Last weekend, I got to compete in the richest Pro Tour in the history of the game with two longtime friends, Eric Froehlich and David Williams. It was also the first team Pro Tour in over a decade, and I was hoping to finally make my tenth Sunday appearance on the game’s biggest stage, nine years after topdecking Cruel Ultimatum and winning PT Kyoto.
We came close, but I guess #10 will have to wait.
Our entire run would have most likely not happened if I hadn’t made the trip to Nationals a few weeks ago. In round 11 of the tournament, I got paired against Florian Trotte and his Turbo Fog deck. I had noticed the deck while I was walking in between tables during my round 1 bye, but assumed it was probably not very good. We played a close match and I ended up winning mostly thanks to my sideboard cards (I was playing Storm) but I was impressed by the Turbo Fog deck nonetheless. We talked a bit, and Florian told me that the deck was very good against green.
I usually playtest with the Pantheon, but given the nature of the event, we decided to do things a bit differently and I ended up in a group composed of Team Face to Face Games (Me/Efro/Williams and BR/Hoaen/Burkhart), Kai’s team (Kai/Luca Casadei/Jan-Moritz Merkel), Kibler+Parke+TBS’s team, and the Amaz stack (Amaz/Decandio/Tannon Grace). We also added Logan Nettles a.k.a. Jaberwocki, the Standard player on his team, to our group.
Even though I would be playing Modern at the PT, I was heavily invested in Standard testing. Here is an excerpt from my first post about Standard after Nationals:
“One deck that might be interesting is Turbo Fog. Has anyone tried it? A couple of guys played it at French Nationals. I beat one, but he was 3-1 before playing me. I don’t have his exact list, but it was very close to this:
He said that the deck is very, very good versus green and seems like it should be almost as good against R/B game 1. I’m not sure that four Duress change that much after sideboard. It can be good against control if people don’t know what you’re up to (Nexus is an instant so if they ever tap out end of turn, you can just go off). You goldfish about as fast as Storm game 1. It’s probably a close matchup.”
The first archetype I wanted to play against was R/B. It was almost a foregone conclusion that it would be the most played deck at the PT so I wanted to make sure that the Fog deck had a good matchup against it and that sideboard Duress, combined with the card advantage of Bomat Courier, wasn’t a problem. Logan played me and the first few games were promising. I won three out of five pre-board games but also felt like I was making small mistakes. We decided to play a few matches and I won all five with the Fog deck. Duress didn’t seem to matter enough.
TBS and I played four matches of Fog versus Ghalta splash black, which we expected to be the second-most-played deck. TBS, who was playing the Fog side, crushed me. We then played a few matches versus the version splashing blue for Commit and sideboard Negate, and that was much tougher. The Fog deck seemed like it might be an underdog but I believed the version splashing blue was weaker against red-black and was probably not a viable choice for the PT.
After playing with the deck a bit, it quickly became obvious that Karn, Scion of Urza, as well as Karn’s Temporal Sundering, were some of the weaker cards in the deck and that in the red and green matchups, the only thing that really mattered was having Teferi on turn 4 or 5. Anticipate and Glimmer of Genius made more sense and I thought that Glimmer’s instant speed would work nicely with our sideboard plan in the control matchups.
By that time, we had added Herberholz to the playtest group. Mark wasn’t qualified, but he and Williams both live in Vegas and he could help David playtest Standard. He came up with a slightly different version of the deck favoring sorcery-speed card drawing spells (Chart a Course and Secrets of the Golden City) and a few copies of The Mirari’s Conjecture. These choices didn’t make much sense to me since I felt like it was all about seeing as many cards as possible to make sure that we find a Teferi and a bunch of Fogs. I shared my doubts with the team a few times but it seemed like both Williams and Ben Rubin were liking Mark’s version. Williams said that he really liked Chart a Course, especially against control, since it lets you cycle useless Root Snares and helps you hit your land drops. I could also see Chart being really good after sideboard in combination with Baral.
About a week before the tournament, I still hadn’t really figured out what I was going to play in Modern so I decided to focus on my format and trust my teammates. When I showed up at the team house in Minneapolis on the Wednesday before the PT, it looked like Williams was the only one still on the deck. Logan was going to stick to Red-Black, Kibler and Amaz were going to play one of the green decks, Luca was really liking Storm, and it seemed like Ben was getting cold feet and was going to abandon Turbo Fog for Storm as well. I hadn’t played as much Standard in the past few weeks as these guys but it seemed weird to me that you wouldn’t want to play a deck that crushed the two most played decks in the tournament, even though you might have rough matchups against some of the other decks. To be fair, the Storm matchup seemed bad, and we expected Storm to be much bigger than it was, which was the reason why we ended up with four Manglehorn and two Cleansing Nova in the sideboard. David and I spent most of the day polishing the list while I was also trying to figure out the exact build I wanted for my Modern deck.
Here’s what David submitted on Wednesday evening:
The sideboard plan was simple. Bring nine cards in against control, all fifteen against Storm, and absolutely nothing against red and green.
It’s no secret that I love Blue-White Control and to the surprise of no one, that’s what I ended up playing in the PT. I played the deck in GP Barcelona and did reasonably well, going 8-4 after my three byes. I was playing the Spreading Seas version, expecting a decent bit of Tron, and ended up playing against everyone’s favorite deck to hate three times, beating it each time. With Nationals just a couple of weeks before the PT, I had to split my focus between Standard, M19, and Modern. I was pretty sure that I was going to play some version of U/W in Modern anyway and the time I spent on Standard for Nationals would be useful to our playtest group for the PT.
The plan almost changed after DeCandio posted a Bridgevine list in our Facebook group. I guess that I hadn’t been doing my homework and didn’t know that Bridgevine was a thing despite it appearing a bunch of times in the Magic Online 5-0 deck lists. During one of my streams, I had people vote on which 5-0 deck I should play and they picked Bridgevine, so I ended up playing the deck to a 4-1 finish in front of my audience, which wasn’t very smart. I played it a bit more off stream and it felt kind of busted at first, but reality hit and I started mulliganing into oblivion every third game or so. I didn’t feel like I had the time to tune the deck and get a big enough sample size. In hindsight, it seems like Greater Gargadon over Viscera Seer and a full playset of Bloodghast might have been what we were missing.
I decided to spend my last few days tuning U/W and I was liking the all-Terminus version for a while, but I eventually came to the same conclusion I had come to in the past: I’d rather have a wider array of sweepers and I’d rather not have to play too many copies of a card as weak as Opt.
Regardless of the version, I wasn’t winning as much as I would have liked to with the deck but I didn’t really know what else to play. I had solid results in the last two big tournaments where I had played U/W, and decided to trust the deck and my ability to pilot it well. As for the last-minute tweaks, I decided to go with what I felt was right:
I decided to abandon the Spreading Seas build as I felt that the format was shifting toward faster decks. I was also hoping that the recent rise of Bridgevine (it was everywhere on MTGO the week leading up to the PT) would scare people off Tron. If the Tron matchup was excellent with main-deck Spreading Seas, it was much tougher without and it probably went from being a solid favorite to slight underdog.
After an extra 14 rounds of play, I would make the following changes:
I knew nothing about Legacy and trusted EFro to pick something good and play it well. It was good to know that he could count on Kai, who was also playing the Legacy seat and who usually made solid deck choices. The team had tested a bunch of different decks, including what looked to be a sweet Mono-Black Smallpox deck that was excellent against creature decks but pretty awful against combo.
Here is Kai’s latest version of that deck:
There seems to be a lot of uncertainty as to which deck our Legacy players were going to play, but when I finally met up with the group on Wednesday, it was reassuring to know that EFro and Kai were on the same page. They had finally settled on Eldrazi Stompy, a deck LewisCBR was crushing Legacy Leagues with online.
Here is what EFro registered:
I was feeling good about our Legacy deck and great about our Standard deck. I was really hoping that I hadn’t sabotaged our team by sticking with U/W Control. If I didn’t make a terrible deck choice, could play well, and run a bit above average, we had a real decent shot.
In the very first round, we got paired against Snapcardster and I got to play the U/W mirror match against Makis Matsoukas, who can usually be found in my Twitch chat pointing out every mistake I make. Makis stalled on lands both games and Williams’ Turbo Fog deck did its thing against Grzegorz Koawlski’s Red-Black deck.
Everything kept going well and we found ourselves at 4-0. We picked up our first loss against team Hotsauce in round 5 but ended the day strong with a couple of more wins. The other half of team Face-to-Face Games had a rougher day but were still in the running at 4-3 and I was having dreams of a miracle comeback in the Pro Tour Team Series.
We started off Day 2 with a feature match and once again, I started the day off playing against one of my Twitch subscribers, Jacob Nagro. I knew Jake was on Bridgevine and I wasn’t super happy to lose the roll. EFro and I both lost game 1 but we both won game 2 while David got his first match win of the day. Despite the fact that only one of us had to win a game, I didn’t love our chances as we were both on the draw. Coverage had decided to stagger the matches in the feature match area to make sure that they wouldn’t be left with too long of a blank in between rounds and I had to watch game 3 slowly slip away from my teammate’s grasp while Jake and I waited for our turn.
My opening seven for game 3 wasn’t ideal and I had to hope that my double Timely Reinforcements hand would line up well with his draw. The card can be really strong in the matchup, especially combined with a turn-2 Rest in Peace, but it can also be near to a blank against a Greater Gargadon draw. I was relieved when Jake didn’t suspend anything on turn 1 and for the second game in a row, I drew my one Baneslayer Angel to end the game before the Bridgevine deck could do stupid things.
It felt amazing to start off the day with a win and we were tied for 1st after my teammates carried me in round 9. David and EFro had both won their matches while Rizzi and I were still in game 1 of the U/W Control mirror, which we finished for fun and practice, and I ended up losing.
It was the reverse scenario in round 10 against ChannelFireball, though. My 1-0 lead was rendered useless as EFro and David both quickly lost.
We bounced back, sweeping Walker-Kassis-Soorani in round 11. Kai, who saw me right after the round, actually thought we had lost cause Shaheen just looked so happy after the match. Classic carefree, smiley, happy people—they’ll get you every time.
In round 12, we got paired against Carvalho-Saporito-Romao. I was up against Thiago and his Humans deck, and this is the match that will leave me wondering what could have been. I didn’t even realize it at the time but I apparently forgot to use Search for Azcanta at least once. I think what happened is that I was so focused on making sure that my draw step wasn’t a Terminus that I missed my Search trigger. I also took the wrong line with Snapcaster Mage, using it to flashback a Path to Exile and do some crowd control rather than using it to recast Serum Visions and dig to a sweeper. I got crushed game 2, losing the deciding match and we now had our backs against the wall.
We got paired against the other half of Hareruya Latin the next round and my spirits were pretty low. I had to play the most recent Modern PT champion, Luis Salvatto, in the U/W Control mirror against what I had to assume was a version that was better than mine in the mirror match. Not exactly where you want to be with your tournament life on the line.
I quickly fell behind in game 1 and battled hard to come back but the damage had been done and we moved on to game 2 with less than 30 minutes left on the clock. Williams had won, but EFro had not, and I knew that I was pretty much playing for a draw at best at this point, meaning we were most likely out of contention for Top 4.
I fell behind early on once again and things were looking grim but I was able to slowly crawl my way back into the game and caught a lucky break, winning a crucial permission battle when Luis ran out of relevant spells despite having three or four cards left in hand.
I had told Luis after game 1 that I had probably messed up a bunch and he said that no one could be expected to play the U/W Control mirror perfectly and still hope to finish a match in 60 minutes—that it was just the way it went. He definitely backed up his words as he kept up the same fast pace of play he had been playing at the whole time, possibly making a few mistakes along the way and costing himself the game as I was able to swing for lethal during the third extra turn. I’m sure that he and Pozzo, who was helping him, had just as many tough decisions as I did, and they could have easily justified taking a little extra time here and there but they didn’t. I know I have the reputation of a slow player, but one thing I’ve always taken pride in is making sure that I keep up the pace of play when I’m up a game in these spots, almost to a fault, and it was nice to benefit from the same level of integrity during round 13 of the PT.
Despite pulling off a nice comeback, I thought a draw meant that we were done, but David told me that if some of the matches still playing out went our way, we might have a shot. Unfortunately, all three teams that got paired up won, meaning that our Sunday hopes were almost definitely gone, barring some kind of miracle.
We were 9th going into the last and final round of the Swiss and were hoping for some very weird pairings, but the Top 8 teams got paired against each other, which meant four clear cut win-and-ins, which might have been a first in the history of the Pro Tour. Our last hope was to win and pray that somehow, one of those four matches ended in a draw.
Things didn’t start off very well. My game 1 against Tron wasn’t looking good and I heard EFro’s opponent announce a “20/20.” I took a quick look at EFro’s board, which consisted of a couple lands and an Eldrazi Mimic. I figured that we could write that one off and I was confused when his opponent announced to his teammates that he was down a game. I mean, I knew EFro was good, but that good?
I almost came back from a Karn activation and an Ulamog trigger and needed my opponent to brick for a couple turns while I recovered with Jace, but he ripped an Ugin off the top and we moved on to game 2. Things weren’t going well for Williams and once again, EFro’s opponent announced a “20/20” on a pretty empty board. Great.
It all finally made sense when I heard his opponent exclaim, “Karakas number two?!” One main, one sideboard, three out three, not bad. Looks like my constant complaining of EFro never winning a die roll with his turn-1 Chalice deck had finally paid off.
I quickly locked up my opponent with Stony Silence in game 2, but somehow David couldn’t defeat Mono-Green, even after his opponent mulled to five, so it all came down to one last game. I decided to ship a borderline hand and my opponent led with Chromatic Sphere into Ancient Stirrings + Expedition Map with a Mine and a Power Plant in play. I had a 2-mana counterspell in hand, but couldn’t afford to let him sac the Map, so I dropped Stony Silence and prayed. He untapped and played his Tron land so fast that I assumed it had to be a Tower. It wasn’t. Jace came down a couple turns later and sealed my opponent’s fate.
We didn’t get the miracle draw we needed and finished in 5th place. It felt good to end the tournament on a win—it always does—but the only thing I could really think about was game 1 against Thiago.
Back in the day, I would not get over the mistakes I made in a PT until the next one came around. I’ve learned to let go a bit faster, but it’s never easy.
Hopefully, I’ll have another shot at a PT Top 8 soon and will be able to make the best of it. I even have a little extra motivation now:
Hey South Americans, will you chant for me if I ever make it to another PT Top 8? You guys gave me the chills yesterday, was such a great moment
— gabriel nassif (@gabnassif) August 5, 2018
and for those of you who missed it, the Top 4 announcement starts at 1:08:20 (even though the sound of the broadcast doesn’t really do the moment justice):