If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.*
Going into Pro Tour Magic 2015, I was on the verge of falling off the PT. I’d had a lackluster season and was sitting on 21 Pro Points going into this last event of the year, meaning I’d need a Top 16 to achieve the requisite 35 points to remain a Gold-level pro.
Top 16 is no mean feat, I’d only reached Top 16 or better in one Pro Tour previously, so I’d already made my peace with the fact that I would not be on the Pro Tour next year. I’d played in every Pro Tour since Worlds 2010 as a Gold (or level 4/5) pro, so I certainly had nothing to complain about. I’d had a great run, and been able to see the world with my friends. In fact, I’d assumed this tournament report would largely focus on how much being on the PT had meant to me.
Fortunately, that retrospective will have to wait another year.
Preparation, i.e. Tuning Brave Naya
As I’m sure some of you know, I’ve been playing white weenie variants for the better part of year. So I was crushed when I found out the Brave the Elements wasn’t in M15, and I wouldn’t be able to finish out the season with my weapon of choice. I was then later elated when LSV explained to me how rotations actually work.
I assumed Standard was unlikely to change much from a single set, so I was heavily leaning toward sticking with what I knew. What I currently knew was Brave Naya, having progressed from Boros to Orzhov to Selesnya to finally arrive there. I’d tested Brave Naya extensively for GP Chicago, and ended up going a reasonable but unexciting 11-4 with the deck in that tournament.
Having recently started a new job, I was unable to take a week off to test with the rest of TeamCFB, but fortunately the guys at my local store (Comics and Gaming) were nice enough to put together some drafts for me after work.
While I couldn’t stay the week, I did make the trip to EFro’s house in Vegas the weekend before the Pro Tour. We did a couple drafts during that time, but mostly I just played Standard for two days straight. I wanted to figure out sideboard plans for Brave Naya, for example: was Setessan Tactics as good as it seemed against Mono-U? (Spoiler: yes.) But I also played a lot of games with stock decks against teammates’ concoctions, which was helpful because I’d never played many games with Mono-U, B/W Midrange, G/W Aggro, etc.—and you know, “know thy enemy” and all.
After I left, LSV and EFro decided they might play Brave Naya and started working on the deck. While they certainly did the lion’s share of the work at this point, I kept in contact with LSV to make sure they weren’t trying things I already had, and weigh in with my thoughts on any changes. The big conclusions that they came to were:
I could get behind 1) and 2) easily enough, but ended up arguing with LSV about 3) for a long time and really thought it was a mistake to cut any Ajanis. I have had great experiences with the planeswalker, and am not sure why our opinions were so drastically different on him. Perhaps they were playing the deck slightly differently, more aggressively trying to combo, whereas I look to get value with Ajani over time?
LSV and EFro ultimately ended up playing the Boros Aggro deck that much of our team chose, but they were a great help in tuning Brave Naya. There were several games in the tournament where any three-drop other than Reckoner would not have gotten the job done.
This is what I sleeved up for the Pro Tour:
The overall strategy hasn’t changed since I first wrote about the deck, so refer to this article if you want an overview. I also did a deck tech, which may be helpful to watch. But in brief, what is Brave Naya doing?
Brave Naya is an aggro deck with a powerful combo element in Ghor-Clan Rampager + Ajani Steadfast or Boros Charm. The nice thing about those “combo” pieces is that they are also good with a normal aggressive game plan, so if you only draw half the combo, or your opponent leaves up removal, you can easily win without going all in.
As you can see, Brave Naya plays a lot of the same creatures as G/W Aggro, with one important distinction: all of Brava Naya’s creatures are white. While Boon Satyr and Experiment One are fine cards, they aren’t worth giving up Brave the Elements. Brave is incredibly powerful: it counters removal, acts as a combat trick, and, most commonly, pushes through board stalls for the win.
That is not to say that Brave Naya is strictly better than G/W Aggro. Your mana base contains no basics, and very few lands that don’t deal damage to you. So if you’re interested in this sort of deck, but expect a lot of Burn or fast aggro, I’d consider G/W Aggro instead.
The changes to the main deck from the list in my previous article are:
The land switch is fairly self-explanatory: Battlefield Forge became legal.
I already touched on Brimaz vs. Reckoner, though I don’t think it is totally cut and dry that Reckoner is better. Brimaz is certainly better against control decks, and if I expected a lot of Anger of the Gods, I’d want my three-drop to live through that. But if B/W Midrange is king, I’d rather have Reckoner.
The singleton Boros Charm was a concession to LSV’s advice that I add 2-3 Boros Charms and only play 1-2 Ajani. He argued that the deck wanted another way to combo off game 1, which is reasonable enough. I did side out Boros Charm most rounds, and I think it can easily be cut for something else if you need room in the main deck. Though, if you expect a lot of control, I might go up to two copies.
Let’s talk about the new additions:
Setessan Tactics is a card Wrapter and I had contemplated in the previous iteration of Brave Naya, but never got around to testing. We did have the time to try it out against Mono-U before the PT, and boy was it good. Every game I drew it, I handily won, even from way behind. Your creatures are almost universally bigger than theirs, especially when given +1/+1, so it is pretty hard for Tactics to not be a one-sided Wrath.
The biggest reason you want a card like this at all is Master of Waves. I’m not sure that I’ve ever lost a game against Mono-U where a Master didn’t stick, but I haven’t won many where it did. The reason there are still two Banisher Priests in the board is because they deal with Master in a slightly worse way, but, unlike Tactics, are good against large green creatures. I would not go below four ways to kill Master of Waves in my 75.
Tactics is also powerful against faster creature decks where you’re forced into the control role. I sided them in against Rabble Red, for example.
This card is great.
Going into the Pro Tour, both Esper and B/W decks were playing tons of enchantments: Banishing Light, Detention Sphere, and Nyx-Fleece Ram. This meant Back to Nature would rarely be dead, and often a 2-for-1. I never actually drew the card during the tournament, but I did have a game against Web where it would have been incredible, returning two of my creatures to play at the end of his turn. If U/W Planar Cleansing, which has no Banishing Lights or Detention Spheres, becomes the norm, then I could see cutting Back to Nature.
Medium Ajani was a hedge against Burn, which is by far Brave Naya’s worst matchup. I didn’t want to devote a ton of sideboard slots to a deck that I assumed wouldn’t be very popular, but I wanted an out if I did face it. If you expect little to no Burn, it could be easily right to cut this Ajani. Conversely, if you expect a lot of Burn, I’d play some copies of Unflinching Courage in addition to the Ajani.
Advent and Xenagos are mostly for control, but also good against B/W Midrange. I don’t think you can really play any more copies of either card, since four mana is ambitious for the deck. You do want to have some powerful fours to draw to if/when the game drags out, but you don’t want to see them in your opener. I did find Xenagos to be better than Advent, since he is a more robust threat, but Advent does double as an answer to Blood Baron. I’d probably split in favor of Xenagos if you expect more control, and Advent if you expect more B/W Midrange.
Updated Deck List
This is the deck list I would run if I had a tournament tomorrow. Of course, tailor to your expected metagame per the above suggestions.
Pro Tour Magic 2015
In the first draft, I opened one of the stronger bombs in the format: Avacyn. I didn’t see a ton of white past that, second-picking a Hunt the Weak. I was able to pick up a couple white two-drops in pack one, so I decided to stick with white despite it not being particularly open. It is possible this was wrong, but green was so open that it hardly mattered which other color I was, and Avacyn was a pretty big incentive to stick with white. I then got rewarded for my obstinace with a Sunblade Elf.
The toughest pick I had was Elvish Mystic vs. Genesis Hydra early in pack 2. As you can see, I took the Elf, but I’m still unsure if that was correct. I am always very high on mana elves in Limited, and Hydra seems like it’ll most typically get cast as a 4/4 where you hope to hit a Grizzly Bears, but I haven’t played with or against the card, so I may be underrating it.
I was surprised to get Pillar of Light with four cards left in a pack, and Charging Rhino with three. While I wouldn’t be excited to first pick either card, they are certainly much better than how late I got them.
I was wrong to play Shield of the Avatar. Luckily I picked it up late and didn’t miss out on a good card for it. I’d seen it be good against me in a previous draft, and thought it could be reasonable in such a creature-heavy deck. I sided it out every round. I should have maindecked Titanic Growth instead, though what exactly I sided in somewhat depended on what my opponent had, since I had Plummet, Naturalize, and Back to Nature to bring in as well.
The mana was a bit awkward with Avacyn, given how heavily skewed towards green the cards are, but Satyr Wayfinder helped a bit.
I punted the first game of the tournament, but managed to 3-0 the draft thanks to tons of value from Roaring Primadox in some games, and Avacyn in the others.
U/B (Draft) (W) 1-0
U/B (Draft) (W) 2-0
R/G (Draft) (W) 3-0
Constructed, Part 1
W/B Midrange (L) 3-1
Mono U (W) 4-1
Esper (W) 5-1
Jund Monsters (W) 6-1
Esper (W) 7-1
Constructed started off with a loss against Web, which you can read about here. Fortunately I was able to win the rest of my matches to end the day at 7-1. I’d only had that kind of start in a PT once before, so I was feeling a bit better about my prospects of Top 16. If I could go 5-3 or maybe 4-3-1 tomorrow, I’d get to stay Gold. While that was certainly achievable, I still had a lot of matches to win, and admittedly remained anxious. After all, while I’d only started 7-1 one other time, I’d turned plenty of 6-2 starts into no-cashes.
In the second draft I again ended up G/W tokens, though this time I was instead heavily white. I first-picked Triplicate Spirits, got passed an Obelisk, and didn’t look back. The only pick that was somewhat close/difficult was Soulmender vs. Bronze Sable. I already had two white lords, and knew I’d name Human some amount of the time with Obelisk, so I went with the Soulmender. But in retrospect, a card that I have to work to make a 2/2 is probably worse than a base 2/1.
The deck played out about as well as it looks, though I lost the first round due to flooding game one and Constricting Sliver followed up by two other Slivers the next turn in game two (jeez).
U/R/w (Draft) (L) 7-2
Game one of the second round was awesome, and I wish I could recall the details well enough to do it justice. My opponent had a good U/W deck with tons of fliers and Auras to suit them up with. I get very low from his initial onslaught, but manage to halt further attacks with a Razorfoot Griffin that I was giving vigilance with my lord every turn. He eventually leaves five mana up and if he has Aetherspouts for the Griffin, I lose on the crackback, so I instead have to send some ground guys and he does in fact have the Aetherspouts. A few turns later I am dead to his newly drawn flyers unless I attack with everything—including the lord, so I can’t give my Griffin Vigilance—and force him to block with his flyers. He does, then casts his second Hushwing Gryff end of turn to kill me!
U/W (Draft) (W) 8-2
In the last round I played against Ben Friedman, who had a synergistic G/B graveyard deck with Soul of Innistrad. Game 1 I draw a lot of small creatures and a lord, but can’t break through. Luckily, I topdeck Sanctified Charge, the possibility of which forced him into some pretty awkward blocks where at most one of his guys lives. Game 2 he has an early Soul, but I have Triplicate Spirits, Obelisk, and a lord, which is several million damage.
B/G (Draft) (W) 9-2
Constructed, Part 2
Mono U (W) 10-2
Rabble Red (W) 11-2
A write-up of my round 14 match against Huey can be found here. (Where I am slightly misquoted: Sharfman and I didn’t come up with the Puresteel Paladin deck, Mark Herberholz did.)
At this point I’m favored to Top 8, but more importantly, definitely locked for Top 16. I get to stay on the PT! I finally relax a little. What my friends have been telling me for several rounds sinks in: I can Top 8 this Pro Tour.
B/W Midrange (W) 12-2
Video coverage of my match against Jon Finkel can be found here. I was paired down, so I needed a draw to lock Top 8 while he needed a win. I offered the draw at the start of the match and before game three, but he understandably declined. In game three, when I was ahead, but by no means assured victory, he offered the draw and I took it.
B/W Midrange (D) 12-2-1
Several people have asked why I played round 16 against Jackson Cunningham, rather than draw. In general, when you’re locked for Top 8, you want to play for seeding, since whoever has the higher Swiss standing plays first in the elimination rounds. It turns out that in this case I was going to be either 1st or 2nd even with a draw. Unfortunately, I was doing a deck tech until five minutes into the round, and never got the opportunity to look at standings. I am glad Jackson made Top 8 anyway, because I would have felt like a real jackass knocking him out for what turned out to be little reason. On the plus side: I did guarantee myself first seed.
Anyway, here is a write-up of our match, and I believe this video eventually switches to us. The video should at least have our game 3, which was pretty awesome, with him correctly leaving up Selesnya Charm the whole time to prevent me from comboing him, and me having to jump through hoops trying to get him to use it.
G/W Aggro (W) 13-2-1
We didn’t leave the site until 10 p.m., with a report time of 8:15 a.m., so I didn’t do any playtesting that night, but Wrapter, BenS, and Shahar graciously offered to playtest whatever I wanted while I got some sleep.
I would be facing Owen Turtenwald piloting W/B Midrange in the quarterfinals. I knew the matchup well already, having played against two of his teammates in the tournament, and the deck in general plenty. If I made the semifinals, I’d play against Ivan Floch with U/W (likely) or Matt Sperling with W/R Burn. I also knew how U/W went, and had skimped on the sideboard slots for Burn, so I asked them to figure out my best shot of winning that matchup. Wrapter came up with a pretty unorthodox sideboard plan that I never would’ve thought of on the fly, so I certainly appreciate the help, even if I didn’t get to use it.
I didn’t think I would be all that nervous, seeing as the Top 8 was just gravy after achieving Gold, but I was. My mind was racing and I had a lot of trouble sleeping. It had taken me three years to get another shot at winning a PT, and I didn’t want to screw it up.
My quarterfinals match against Owen can be found here (video here). His draws matched up well against mine, and I was thoroughly defeated. Despite that, I do think the matchup is about even, largely favoring whoever is on the play.
And that’s how I made my second Pro Tour Top 8, and narrowly forestalled falling off the PT for another year. I was feeling a bit burnt out after the last season, but now I can’t wait for the upcoming one. Funny how that works. I even get to play a Pro Tour in my hometown (Washington, D.C.)! Currently I’m not planning on attending any tournaments until Orlando in October, but we will see if I can hold out that long: I’ve been checking flights to Salt Lake City daily.
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* “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” –Kurt Vonnegut