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OBC Open Testing - Results

Monday, March 25, 2002

On my way to Osaka, my greatest concern was not doing well in the Pro Tour. I was hoping that I did not make a total fool of myself with the decks posted over the course of the open testing. Although many people doubted it, I held back nothing, listing the decks I had at the time. I really did not want to show up in Osaka and find out that other pros have archetypes I have not even thought of, or even vastly superior versions of the decks I posted. Fortunately, I was not embarrassed.

Although some of the successful decks in Osaka may have been slightly better tuned and there are a few important cards I may have missed, on average the decks were about as good or only slightly better than what I posted. Three archetypes dominated Day 2 of Pro Tour-Osaka: monoblack, u-g, and u-b Psychatog in that order. Monogreen was present, but fewer people chose to play that archetype than I expected. One of the reasons for that is that it has such a difficult time dealing with u-g, especially after sideboard when the u-g deck has access to both Aura Graft and Moment's Peace.

I arrived in Osaka with four decks in my bag - the decks you saw posted in part 4 of this article series - and a bunch of cards to be used for sideboards, or to build another deck if necessary. I gathered a group of friends to test with that involved several qualified players from Singapore (spearheaded by Nick Wong and Albertus Law), South Africa's Andrew Mitchell and fellow East Coast resident Roger Sorino.

One of the greatest disadvantages of testing on your own is the amount of work you can do. When a bunch of people are in the same room testing different decks against each other, the process is sped up considerably. Most of us agreed that monoblack was the strongest archetype in the format, and we worked on the main deck and sideboard of it over the course of two days we had to test. Here is what I ended up playing:

Mono Black
Alex Shvartsman

Main DeckSideboard
2 Cabal Coffers
24 Swamp
2 Faceless Butcher 1 Laquatus's Champion 4 Nantuko Shade 2 Shambling Swarm
1 Caustic Tar
4 Chainer's Edict
3 Diabolic Tutor
1 Haunting Echoes
4 Innocent Blood
2 Mind Sludge
4 Mutilate
4 Rancid Earth
2 Skeletal Scrying
3 Braids, Cabal Minion
1 Faceless Butcher
3 Ghastly Demise
1 Haunting Echoes
4 Mesmeric Fiend
2 Mind Sludge
1 Morbid Hunger

Only a few cards off the version I posted on the Sideboard few days before the Pro Tour, the deck was actually quite good. Roger Sorino played the same deck card for card to a 19th place finish. Andrew Mitchell, who used a slightly different version with multiple main deck Laquatus's Champions, placed in Top 48. I did not make Day 2. Over the course of 6 rounds, I went 2-4, mulliganing 7 times total. This was the first time this season that I missed Day 2 of a Pro Tour. That sometimes happens and it was my turn.

The deck however I am convinced was quite good. Compare it with the deck of the second-place finisher Olivier Ruel and examine some of the differences that may have helped him achieve his high finish.

Mono Black
Oliver Ruel

Main DeckSideboard
4 Cabal Coffers
23 Swamp
4 Laquatus's Champion 4 Nantuko Shade 2 Shambling Swarm
4 Chainer's Edict
2 Diabolic Tutor
1 Haunting Echoes
4 Innocent Blood
4 Mind Sludge
1 Morbid Hunger
3 Mutilate
1 Rancid Earth
3 Skeletal Scrying
4 Braids, Cabal Minion
3 Mesmeric Fiend
1 Morbid Hunger
1 Mutilate
3 Rancid Earth
2 Shambling Swarm
1 Skeletal Scrying

Ruel utilizes four Cabal Coffers. I was afraid to do so because of the possibility of losing the games to drawing multiple early Coffers. He makes up for it by playing 27 lands. Some monoblack versions ran as many as 28 lands in Osaka. Ruel does not bother with the Butchers (which are excellent against u-g and monogreen but poor in the mirror). Instead, he plays 4 Champions despite their high mana cost. Ruel sacrifices some of the deck's power in aggressive matchups to best prepare himself for the mirror match, which most pros realized there would be a lot of. He runs all four Mind Sludge, and a third Skeletal Scrying. With only one Rancid Earth main deck, Ruel takes a gamble that he won't face many Squirrel Nest decks - a gamble that paid off in this case. His sideboard is very similar to ours as well, though he prefers extra Swarms to Butchers.

Part of the reason for Ruel's success in this Pro Tour, is metagaming heavily against the most popular deck. In this case, that deck being the mirror match. Ken Ho succeeded for the same reason. His u-g deck is far better able to deal with monoblack than many other versions, with main deck Nest, Standstill, and Upheaval.

One of my greatest errors in testing the u-g deck was to undervalue Upheaval. Most other teams did not make the same mistake. One of the most successful versions of u-g in Osaka was that played by players from East Coast's Neutral Grounder and TOGIT stores. Although none made Top 8, most of them finished in the money. Gerard Fabiano placed 12th with the following build:

Gerard Fabiano

Main DeckSideboard
1 Cephalid Coliseum
11 Forest
11 Island
3 Aquamoeba 4 Arrogant Wurm 4 Basking Rootwalla 4 Cephalid Looter 4 Wild Mongrel
4 Aether Burst
4 Careful Study
4 Circular Logic
2 Deep Analysis
4 Roar of the Wurm
1 Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor
2 Call of the Herd
1 Deep Analysis
2 Llawan, Cephalid Empress
2 Moment's Peace
3 Persuasion
3 Thought Devourer
1 Upheaval

He, too, does not run maindeck Upheaval. He and his test mates swear by Deep Analysis - a card I tried and found to be only average - and the version apparently benefits from using Cephalid Looter rather than Compulsion. In testing I found that if a u-g deck could not overrun the mono-black deck early, its greatest chances for victory lay in Compulsion. This is another example of another group apparently arriving at a different result. Interestingly, Ho played neither - something I did not see many versions try - and it worked out for him rather well.

The only well-represented archetype at Osaka that Open Testing failed to really produce was the U-R-b cycling deck that Kibler and Rubin played. John Larkin showed me a very similar deck, but it was after I submitted the final article - and only hours before I left for Osaka, so I never got a chance to really try it out. The deck looks like a lot of fun, but most of the people who played it finished poorly, with notable exception of Ben Rubin who placed in Top 24.

So was the Open Testing a success or a failure?

So was the Open Testing a success or a failure? There are many ways to answer this. On one hand, I missed Day 2, and exposed my potential opponents to decks that may have been better than what they currently had. An uber-deck failed to materialize from the readers and I must unfortunately admit that only about 10% of the emails I received contained interesting and fresh ideas. Another 5% or so were Standard decks - guess that not everyone pays attention to what they are reading.

On the other hand, it was a spectacular success as an article series. It got a tremendous amount of response, with readers either sending in their own ideas - sometimes helpful, sometimes not - and just wanting to follow it and see how decks evolve through testing. Finally, it was simply a very interesting experiment worth doing. It taught me a lot about the way an average player thinks - and builds his decks. In coming weeks, I will mostly concentrate on testing Standard. Although I cannot play in Regionals, this is the format that is of interest to most of you at the moment, and I will post the decks I am able to come up with, or others email me with. As always, you can contact me at - by the time you read this article I will be off to Grand Prix-Kuala Lumpur, but I will catch up with all emails when I get back in a week or so. Until then, good luck with your Regionals testing!

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