Esper Gift in Albuquerque

For the first time in a while, I had high expectations going into a Pro Tour. I’ve been back to playing Magic full time for about six months now, and I was hoping to start off the new season with a good finish. Unfortunately, things didn’t go my way, and despite making Day 2, I ended up way short of the money.

Wizards decided to mix things up and hold Pro Tour Ixalan over a month after the release of the latest set, making Worlds the first major Standard tournament with Ixalan. So, I decided I would focus on Limited, jam as many Drafts as possible, and figure out what I wanted to play in Constructed after Worlds.

I managed to get 86 Drafts in on Magic Online, picking up 26 trophies and winning just over 66% of my matches. My most winning color combination was white-red, and I actually did better with non-tribal decks overall. Despite not loving blue-green in general, my best performing tribe was Merfolk (still a worse winning percentage than with non-tribal decks—it was also my least drafted tribe, so the sample is small), and had my poorest results with Dinosaurs, to the surprise of no one.

I usually spend too much time on Constructed and not enough on Limited, but it was the opposite this time around, and it showed. Once again, I suffered a case of fancy deck choice syndrome and I ended up playing Esper Gifts at the Pro Tour, despite not having great results with it, even though I did feel like I had a favorable matchup against energy decks, which I expected to be a huge part of the metagame.

I didn’t play a single League with Ramunap Red, and only one with Temur Energy (I went 0-2 drop). As Rietzl would say, “gross malpractice.” Hopefully I can find a better balance in the future.

I usually try to meet the rest of our playtesting team four or five days before the PT, but given that they would be staying in Phoenix for the GP and that the new set had been out for a while, I decided to just fly straight to Albuquerque on the Wednesday before the tournament. I arrived at my hotel at around 7 pm and found myself an IRL Draft, my first, with Marshall, BDM, Maria, and a few others. I drafted my patented White-Black Sewer (read: non-tribal) deck and managed a 3-0/6-0 record—a nice confidence boost.

I spent most of Thursday playing Esper Gifts on Magic Online, only taking a break to go register at the site and attend the Hall of Fame ceremony. I eventually submitted the following deck list:

Esper Gifts

I wasn’t feeling good about it, but felt committed to the deck since it was the one I had practiced with most apart from blue-black, and pretty much the only deck I had been playing over the past week or so. My level of confidence was low, which sucked since I felt really well prepared for the Draft. A part of me was even hoping that Draft would go horribly so that I wouldn’t have to feel too bad about doing poorly in Constructed. Not really the ideal state of mind, though to be fair, I’m not sure if there’s any deck I would have felt good about.

Jet lag wasn’t an issue since I kind of live on U.S. time when I’m in France anyway, and I managed to get a good night’s sleep. It didn’t seem like I had the toughest first pod—the only two familiar faces being Chapin and Saito—and I was happy to first-pick a Vraska’s Contempt. I felt like I had an easy seat to draft with no truly tough decisions, and ended up with a very solid white-black deck:

I’m not a big fan of the Auras in general and decided to leave Mark of the Vampire in my sideboard, which is questionable, especially given that I had a Vanguard.

I liked my chances, but was worried that I might lose some games to flood. Running 17 lands with only two 5-casting-cost cards, nothing that cost 6 or more, and no mana sinks isn’t ideal, but I thought I had too many 3- and 4-mana cards to play less, and decided that I would board out a land on the draw.

Things worked out. I won the first round with a tiny bit of help from my opponent, defeated Saito’s white-red deck in round 2, and beat Grand Prix Phoenix Top 8 competitor Jacob Nagro in round 3 to win my pod. Jacob had 3 Shapers of Nature in his deck but didn’t draw a single one in either game, and had to hope his One with the Wind would go uncontested. I had a removal spell at the ready both times.

3-0 after the first Draft, the pressure was on and I was really hoping that my deck was better than I thought it was.

I was paired against David Ochoa in round 4. He was on a Temur-heavy black deck with main-deck Gonti and Contempt, and we ended up drawing the match after a very long game 1 that featured a Scarab God on each side of the board. I was in a dominating position when time was called, 2 or 3 turns away from winning the game with an Essence Scatter in hand, and I think his only out was to topdeck Confiscation Coup.

I lost to Red in round 5. He won the die roll and had good draws on the play in both games 1 and 3, textbook standard.

I made my way to the feature match area for round 6 as I faced off against Kevin Jones. I had a good draw in game 1 but it didn’t seem to matter as he curved out, and I was starting to have nightmares of missing Day 2 after starting 3-0. But I won the next 2 games, both in very similar fashion, just beating him down with a bunch of 2-power guys while he got flooded and drew mostly reactive cards. Kevin was one of the nicest guys I’ve had the chance to play against, and I wished him better luck for the rest of the tournament. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to win either of the last two rounds to clinch a Day 2 appearance.

I headed back to the feature match area for round 7, this time on camera against PV. I asked him before the match if he wanted to put his title of third-best of all time on the line, but he declined, so I countered by asking if I could at least be 4th on his list above Luis if I beat him. He said “sure.”

You can watch the match here or here. Game 1 was epic and took almost 40 minutes. We both messed up a bunch, but in the end my mistakes were worse. I probably tunnel-visioned when I saw Hostage Taker, thinking it was the card I needed when in fact I should have just kept the Freebooter. I was disappointed to let people at home down, but it sounds like everyone still had a blast and many Scarab God emotes were spammed in Twitch chat.

I was paired against Blue-White Approach in the last round of the day and managed to kill him in the last possible extra turn of the match despite losing a 30-minute game 1, which was a great way to end the day.

I picked up two wins and a draw with my Standard deck, and could have probably won every round but the one against Red if I had played better and faster, but I was still feeling bad about my deck choice.

I tried to pump myself up for Day 2 and figured a little positive mental attitude wouldn’t hurt, but the pressure was on for Draft number 2 and I felt like I needed to win my pod again to have a shot at a solid finish.

My second Draft was a bit more interesting. I was once again happy to first-pick a rare, Bishop of Rebirth, out of a fairly weak pack, and Alexander Hayne passed me a booster with a missing rare and Firecannon Blast being the clear best card. I took it and had a somewhat close decision for my third pick between Rigging Runner and Skymarch Bloodletter.

I decided to stick to my colors and picked the 1-drop, but I think that was a mistake. I ended up regretting that pick even more as it seemed that I was getting cut on red and started dipping into black, picking playable but unexciting cards.

I was ready to abandon red, but I opened a pack with Firecannon Blast and Seekers’ Squire as the two best cards and the player two to my left opened and revealed a Vance’s Blasting Cannons. I thought there was a high chance that the legendary enchantment would make it to me, so I decided to pick the Blast. It did, and I ended up with a very solid white-red deck, getting lots of good white cards in the last pack, including a pick 9 or 10 Bishop’s Soldier. It turns out that my deck would have been just as good if I had gone with white-black with less removal but slightly better synergy.


I really liked the fact that my deck had a good curve, good removal, and a great late-game card, but I also had a few mediocre cards that made the cut.

I was paired against the player I was passing to in round 9, and it turns out that he was White-Black Vampires. I was surprised because he took a Search for Azcanta fairly early in pack 1 and passed me a Settle the Wreckage pick 2 pack 2. He told me after the match that he doesn’t play much Limited and took Contract Killing over the white rare. While Killing is a very good card, Settle the Wreckage is a bomb and you should probably first pick it over the best uncommons, even Charging Monstrosaur, and never pass it if you’re white.

I won the match 2-0, but his deck was very good. Both games were close, and I might have lost both if he hadn’t made a few mistakes.

Next I played against Hayne, who was passing to me in the Draft, and he was indeed red. We had a very close match, but he delivered my first Limited loss of the tournament.

In the final round of the Draft, I faced Ochoa for the second time in this PT, and once again, the match was absurdly close and I might have lost if he hadn’t missed his fifth land drop in the deciding game.

I was happy starting the day off with a 2-1 record in Draft, but it meant that I had to win out to make Top 8. I got paired against my groomsman/teammate/roommate Paul Rietzl playing Temur Energy in round 12 and we split the first 2 games. I played the wrong land on turn 2 of the third game (I went Drowned Catacomb into Swamp not realizing that my Glacial Fortress would come into play tapped on turn 3) and I also probably picked the wrong target for my Fatal Push (I went with Servant over Cub). I’m not 100% sure that I would have won without those two misplays, but the game would have been much closer.

The rest of the day didn’t go any better. I ran badly and didn’t play great. I only managed to pick up a win against Red, losing to a pair of Temur decks, as well as Robin Dollar playing Blue-Black Control.

The PT didn’t go any better for the rest of team Face to Face Games. Half of us didn’t make Day 2, and none of us cashed. It’s hard enough to do poorly at a PT, but it makes things even worse when you’re representing an organization. I hope no one feels let down. I can’t wait to redeem myself in Bilbao, and I’m sure that my teammates feel the same way.

As for Standard, I’m still not sure how good or bad Esper Gifts is, but one thing I know is that it is not an easy deck to play, so make sure that you get a lot of reps in if you plan to play it in an important tournament. If you want to try something a bit different, I believe that Travis Woo went 7-3 with a straight blue-black version, playing Gifted Aetherborn over Angel of Invention, which I had thought of but never tried out given how important the Angel seemed.

I will probably be playing Blue-Black Control or some kind of Approach deck in the last MOCS Playoffs this Saturday, and after that it’s going to be mostly Modern. I’ve been looking forward to playing and streaming the format again, and I’ve been told that Field of Ruin and Search for Azcanta are both a nice fit for Blue-White Control.

I hope that you guys have enjoyed the read, and I’ll see you next time.

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