Preparing for Grand Prix Lyon

Wow, that was a great Pro Tour to watch. Any concerns about Modern not being able to hold up to the scrutiny of the pro teams were pretty much rendered mute. The top 8 had 7 different archetypes, and the diversity continued throughout the posted decklists. The most popular deck was 5-color Humans but because it’s just a bunch of creatures it is very beatable if you just try a little.

Lantern winning the whole thing seems to have garnered the most talk about banning but I’m not sure it’s warranted. I have very little experience playing against Lantern so I don’t have a good idea of how beatable it actually is. It seems like Burn and Tron have decent matchups but I for one do not want those decks to see more play. Anyway, as long as there are so few people actually capable of piloting Lantern, the problem might be too small to warrant bannings. Then again, it’s a pretty weak argument that it’s only a small number of people ruining things for the rest of us. I’ll stay out of the debate for now and be content whether something is banned or not.

Instead I’ll try to figure out what I should play at Grand Prix Lyon next week. When deciding on a deck in Modern I think you should always choose between decks you have extensive experience with. There are so many different matchups and weird interactions that you will be very hard pressed picking up a new deck the day before a tournament and do well. Of course, if you have a long time to prepare and build up a mastery of a new deck, by all means go for it, but a week which includes working full time is not enough.

That actually brings me to an important announcement if you haven’t heard: I have decided to quit my day job and spend all my time on Magic. For this blog it means that I will be devoting more time to writing and I will try to do more writing while I’m playing. This way I write down my thoughts as they occur so I don’t have to remember a couple of days back when I sit down to write an article. So if you feel like my posts are of low quality (yet are somehow still reading?) you should see an improvement soon. If you don’t, then I hope you will still see an improvement. I will also be trying my hand at streaming and a good friend and I have started working on a Youtube project so keep an eye out for that. I’m very excited for all of this and of course a bit nervous but I hope the excitement will win out and shine through.

Back to Modern, I have 3 options: Storm, UW Control and Mardu Pyromancer. I have played both Storm and UW at Grand Prixs before and I played a lot with Mardu during December and January. Given ample practice time I think I would play Tron since it’s good against Mardu, Lantern (I think) and Humans, all of which I could see being popular in Lyon. Then again, it’s Modern so week to week metagame changes are pretty negligible, another reason why I favor just playing something you know well.

Of the three, I have the least experience with Mardu so there would have to be some big tendencies in the metagame for me to choose it over one of the others. If I knew the metagame would be the same as the Pro Tour I would snap it off but the trifecta of Burn, Tron and Scapeshift will likely be more popular at the Grand Prix so I don’t think I have the guts to bring it.

I had actually thought UW Control to be kind of dead but the printing of Search for Azcanta and maybe more importantly Field of Ruin has given new life to the deck. I definitely enjoy playing it more than Storm but not enough to want to play it unless it is as good or better, so I’ll have to figure out if that’s the case.

Looking over the Pro Tour lists, they are actually quite similar to what I used to play, and I have tried both with and without Ancestral Vision. Last I played it, around Grand Prix Birmingham, I had abandoned Ancestral but when people like Raphael Levy, Lee Shi Tian and Tomoharu Saito include it, I consider the discussion reopened at least.

There were two main reasons why I cut it. First, the most important thing for the deck was to play its fourth land on time to unlock Supreme Verdict and Cryptic Command. Cards like Wall of Omens were more help there. Second, the top dogs were Grixis Shadow and Eldrazi Tron who had Stubborn Denial and Chalice of the Void respectively, which made it too uncertain that Ancestral would resolve.

I set to testing with a non-ancestral list and found myself struggling to get to just 3 wins in a league. I don’t think I played the same deck more than twice during 5 leagues, so it’s not like I just faced a bad matchup all the time. It’s just that UW is a deck that really requires you to be focused almost all the time. The games are often close until well after turn 5 and even in the late game you can lose by spending the wrong counterspell/answer on their threat. Since it was so long since I had played UW I often made these small missteps in the first two leagues and then I got frustrated and made even more in the next. For me at least, if I am going to play this deck I need to be calm and comfortable which I wasn’t. Since I don’t know if I can get there before the Grand Prix I turned back to trusty old Storm.

I started out with a chat with Snapcardster buddy Michael Bonde who had just played it at the Pro Tour to a 6-3-1 record. He still like the deck so I questioned him about his list:

Creatures (6)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (37)
Serum Visions
Opt
Sleight of Hand
Pyretic Ritual
Desperate Ritual
Manamorphose
Remand
Unsubstantiate
Gifts Ungiven
Noxious Revival
Past in Flames
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Lands (17)
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Shivan Reef
Mountain
Island
Snow-covered Island

Sideboard (15)
Pieces of the Puzzle
Empty the Warrens
Wipe Away
Echoing Truth
Gigadrowse
Shattering Spree
Lightning Bolt
Dismember

There are a couple of new things here, compared to my last list. First off is the full amount of one mana cantrips which I don’t have any argument against; you want to churn through your deck so let’s play all the cards that help do it. Then there is one Unsubstantiate instead of the third Remand. I think this is brilliant because while you lose out on a card, being able to bounce something like Meddling Mage or Eidolon of the Great Revel can give you a chance in a lot of games where you otherwise wouldn’t have any. Next, it seems Noxious Revival has claimed another victim. I even gave it a second chance after talking to Michael and I never cast it. Either I was winning without it or I needed it to be a card in my hand and not on top of my library to be able to win. I am sticking to Simian Spirit Guide and I will spend a lot of thought over the next weeks to come up with a proper argument rather than just “one has been great for me, the other hasn’t.”

Finally, the manabase is completely free of fetches. The advantage is that when you scry something to the bottom of your library, you get to keep it there until you play Gifts Ungiven. The downsides are that you are slightly weaker to Blood Moon and I think you take slightly more damage from your lands (calling Frank Karsten to do the math here). I think both downsides are pretty negligible; since playing without fetches, I have faced Blood Moon twice and won even with no Islands in play. The cost is just one mana for playing a Manamorphose before you play a guy. No matter how the actual math shakes out, I’m sure there is a less than one life per game difference. I remember one game in Madrid that I won because my turn 1 Scalding Tarn made my opponent play his turn two a bit differently in case I was playing a deck with Lightning Bolt or Spell Snare, but I think that’s extremely rare and doesn’t move the needle noticeably. I like going fetchless.

The sideboard is where things get really interesting. Michael had gotten it from Caleb Scherer’s blog  and I recommend you read the 5 or so posts he has written about Storm. I played some leagues with his list and followed his sideboard guide. The essence is that when you expect graveyard hate (which is close to always), you cut the Gifts package for Pieces of the Puzzle and look to play a long game where you either play multiple smaller Empty the Warrens or just stock up your hand and kill with Grapeshot plus Remand. I had just been playing Pieces as an extra grindy card and rarely shaved even a single Gifts, but I tried it out nonetheless.

My opinion after 10 leagues or so is that Caleb goes overboard with the Pieces plan, at least in some of the matchups. Against Tron, for example, I don’t think there’s a need to take them in, I would rather just keep my game plan intact, force them to draw hate and when they do, you still have bounce and/or artifact removal to power through it. I like to have some number of Pieces, but I see them more as a way to help dig for a bounce spell. Against all the blue decks, Gifts is often better, even for grinding, because it’s an instant, and you still get card advantage.

The only matchup where I agree with making the full Gifts-Pieces switch is against Shadow decks where can be quite sure that you won’t be able to combo off the normal way, and where even small Empty’s are likely to win the game. Otherwise, the main plan is just so strong that by switching you have already given up considerable percentage points, whether they draw hate cards or not. Of course, I am not 100% on this and I’m not sure how it is possible to have a rational discussion about this since it basically come down to numbers which none of us are able to calculate properly (I would think even Dr. Karsten would be hard pressed). Nevertheless, I am very interested in any points you might have, no matter which side of the argument they favor.

I am not quite sure what list I’ll play but if you swap Noxious Revival for Spirit Guide in Michael’s list above, you’ll be pretty close. If you have a list, I’d love to see it and hear your reasoning. Wish me luck in Lyon, and good luck to you wherever your next tournament might be. If you’d like to see some of the video content I’m going to do, follow me on social media, I’ll post whenever something goes up.

Modern Pro Tour Predictions

Hello and welcome to a little appetizer for the Modern action coming your way this weekend. The Modern Pro Tour is back, and I decided to look at 15 of the most played decks and talk about their strengths and weaknesses in the metagame. Buckle up!


Grixis Death’s Shadow
Grixis Death's Shadow

It is not that many months ago that the format revolved totally around this deck. Players were packing silly protection from black creatures in their sideboards, and you could expect to face this archetype at least a few times every tournament. While those days are over, it is still the deck to beat going into any high level tournament. At this level of play, I doubt many competitors will sign up with a deck with a bad Death’s Shadow matchup, so the Shadow players will have their hands full and the free wins will be at a low this weekend.


Affinity

Affinity is a deck that has come and gone a lot of times over its’ history of existence. When the metagame becomes too preoccupied with dealing with the graveyard, the stack and demands narrow answers in players’ sideboards because of other decks, Affinity will strike and claim victory. Unfortunately, there are a few other creature decks at the top of the metagame at the moment, so universal sweepers like Engineered Explosives and Anger of the Gods will be present at the event. While I’m not sure that players’ sideboards are completely dry of artifact hate just yet, I predict the Affinity specialists to have a ball this tournament.


Green Tron

Oldschool Tron has been threatening its’ comeback for a while, and looking at the metagame percentages, it looks like turn 3 Karn Liberated is back with a vengeance. Tron will thrive in metagames with many fair Midrange and Control decks, historically how Pro Tour metagames have looked when there is no clear best deck (Eldrazi and Summer Bloom, I’m looking at you), while it has built-in matchup difficulties against spell-based combo and fast creature decks with burn spells to close the deal should you manage to activate your Oblivion Stone before you die. My gut feeling is that not too many professional players will lean towards a simple strategy like Tron, but those who do will reap the rewards.


Burn

With the printing of Fatal Push, Burn moved away from the green splash featuring Wild Nacatl, Atarka’s Command and sideboarded Destructive Revelry for a better manabase and more direct burn spells in the Boros version. The format has become so big that only coincidental lifegain cards are playable main deck and sideboard options, so the success of Burn will depend of the amount of those it faces. I’m talking about Lightning Helix, Collective Brutality and Kitchen Finks mostly, but good manabases with a lot of basic lands and fastlands will also result in headaches for the red mages. The days where players starting lifetotal was effectively 15-17 are gone, and Burn has dropped in popularity as a result.


Dredge

Before the bannings, Dredge was a part of the deadly trio that ruled the metagame. Death’s Shadow moved to other color combinations, Infect is more or less dead, but Dredge just replaced the banned Golgari Grave-Troll and tried to find back to winning form. Now and then Dredge manages to take down big tournaments like SCG Open’s and online Pro Tour Qualifiers, but it’s clear that it’s not the powerhouse it once was. With Storm as a top 5 popular deck, graveyard hate will be very common and Dredge loses valuable percentages against the expected field. I don’t see Dredge bringing home the bacon at the Pro Tour.


Humans

Humans as a deck has undergone serious surgery over the course of its’ life span, but the current version looks like the best yet. Combining blazing speed with a touch of disruption is a great strategy in a “wild west” format like current Modern. I especially like the uptick in Phantasmal Image which can combo with either a disruptive creature like Meddling Mage or Kitesail Freebooter in combo matchups or try to help close the deal with Thalia’s Lieutenant or the new addition, Kessig Malcontents. However, the deck is very soft to sweepers like Anger of the Gods or Supreme Verdict, so the Human players should keep their fingers crossed that opposing players find these too narrow for the current metagame.


UW(x) Control

The only classic control deck in Modern, oldfashioned Blue/White Control, lately got a more proactive alternative in Jeskai. While traditional Blue/White will prey on creature decks and end the game on turn 15, the Jeskai version will use burn spells and Geist of Saint Traft to close out the game. The usual problem with control in Modern still applies – it’s almost impossible to muster good answers to a wide open format, but at the same time good players can really leverage their skill with decks like this. I don’t have very high hopes for the Azorious-based clan this tournament, but I would love to be proved wrong by masterful plays by the game’s greats. Also note that Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin are great “free” ways of beating big mana decks.


Eldrazi Tron

Eldrazi Tron has finally taken a small step back after being a top dog for a long period of time. The deck’s game plan is super solid, and you get a lot of even-to-good matchups with the deck. Playing Chalice of the Void with one counter on turn two will get you free wins, and playing a creature strategy that blanks Lightning Bolt – and to some extend Fatal Push – also leads to game and match wins. Time will tell if having a tough time against the comeback kids of Affinity and Green Tron coupled with the poor Titan Shift matchup will be enough to keep prominent players off the deck.


Storm

Storm is the perfect choice for the good player who isn’t a Modern specialist. You can mostly focus on learning your own deck’s math, sideboard plans against the field and alternative Gifts Ungiven piles and do well without any huge format knowledge. That being said, I expect every good testing team to have a serious plan against Storm and get a lot of practice games in which will ultimately lead to way fewer free wins for the Storm players. I would love to see an innovative sideboard plan from the Storm pilots as a reaction to this, but I’m not holding my breath.


Blue/Red Control

As the picture indicates, this archetype is all about Blood Moon and less about your actual win condition. Whether the Izzet mages choose to finish the game with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, a horde of Pestermite copies or a protected Platinum Emperion, the cores of their decks are the same and has the same flaws. It has a tough time dealing with creatures that survive Lightning Bolt, and without their combo it is very hard to be a good enough control deck to compete – something they will need to in a world of more copies of Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek than usual. I think time is up for this shell, and the Blue/Red color combination should be used for Storm only.


BG(x) Midrange

Black/Green Midrange is never a bad choice and never a good choice. The players who fancy this archetype likes to influence the game with their targeted discard spells and answer the opponent’s resolved threats with one-for-one removal while beating down with a Tarmogoyf. The nature of the deck makes it good against combo decks, but bad against big mana decks, so the matchup roulette will determine a lot of this deck’s success. I wouldn’t be shocked if we see Reid Duke compete on Sunday in the top 8 against all odds, but overall I predict a quiet weekend for Liliana.


Mardu Pyromancer

The Mardu version is very similar to Abzan and Jund in a lot of ways, but the main differences are Bedlam Reveler instead of Liliana of the Veil, the lack of Tarmogoyf and the ability to play Blood Moon. The Reveler will refill you after killing your opponent’s creatures or pointing burn spells at his life total and provide a good clock, while Blood Moon will give you a fighting chance against previously horrible matchups. The trade-off is losing Tarmogoyf, so your clock will not be as fast and as a result opponents will have more time to draw out of it. The decklists I saw online had very unfocused sideboards, but if high level players figure out the expected metagame and put together 15 strong ones, I have very high expectations for this deck. Mardu is here to stay.


Titan Shift


The Green/Red ramp deck with a combo finish went from fringe Modern deck to the most played Modern deck on Magic Online to something between those two. When this deck was played a lot, players could easily prepare for it with cards like Crumble to Dust and Runed Halo to name a few, but now that it is entering the sub-3% metagame share, devoting sideboard cards to it seems too narrow. Like with Affinity and artifact hate, this is working for TitanShift’s advantage, and we may see another breakout tournament for it this weekend if players have the guts to play it.


Lantern Control

Lantern Control recently got a sweet upgrade in Whir of Invention that made the deck even more consistent in finding its’ key pieces at the right time. With this addition, the games where they don’t find Ensnaring Bridge in time and gets killed by creatures are almost eliminated which is scary to think about. However, this deck is not for everyone. A few dedicated players have kept playing this deck, and this is the weekend to cash in the prize. Couple their dedication and insane amount of practice with people’s hostility and unwillingness to play test against it, and you have a recipe for success. I predict big things for Lantern Control this weekend, and oh boy am I happy that I’m not sitting across from it.


Abzan Company

For players that like creature combo decks with a reasonable aggressive backup plan with solid matchups overall, Abzan Company will be their weapon of choice. With Chord of Calling in your deck, building your main deck and sideboard correctly down to the last slot is super important, and many players find this task intriguing. Both being capable of turn three kills and grinding down removal heavy opponents with Gavony Township makes this deck a more flexible deck in practice than on paper, and if the pilots get their silver bullet slots right for the weekend, a top 8 appearance is within reach.

Thanks a lot for making it this far. In your opinion, which decks will “top” and “flop” this weekend’s Modern Pro Tour?

Modern’s new wunderkind

I came home from GP Madrid excited to play a lot of Storm online. The deck felt great and I already knew some ways to improve the list as I mentioned last time. The following week was an online PTQ and I was going to Grapeshot my way to the top of it. Then reality slapped me in the face as it is wont to do. I rarely got above 3 wins in the leagues I played and by Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling confident at all. I was in sort of the same spot leading up to Madrid, but then I decided that it was just variance and the deck was still good.

This time I had a harder time convincing myself. Then I happened to look at the league leaderboard and noticed that the leader, Selfeisek, had more than twice as many trophies as number two. That big of a gap couldn’t be just variance and hours played, so I went through the published decklists and found several entries from this guy. Some were recent, some were from as far back as October, but all of them were the same deck and almost identical lists; Mardu Pyromancer.

Mardu Pyromancer

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

Spells (31)
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Forked Bolt
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Faithless Looting
Lightning Helix
Dreadbore
Terminate
Lingering Souls
Kolaghan's Command
Blood Moon
Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Blood Moon
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Dragon's Claw
Wear//Tear
Leyline of the Void
Fatal Push
Shattering Spree
Pithing Needle

I tried it out and immediately went 5-0. I guess this would be my deck for the PTQ then. My confidence and hopes for the tournament were back up and they went up further when I beat THE sandydogmtg in round one. Then I faced burn twice more, got killed and was brought back down to earth. I still really liked the deck and decided to keep working on it. The matchups are roughly as follows:

Creature decks (devoted druid decks, humans, affinity etc.): These are great as you might have assumed from the roughly one million removal spells we play.

Spell combo (Ad Nauseam, Storm): Also great as you have lots of discard and can combine it with a reasonable clock.

Burn: Pretty bad. You have few ways to gain life or negate their spells and it’s often hard to not take damage from your lands. Games are usually close, though.

Death’s Shadow: Very close. Lingering Souls is obviously great but you have very few ways to kill their guys.

Eldrazi Tron: Bad. They go over the top eventually but your aggressive draws have a decent chance of getting there.

Control: Good. You have value creatures and discard. You do have to keep pressure on them, which not all your draws are capable of.

Tron: Horrible. You need discard and Blood Moon and a fast clock and the mana to play all of them.

Boggles: I was about to call this unwinnable but then I beat a guy who play a total of one aura in two of the three games. If you value your time more than your record, just concede the match.

 

The first thing I changed was a Sacred Foundry to a Godless Shrine. I sometimes found myself wanting both black and white from one fetch and the second foundry is unnecessary. Next, I had a chat with Peter Ward after we played the mirror and he suggested changing Lightning Helix to Collective Brutality. Helix might be great against Burn but it often forces you to fetch and shock to cast it which means it effectively only gains you one life. Brutality fits perfectly in the deck and I am actually surprised that Selfeisek isn’t playing it. Both the discard and -2/-2 modes fit with the rest of your deck and you have cards that you can discard either for profit or minimal cost. These are the only things I feel made the deck straight up better and I don’t see anything I would want to change regardless of the metagame.

So the time came to try and fix the bad matchups. I got really tired of losing to Tron and Burn. Burn was easily fixed by having the full 4 Dragon’s Claw in the board and now I actually look forward to facing people with so much disregard for interactive games of magic that they would sleeve up Lava Spike and friends. Unfortunately, some people have even more disregard for the intricacies of ‘good’ games of magic and decide to play tron lands and Karn Liberated. Even more unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to punish them for this disregard. I realized that Blood Moon is just not enough, especially against Eldrazi Tron, so I tried Fulminator Mage. Blood Moon wasn’t cutting it against Eldrazi Tron because it means you spend turn 3 not doing anything so making their Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher a turn or two later to the party isn’t enough. It’s also worth noting that even though we are playing red, Blood Moon can still be quite a nuisance.

The Fulminators didn’t make enough of an impact though. I figured that you could also get them back with Kolaghan’s Command but even the ‘ideal’ case of turn 3 mage, turn 4 get it back, turn 5 replay it isn’t necessarily going to win the game against either tron variant, and you spend almost all your mana for 3 turns on it. If the best case scenario for a plan doesn’t destroy a plan as linear as Tron, we should be able to do better. So I took Brian Demar’s idea of Molten Rain and Surgical Extraction. It doesn’t hurt you mana like Blood Moon or take up too much mana like Fulminator, and if you kill a tron piece turn 3 and the extract it, regular Tron will have a very rough time. Eldrazi Tron will still be able to play a game most likely but here it matters that you deal 2 damage and trigger prowess or make an extra 1/1 token. I’m not sure it’s the best way to deal with the big mana decks and I’m sure it’s not enough to turn it into a positive matchup, but it’s the best I’ve got for now.

After these considerations my list currently looks like this:

Mardu Pyromancer by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

Spells (31)
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Forked Bolt
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Faithless Looting
Collective Brutality
Dreadbore
Terminate
Lingering Souls
Kolaghan's Command
Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Godless Shrine
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Molten Rain
Dragon's Claw
Wear//Tear
Leyline of the Void
Fatal Push
Surgical Extraction

Keep in mind that this list, the sideboard in particular, is quite skewed towards Burn and Tron since I seem to face them in every single league I join. For a bigger tournament like a Grand Prix, I probably wouldn’t play 3 claws and 4 molten rains.

Since a lot of the deck is discard and burn, I don’t think it’s the hardest deck to play so I don’t have that much profound insight, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

 

  • Obviously Lingering Souls is a good discard to Faithless Looting but so are excess lands. This means that you usually want to keep one land in hand in case you draw looting. Keeping more than one can bite you if you draw a Bedlam Reveler though.

 

  • If you have more than one reveler in hand, all but one are ‘free’ discards to looting. Against some decks like BGx midrange, you can keep two to protect against Thoughtseize because reveler is your best card against them. Kolaghan’s Command can count as revelers too in this regard; if you have one of each, you can discard the reveler and get it back later with the command. If you are in a hurry to get reveler into play, you can discard the command instead.

 

  • It is tricky to decide what to play turn 1. I tend to order it Monastery Swiftspear > discard spell > looting on the play. On the draw, if they played a one drop, killing that can easily be top priority, and if they don’t but you are low on removal for an important two drop, discard can jump swiftspear as well.

 

  • Your land sequencing and fetching also requires some thought. You only need white for Lingering Souls so black and red are obviously more important. If you have neither Swamp nor Blackcleave Cliffs, you will often want to fetch Blood Crypt. At some point you then want to get one of the white shocks. If your life total is under pressure and you have ways to discard souls if you draw it, you can get away with fetching a mountain instead of having to shock Sacred Foundry.

 

I encourage you to try out this deck, it seems great for the format and it has a lot of play to it. Also, casting Bedlam Reveler empty handed is just a great feeling. Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Meet the Pros: Kai Budde, The Juggernaut

Kai Budde (born October 28, 1979[1]), is a former professional Magic: The Gathering player, who holds the record for Pro Tour victories, and for a long time held the records for earnings and lifetime Pro Points.[5][6][7] His performances earned him the nicknames “The (German) Juggernaut” and “King of the Grand Prix”. Kai left the game in late 2004 to focus on his studies, and his appearances in tournaments are less frequent than in earlier years. Budde is widely considered to be one of the all-time greatest Magic: The Gathering players.[8]Wikipedia.org

Nickname The German Juggernaut
Born October 28th, 1979
Residence Hamburg, Germany
Nationality Germany.png German
Pro Tour debut Pro Tour Mainz 1997
Winnings $383,220 (as of 2017-08-23)
Pro Tour top 8s 10 (7 wins)
Grand Prix top 8s 15 (7 wins)
Median Pro Tour Finish 51
Pro Tours Played 56
Lifetime Pro Points 562 (as of 2017-11-28)
source mtg.gamepedia.com

Andreas: Browsing through your resume on Wikipedia, it is nothing short of amazing how many tournaments you actually managed to win. Even top 8’ing that amount of tournaments would cement you as an all time great, but talk about the psychological aspect of going for the trophy rather than being content with a top 8 finish.

Andreas: I want to know how you prepared for big tournaments back in your prime. Please tell us about the testing proces, the lack of information on the internet compared to today and introduce the “Phoenix Foundation” for all the newcomers.


Kai: “This sounds a bit like a fairy tale today – but when I started to play in tournaments there was no internet. Newsgroups were the first step, but most people didn’t have access to that. The network those were running on was mostly universities connected to each other and they weren’t much more than message boards. I guess a very early version of Reddit.

All I had at home was an early mac – one of these cubes. But my father is a computer scientist working for a research facility. They had a satellite connection and when I didn’t have classes, I went there quite often. That was the best source of information – and that’s absolutely nothing compared to what everyone has available on their phone. But things took off pretty quickly. The first huge website was The Magic Dojo and launched around 1995. That hosted tournament reports and decklists. That helped somewhat but it was still quite delayed. Some tournament organizers posted top 8 decklists but most of the articles were tournament reports that came up days or weeks after the event. Decklists outside of the top 8 were very rarely available.

Screenshot of the non-profit archive of the Dojo

And the huge difference was that Magic Online did not exist. While you could play on other clients like Apprentice or even draft on NetDraft, it was essential to have a local network. Most of the last few generations of top players are home schooled through Magic Online. There are a few extreme cases like Shaun McLaren who quite often chooses to not have a testing team for a Pro Tour. Someone like that was almost impossible to exist in the pre-Magic Online era. Think about it – if you were a guy living in a small city somewhere in the US and managed to win a PTQ, who would you test with? You only had your buddies from the local store, which most likely weren’t qualified for the Pro Tour and understandably not all that enthusiastic about it.

Pure nostalgia: The Apprentice Interface

In the pre-Magic Online era it was very important to have a strong pool of players in your area. Early on there was a strong group from California, Weissman, Hacker, Frayman. Don’t shoot me if I get some stuff wrong here, that was also before my time. Then Brian David-Marshall started to push the tournament scene in New York through the events he ran at Neutral Ground. Jon Finkel, Zvi, Steve & Dan OMS and many others learned their trade there.

The same thing was true for Europe. A small university city in the woods in Northern Sweden produced a lot of very strong players, Anton Jonsson, Jens Thoren, Johan Sadegphour. It is just incredibly difficult to get better if you don’t have good people around you. I got very lucky in that regard as I grew up in Cologne and back then that had a very strong magic scene, including one of the early Pro Tour winners, Frank Adler. Those guys taught me how to play and that’s also how team for team Pro Tours formed. Dirk Baberowsi moved to Cologne to do his year of civil service and Marco Blume to study. Marco went back to Hamburg around 1999, Dirk also moved back to Northern Germany and I followed suit and moved to Hamburg. The local scene there was again super strong. Multiple people had Pro Tour top 8s and were qualified for most Pro Tours.

While I was finishing school in Cologne and later during University in Hamburg, I was playing a lot of magic. A lot of it was playing both decks myself. Otherwise with Dirk, Marco and a few other guys. It’s still a lot less than what today’s Magic pros clock in – but without Magic Online available you just couldn’t play at any time of the day. I assume I played more than most other pros of that generation.

We had a few testing houses like most pro teams do today, but that only happened a handful of times. Dirk and me were hanging out a lot, both playing magic and football. Dirk had the first score on the Pro Tour, winning in Chicago in 1998, which was the first Pro Tour of that season. I finished 19th in that event. That was the first Pro Tour we prepared together for.

Pro Player of the Year Germany Kai Budde
Rookie of the Year Germany Dirk Baberowski
World Champion Germany Kai Budde
Pro Tours 5
Grands Prix 14
Start of season 5 September 1998
End of season 8 August 1999

Going in we thought we need to get lucky to win some money as the American magic scene just seemed so much stronger from afar. But that tournament showed us that we could easily compete. We started to go to European Grand Prixs afterwards and that kicked off an unreal run for me, which ended in winning the World Championship and Player of the Year.

After that Dirk and me both played professionally for the next few years. When the team Pro Tour was launched, we actually played the first event with Andre Konstanczer but Andrew lived in the south and lost interest in pro magic soon after. With both Dirk and me now living in Northern Germany and being very good friends with Marco, it was a pretty easy decision who to team up with for the next team events.”

Hall of Fame Class of 2007: Kai Budde

Kai’s friend and teammate, Dirk Baberowski


Andreas: How much Magic does Kai Budde play on an average calendar year? Everything from a pre-release to MTGO drafts to various Pro Tours.


Kai: “To be honest, I am not playing all that much magic these days. I work in sports betting, which means during the football (feet kicking a ball, not hands throwing an egg) season it’s not easy to take weekends off. I usually play in one or two Pro Tours per year and one (team) Grand Prix. I haven’t played a physical Prerelease in quite a long time due to work constraints. After moving back to Europe this summer, I’ve played a FNM here and there. But most of my magic playing is just on MTGO – it’s just convenient. I still follow tournament magic, but I don’t think I’d want to play full time again. At least not while having a regular job. The whole traveling didn’t both me while I was playing magic full time – but now it does.

Taking a week of vacation to then spend 50 hours between airplanes and airports … I always have a lot of fun while I am at the tournaments. But whenever I am sitting in an airplane, I ask myself why exactly I’m doing this.”


Most of the readers will know that you won a tournament called the “Magic Invitational” and that you got to help design your own card after winning the event. How do you think the community would welcome a yearly Invitational tournament?


Kai: “The invitational was an invite-only (duh) round robin tournament with I think 16 players. It was something like last season’s Pro Tour winners, Player of the Year, World Champion, DCI rating and then some people got voted in through one of the bigger magic magazines. My first invite was a vote actually.

Everyone submitted a self-designed card before the event starts. Typically this was just a competition to design something outrageous. The one I turned in was:

Note: Card name “Juggernaut’s Presence” and card frame by @Peer_Rich using MTGCardsmith.com. Card design by Kai Budde. Illustration by: © Dan Frazier

Now after winning the event Wizards of the Coast unfortunately I can’t talk with you about the design because future sets have information they don’t want to reveal. For example my eventual card had the morph ability, which didn’t exist before this set. It would’ve been nice to have a slightly stronger card, but having a card in the first place is super cool.

The Final Card: Kai Budde as “Voidmage Prodigy

I’ve always wondered why Wizards of the Coast stopped doing that. Seemed like both pros and casual players liked that whole thing. My guess is that they are afraid someone ‘wins’ a card that later gets banned or somehow else picks up a bad reputation and it reflects negatively on the game? I wouldn’t know really, I loved the whole thing and it’s sad that it was discontinued, but they’ll have their reasons.”

What are the top 3 formats you have ever top 8’ed a big tournament in, and what made them so great?


Kai: “I think I’ve spread out my top 8s throughout almost all formats. Standard, Extended (the old Modern, I suppose), Booster Draft, Rochester Draft, Team Limited. My favorite format by far is Team Rochester Draft. It’s always tough to say how a format like that would evolve with today’s sets and players being much better in general – but back when it was played it was the format that you could have the biggest edge in if you were well prepared. My guess is that it was played so little that people just weren’t prepared as well as for a format like Standard for example.

After that Iike Pro Tour playing various versions of Illusions/Donate in Extended tournaments and that deck does about everything I want in a magic deck. It is a 2-card-combo deck but can easily win games as a control deck and the card draw plus library manipulation was extremely strong.


Next in line would be regular eight player Rochester Draft. Although I’m again not quite sure that format would stand the test of time.

Rochester Draft is a limited Magic: The Gathering draft format where one booster is opened at a time instead of every player opening his or her own pack.[1][2]Image: © 2001 Wizards of the Coast. Description mtg.gamepedia.org

The problem with regular Rochester is that you have full information of what your neighbors are doing and if everyone is good, you just distribute the cards after a few packs because you never want to fight with someone over a color. So the best you can do is settle into colors quickly and not hate draft. Fortunately that’s not how it went down 15 years ago and the drafts were actually pretty interesting.”


Andreas: Name a few players that you either love playing with, watch play or talk to about Magic and why that is.


Kai: “The best entertainer these days is LSV. I must admit at times I am a little over-punned, but if I had to choose one twitch stream and lock that in for the next year or two – it’s Luis’. Otherwise I am frequently watching Gabriel Nassif and Joel Larsson.

For playtesting purposes I’m always having a lot of fun playing with Ben Rubin. He’s always trying to come up with new stuff and that’s refreshing. Unfortunately it’s sometimes up to a point that he doesn’t play the obviously good deck because he wants to play sometimes ‘fresh’ too desperately. But that’s a very common problem with magic players.

When it comes to tournament coverage I’m mostly interested to watch people I know. Especially limited coverage just isn’t that interesting if I am not somewhat personally invested. That’s part of the general problem magic has as a spectator event/sports. Too many games are decided by one player hitting his curve and the other guy missing a land drop. The Pro Tour coverage improved hugely, but even the best commentators can’t make a game interesting where one guy plays cards and the other doesn’t. Games like Hearthstone have a huge edge in that department.”


Andreas: Let’s round this interview off with a hot take. Who will win Player of the Year this season?


Kai: “Seth Manfield is quite a bit ahead and has to be the favorite at this point. There’s only one Pro Tour played though. I’d love to see William Huey Jensen win the whole thing. But given that Seth refuses to lose any games in any event he plays, that doesn’t seem all that likely.”


Andreas: I can’t thank you enough for taking part in this interview. You can share your Twitter and sponsors (if any) before I let you go.


My twitter is @kaibudde, but not that much magic-related stuff is happening there.

A fanboy goes to the Pro Tour Part 1

What a trip I’ve had. I went to the US not only to compete in my first ever Pro Tour, but also to play 3 Grand Prix and hang out with two of my best friends. That sounds great but it turned out to be so much more. I will be name dropping a lot of professional players today, partly because I made friends and hung out with some of them so they are a part of the journey, but also because being a Magic pro is one of my dreams.

So meeting all these people who have the life that I hope to have was awesome and I don’t want to kid me or you by saying that I just met some normal people like myself. Of course they are still people but I don’t think there is anything wrong with having idols, and it was a big part of my trip. There won’t be much strategic magic content, as I wanted to try a different kind of article. I hope you enjoy my story!

Let’s start at the beginning with Oscar Christensen, Christoffer Larsen (who is becoming one of these awe-inspiring pros) and I arriving in Phoenix Thursday evening before the Limited GP. Chris was staying with Team Genesis/Revelation so me and Oscar went to our Travelodge. It is one of many cheap American hotel chains and if you haven’t had the displeasure, don’t worry. Luckily we would not be spending much time there, but I managed to get dropped from one draft because of their “high speed wi-fi”.

I had brought a couple of boxes of Ixalan so I spent Friday trying to get some team drafts going. Oscar introduced me to Luis Salvatto and so I got to team draft with him, Thiago Saporito, Marcos Freitas, Sebastian Pozzo, Dan Ward, Vitor Grassato and Simon Nielsen over two drafts. I did manage to embarrass myself on my way to 0-3 in the first one by Simon killing my Deathless Ancient, saying out loud that I could just get it back, after which I just forgot to take it back and losing the game and match because of it. Oh well, at least Dan said he would let me know if they went to play basketball in Albuquerque. I have played basketball for many years and had heard of these high pro point games so this was a quite high priority goal for the trip already in the bag.

The GP itself went poorly as my RG dino deck splashing Gishath, Sun’s Avatar didn’t manage to get to 6 wins. I did manage to play and attack with Gishath, put Thundering Spineback, Snapping Sailback and Regisaur Alpha into play, draw the second Spineback next turn to attack for 38.

For the Sunday PTQ I played a Temur Black deck with 2 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and no Glorybringer, with two River’s Rebuke in the sideboard. This led to an awkward situation since someone from team Team Genesis/Revelation saw me play and concluded that Chris had given their tech away. Now I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, but all of these things were available from just looking at MTGO league 5-0 decklists, which I had actually done leading up to the trip.

I wasn’t sure which version of energy to play and I did talk to him about it, but all the information was still available. Funnily, the biggest piece of information I hadn’t gotten from the online decklists was to bring in Rebuke in the mirror, but I knew that from watching Joel Larsson and Paul Dean play the mirror in their hotel lobby; hardly an information bunker.

The PTQ went smoothly until my name wasn’t in the pairings for round 3 or 4. I went to the scorekeepers and was told that I had indeed been dropped. They re-enrolled me but to disrupt as few matches as possible, I was paired down, which I had also been the round before. Now, I am fine with this procedure, the problem was that I’m no information bunker myself so when I sat down for the last round of swiss against the only other undefeated player in our pod, I told him that I had been paired down twice. He was playing tokens and after two long games we had little time left for the decider.

It can be dangerous to speculate about people’s motives but the fact was that he played very slowly in the last game, taking a long time to shuffle for every Attune with Aether and Renegade Map. We drew a game that I’m certain I would have won (I had Planeswalkers and plenty of creatures and drew both of my Rebukes) and I came second on breakers. I was pretty bitter at that point but mostly at myself, because I should have just called a judge to watch for slow play on turn one of game three. It is one of my biggest flaws as a player and one of the things I am focusing on getting better at; when in doubt, call a judge. It’s what they’re there for and it’s hard for it to go worse for you than if you don’t. Anyway, at least Vitor Grassato won the tournament so the invite stayed in the Snapcardster family.

While in Phoenix we got to talking with 3 Swedish guys there, Elias Watsfeldt, Niklas Dahlquist and David Stenberg. They didn’t test with anyone so they sort of joined our group of me, Oscar, Jake Haversat and Piotr “Kanister” Glogowski. It is hard to describe to people who haven’t met him but Niklas is one of the funniest people I have ever met. He is pretty quiet but he makes these ridiculous comments with a brilliant poker face. One night we were in a bar with Chris, Corey Baumeister and a couple of his friends, and we talked about where each of us were from. Out of nowhere Niklas asks “just to be clear, am I the only one from Afghanistan?” More from him later.

Monday morning, Oscar and I headed to the airport for the 45 minute flight to Alberquerque. Tuesday Piotr joins us and we get to the task of figuring out what to play. I was pretty sure I would be playing some form of energy and I think so was Piotr. Oscar was torn between energy and Esper Gift, Niklas and David were on RB aggro and Elias had a UW Approach deck that splashed black for Fatal Push with the help of Field of Ruin to both get a Swamp and turn on revolt. Aside from the mana I think it was actually quite similar to the deck that won GP Atlanta a week later.

Multiple times during the week Elias proclaimed that he was done with the deck but he kept falling victim to the sunken cost fallacy; he had put so much work into it that he didn’t want to go to waste by not playing the deck. In the end, I convinced him to just play Temur Black like us and he was rewarded with an 11-5 finish and invite to the next Pro Tour.

 

Trying to decide which of my friends to root for


He didn’t even do the best out of our group as Piotr just kept winning and winning until he had secured a spot in the FREAKING TOP 8 OF THE PRO TOUR!!! I couldn’t believe it. A guy I tested with and who played the same 75 as me had top 8’ed the Pro Tour. This is also a guy who is 11-1 and playing against a Hall of Famer, crews his Skysovereign and when it eats a Harnessed Lightning, he crews it again with itself, just because it’s a legal play and makes no difference! This guy’s penchant for screwing around is the stuff of legends and I look forward to hanging out with him again. Make no mistake, though, he is great at Magic, just look at the year he is putting together, and I was ecstatic for him. For reference, here is what we ended up playing:

Planeswalkers (2)
Vraska, Relic Seeker

Creatures (21)
Longtusk Cub
Servant of the Conduit
Rogue Refiner
Whirler Virtuoso
Bristling Hydra
The Scarab God

Spells (13)
Attune with Aether
Blossoming Defense
Harnessed Lightning
Abrade
Supreme Will

Artifacts (2)
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Lands (22)
Botanical Sanctum
Spirebluff Canal
Blooming Marsh
Aether Hub
Rootbound Crag
Sheltered Thicket
Forest
Mountain
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
River's Rebuke
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Negate
Cartouche of Ambition
Deathgorge Scavenger
Jace's Defeat
Confiscation Coup
Chandra's Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural

I realise that my story is getting rather long so you’ll see how I did at the Pro Tour and the ensuing Grand Prix in part 2. Hope you enjoyed so far, but I’d like any feedback you have in the comments or on social media. Thanks for reading!

6 Lessons from Danish Legacy Masters

Last weekend I attended a Legacy tournament called Danish Legacy Masters with 70 players, and I learned quite a few things from it that I would like to share today.

1. Preparation

As a surprise to absolutely no one, I sleeved up my trusty Four Color Control deck which I have played for ages online to good results. The more games I played in a tournament setting with the deck, the more comfortable I have gotten playing from behind. The nature of a control deck combined with the blazing speed of the opposition in Legacy (tempo and combo decks) dictates that you will be under pressure and have to dig yourself out of holes from time to time.

In the beginning I felt very uncomfortable and not the slightest confident in these spots, but all the practice and experience has turned that on its head. The deck is very capable of epic comebacks thanks to cards like Baleful Strix (blocker + cantrip into what else you need), Snapcaster Mage for similar reasons and Brainstorm to find the two cards you need and put an irrelevant card back netting virtual card advantage. There is no way I was able to top 4 this event without the experience and muscle memory that endless testing has provided.

Now I’m gonna go through some of my matchups for the day and give you my thoughts on the decks and my role against them.


2. Eldrazi

Rewind a month or two back, and I’m in the Legacy Challenge top 8 with a 5-1 record feeling confident. I get paired against a deck I had happily forgotten and get #smashed in two super fast games, crack my 25 treasure chests and go to sleep. My previous removal suite was constructed with Delver, Death and Taxes and Elves in mind and I was poorly set up to beat Eldrazi. I knew the deck would rise in popularity like the top 8 decks from the Challenges always do, so I was determined to tweak my removal spells before Danish Legacy Masters.

The compromise ended up being adding the fourth Baleful Strix and two Murderous Cut. Against non-Eldrazi and Gurmag Angler, I would be over paying for my removal spell, but Reality Smasher and the zombie fish needed to be dealt with, and I was happy with the trade off. Long story short, Murderous Cut saved my behind in the event as I was paired against Eldrazi twice.


3. Grixis Delver

In the semi finals I fell to Grixis Delver after three great games that could have gone either way, but instead of talking about that match in particular, I have some thoughts on the matchup.

With the full playset of Baleful Strix, three sweepers and a smattering of spot removal, I still feel the matchup is slightly above 50% for me. A friend of mine made a great point on Skype one day where I was playing against Grixis Delver and thought about sideboarding out 1 Leovold, Emissary of Trest and 1 Kolaghan’s Command because I was afraid of soft counters and Pyroblast. I’m boarding out Jace, the Mind Sculptor because of Daze and the cards I just mentioned and was looking to be more low to the ground.

He basically said

“you’re playing more lands than them, so you still need to make sure you have better cards than them because it’s gonna be a long grind most of the time”.

That stuck with me and is an excellent point.What’s the purpose of going smaller if your deck wants to play a long game anyway? We need to take advantage of the fact that we have better cards for the late game and find the right balance between winning the late game and surviving in the early game. Lesson learned.


4. Death and Taxes

This deck is very close to my heart, but in its current form you’re shooting your self in the foot by choosing it for a tournament. My friend and team mate Thomas Enevoldsen played three copies of Palace Jailer in his 75, and that’s definitely a step in the right direction. A few weeks ago I was checking decklists from the Legacy Challenge and saw a version splashing green for Choke and Sylvan Library in the sideboard. With 2-3 Jailers, 2 Chokes and 1-2 Libraries I can see the deck being competitive again. The mana base takes a small hit, but I think it’s worth it in a world of Kolaghan’s Command.


5. Black/Red Reanimator

The boogie man of the format was represented at this event, and I had the pleasure of losing to it in a match where we spent more time shuffling than playing. Yes, the deck is fragile and will sometimes mulligan to oblivion or lose to a Deathrite Shaman on the draw. Surgical Extraction and Flusterstorm try to up the percentages after sideboard, and Force of Will is sometimes enough.

My take away, and the reasons I played it at Grand Prix Las Vegas this summer, is that the deck punishes opponents who are either unprepared, unwilling to mulligan and players who simply didn’t find relevant disruption in their seven and six card hand. There are a lot of free wins playing a deck like this which will be important in a long tournament. Also make no mistake that this deck can produce a turn one Griselbrand a higher percentage of the time than you think and can beat a Force of Will even more often.


6. Elves

I had the pleasure of playing against Elves in the quarter finals. Not only because I was victorious, but because the games against a competent Elves opponent are always intense with a lot of punches being traded back and forth. Elves both has the ability to combo kill and grind you out, and an experienced green mage will search for a window to execute the combo plan while still playing for the long game with Elvish Visionary and Wirewood Symbiote.

Because their individual card quality is relatively poor, a simple spot removal is better than a one-for-one, Hymn to Tourach is more devastating than usual and sweepers and mulligans can really hurt their win percentage in the matchup. I was fortunate enough to experience all of these things this match and was able to take it down.

Until next time, may all your Hymn to Tourachs be double Sinkhole.