deck you saw?
A: There were a lot of bad decks! But there was one guy who said "Well, I like your black deck, but wouldn't it be better if you just splashed for Spiritmonger?"
Z: But there were a few people who really helped you and you thanked them in your last article.
A: Yes, there were some good players who weren't quite on first-rate teams but just didn't have other people to test with, and they contributed a lot. If it works, I'm definitely going to do it again. The only regret I have is that there were some really fun decks, like Battle of Wits and the Egg deck that were really enjoyable to play, but were tier 2.
At this point, the main tournament area opened up, and players were seated for deck construction. Alex, Justin, Zvi and I sat down at one of the rear tables in the tournament area, and deck construction began.
Zvi: Ok, so we'll split up Blue, Green and Black and throw the Red and White cards in the middle.
J: They'll get to where they belong eventually.
A: (Opening a pack) Ah, Balshan Collaborator. My favorite card!
J: Yeah, it did win you a Grand Prix.
(Alex begins sorting the Blue cards, while Justin sorts the Black and Zvi sorts the Green).
Z: We had some bombs.
A: I didn't open any bombs. I guess Arrogant Wurm is as close to a bomb as any other card I opened.
J: We did get two (Mesmeric) Fiends, which I love.
A: But our Blue doesn't really have any bombs. It's all support cards, like the (Cephalid) Looter and (Cephalid) Broker.
J: Yeah, it looks like we got mediocre everything.
Z: All I have to discard is Roar (of the Wurm) is (Wild) Mongrel and Rites of Spring.
A: That's not too exciting.
J: At least we have a lot of good Black.
(The players then began putting different color combinations together).
Z: Green/Blue doesn't work. We have no bounce and no pump effects.
J: You have the Centaur Garden.
Z: That's not enough. Green needs a little something else in order to win.
J: We have two Barbarian Outcasts, so we might be able to build a Black/Red deck.
(At this point Zvi and Justin began splitting up the Red cards between their decks, while Alex began tinkering with Blue/White)
A: Our Blue/White isn't very good. Maybe we should play Blue/Red, with 2 Scriveners. White/Blue doesn't have very many good instants. And right now our White/Blue looks like a bad draft deck. Maybe we should build Green/Blue, but that means that the other deck would have to be Black/Blue and wouldn't be that good. That would leave us with White/Red which is awful. The mana curve in this White/Blue deck is just horrible. It's going to be our weakest deck.
Z: So what goes with the Green? It's not the Black, it's not the Blue, so is it the Red or White?
A: (Goes over remaning White cards) Ah, Strength of Isolation! This card is really good! I might get to 23 cards! (adds it to his White/Blue deck).
Z: Should I run Rites of Spring or Rites of Initiation?
J: Rites of Spring, definitely in your deck. Rites of Initiation is great for a speed deck, but yours is all fat. A turn three Rites (of Spring) will help you get to threshold and smooth your mana.
(At this point, 20 minutes had gone by in deck construction. Alex had built a White/Blue deck, Zvi a Red/Green one, and Justin a Black/Red splashing Blue for Balshan Collaborator and Breakthrough. Then, they all rotated one seat clockwise to examine one another's builds).
J: This White/Blue deck is terrible! I like the Black deck, and the Red/Green deck is good. Maybe we should make a three color green deck, and get some of the Green cards into the Blue deck. We have two Far Wanderings, a (Diligent) Farmhand and a Rites (of Spring), so it seems to make sense to play three color green. (Roar of the Wurm is then moved to the Blue/White deck). This one definitely belongs here. The Green deck doesn't need it.
Z: If we made Blue/Green splash White, would we have enough cards left for the Green/Red deck?
J: Petravark could go in. It's a really strong card.
Z: But we don't have any two drops still. Our Green deck now only has Skyshooter and Wild Mongrel, and we'd just be splitting it more.
(They then move again to see the remaining deck)
Z: Let me see the Blue/White deck. It might even want the 7/7 Green guy (Metamophic Wurm).
J: I don't think the three drops are very good.
A: The Pilgrim (of Justice) isn't great, but Militant Monk is very good.
J: I don't like it.
A: I think it's the best White common in Torment.
J: Let's try this differently, these decks aren't very good.
(Justin and Zvi start shuffling cards around, making new decks. The White moves into the Green deck, and the Black splits between the Blue and Red decks. The Red from the Green/Red deck goes into the Black/Red deck, which eliminates Blue entirely. As a result, the team now built a Blue/Black deck, a Black/Red deck, and a Green/White deck)
J: Spirit Flare just makes this deck work much better! Plus, we spontaneously made 2 drops, where we didn't have any before.
A: I still need to remove two cards from my deck though (the Green/White deck).
Z: Take out the Rites, you don't have the Roar of the Wurm anymore.
A: What about Floating Shield? Is it any good?
J: It's very good in that deck.
Z: I wouldn't cut it.
A: Are you sure?
Z: Cut the Leaf Dancer instead.
A: Yeah, I'll just sideboard it in if I play against another Green deck.
J: There might be mono-Black decks out there, and the Shield is just an auto-win. (Looks at the Black/Blue deck). Why is there a Scrivener in here still?
Z: We have the (Ghastly) Demise and the Afflict and the Syncopate.
J: But that's it.
Z: It's really good with Demise though.
J: But that's really conditional. You're better off with another card.
Z: Ok, how about Ghostly Wings?
A: Yeah, that's good.
J: These look a lot better now. I like them, but I'd prefer not to play Black/Red, it's not my style.
A: I don't want it.
Z: I'll take it if no one else will play it, but I don't like it either.
A: I'm not a fan of Blazing Salvo (there were two in the deck at this point). Whenever anyone plays it against me in Magic Online, I rejoice.
J: Well, whoever plays the deck can decide whether or not to play the Salvos.
(Justin now had a Blue/Black deck splashing Green for Roar of the Wurm. Zvi was playing Black/Red and Alex White/Green. Interestingly, Zvi's Black was almost entirely Torment and Alex's White was almost entirely Torment. Black/Red was considered a very bad archetype in straight Odyssey and White is considered the worst color in Torment, so these decks are already unusual)
J: I'm very happy with the way we dealt with our cards.
Z: Yes, our card pool wasn't amazing.
(The begin registering their decks. Alex puts Refresh in his total column, then accidentally crosses it out, puts it in the played column, re-crosses it out, and calls a judge)
J: I actually like Morgue Theft better than Scrivener. I have a lot of good creatures. Should I change it?
A: You can get back that Demise, and plus they might not kill your men so the Theft might be a dead card.
J: Ok, but I'm definitely putting it in my sideboard.
A: My three Invigorating Falls will ensure my victory!
J: If by that you mean that they will ensure doing nothing but sit in your sideboard.
Z: I'll be happy to register cards no one else wants.
A: Here! (Tosses the Falls to Zvi).
Z: All three?
B: Well gentlemen, thank you very much for your time, and good luck in the Gateway!