A Very Timely Pro Tour Kaladesh Report

These last couple weeks have been a whirlwind, so I ended up writing this report a little later than I’d planned. Luckily, my tournament reports (whether it be from the coverage side or the playing side) tend to have a really high nonsense-to-Magic ratio, and as we all know, nonsense has no expiration date.

I really did want to write this report, for a few reasons:

  • Pro Tour Kaladesh was my first event since joining the coverage team. My perspective changed (some), and the view from the other side has its own benefits.
  • Lots of sweet stuff happened. Like I said, so much of what I go to tournaments for and write about later is not stuff that happens directly in my matches, so I had plenty to talk about.
  • One of the talented artists at my work, Nate Storm (who also has a badass name), made some Matt Nass photoshops that were just unrealistically good, and I had to share them. To skip to them, CTRL + F for “Matt Nass’s Pro Tour Top 8,” a phrase which I never thought would yield any results.

Let’s dive in…

On Team CFB and Associates

I began prep for the Pro Tour with the usual suspects, now renamed Team ChannelFireball and Associates. That name was mostly out of convenience, as Pat Cox had to book a conference room and just chose it, but the team liked it well enough to keep it. They haven’t defined what it takes to move up from associate yet, but I’m sure there’s some kind of process coming.

That group included the following fine magicians, in random order:

  • Pat Cox
  • Ben Stark
  • Josh Utter-Leyton
  • Paul Cheon
  • Justin Cohen
  • David Ochoa
  • Ben Lundquist
  • Sam Black
  • Corey Burkhart
  • Tom Martell
  • Brian “BK” Kibler
  • Andrew “BK” Baeckstrom
  • Matt Severa
  • Ben “TBS” Seck
  • Oliver Tiu
  • Rich Hoaen
  • Matt Nass*

*Who was inadvertently left off the list originally

My prep was mainly limited to playing online before getting to Hawaii because once I got to Hawaii, I somehow found plenty of things to distract me from testing the Aetherworks Marvel mirror (but I’ll get to that later).

On Metalwork Colossus

This deck looked like a joke, but somehow was pretty good. One of the teams ended up playing Temur Colossus in the Pro Tour, so I don’t feel like my time was totally wasted testing this deck beforehand.

This list is not one I’d recommend by any stretch, but that’s what I battled a lot with before the Pro Tour. The best part about this was when Pat Cox told me that if anyone played a Metalwork Colossus in a feature match we covered, I had to make the Colossus noise from the X-Men arcade game. For those poor souls who have never played that game, it’s a little something like this (and if you have played the game, I’m sure you’ll be happy to listen to that entire 9-minute loop—I know I was).

Unfortunately for fans of Colossus, the play-by-play commentator is in control of the booth, and Gaby strictly forbade me from making that noise.

Aside on Play-by-Play vs. Color Commentators

There’s a big difference between play-by-play and color commentators (PbP and color from here on out), and despite that mostly being a source of jokes for me, I do want to try and explain it. The PbP commentator is actually in charge of the broadcast and to cement this, they all give me the “I’m the captain now” gesture when we get into the booth. Seriously, they are the one who dictates where we go, what we talk about, and control the flow of the broadcast. Part of the way they do that is by asking questions—they put themselves in the seats of the viewers who may be wondering what the U/W deck’s game plan is, or why it’s important to bring back Haunted Dead during the second main phase. They know those things, but they are doing their job by making me, the color commentator, explain them.

See, my job is actually really simple. It’s to provide analysis (the great jokes I do as a bonus). That’s really it. In terms of airtime, we should end up close to even, but the job of the PbP has a lot more different things to manage, even if both jobs have plenty of challenges. Broadcasts are fluid, and sometimes commentators end up doing a little of the other role, but ideally we don’t, and when done correctly, leads to the best broadcast.

I understand why there’s confusion about this since it’s hard to tell—some commentators play both roles from event to event, and we don’t explicitly state it on the broadcast, but make no mistake—PbP is in charge. They are supposed to ask plenty of leading questions, even very simple ones, and I’m basically the hunting hound that gets let off the leash to go deep on strategy. For some matches I get more freedom than others, like in the finals of the Pro Tour—Marshall just let me go off about the intricate control mirror, and that was awesome.

End Aside

On Kaladesh Draft

This format is sweet as hell. Things I did while preparing for the Pro Tour:

*I didn’t actually do this one.

Coming into the Pro Tour, I really didn’t know where other teams would be on Draft. You can take a look at Team CFB’s Limited Discussion here, and that’s the perspective I had access to, along with my own experiences drafting online. I knew what we liked, but I wasn’t foolish enough to assume that I knew what other teams/players would prefer. This is a very complex format, and even weeks after the Pro Tour, many people disagree wildly.

Honestly, that’s what makes Magic great, and if some Hall-of-Famers think Arborback Stomper is better than Snare Thopter and others think that is a heinous pick, I’d say we are in an interesting space.

Going into the Draft viewers, I was prepared to try and explain what players were thinking, but I knew predicting what they might take would be difficult, and it certainly was. Even narrowing their choices down was tough.

As for where I am right now (prepare yourselves for some actual Magic strategy):

  • Beatdown is more real than Team CFB gave it credit for (shocker).
  • Nonsense decks are also quite real—G/x multicolor energy is a real archetype, and one you should know how to draft.
  • You should take Prophetic Prism higher. I don’t care how high you take it—unless you are Sam Black or Justin Cohen, you aren’t taking it high enough (apologies to any other master durdlers I just offended).
  • Whirler Virtuoso is a green card, and a busted one at that.
  • Renegade Freighter is the best card in 60% of the decks and unplayable in the other 40%.
  • Blue isn’t as bad as you think, but it’s not as good as I think.
  • Revoke Privileges and Malfunction are definitely worse than you think.

On Capsizing

capsize
Mockery, with buyback.

A group of us went kayaking/snorkeling on the Tuesday before the Pro Tour (see, I did find distractions, somehow), and I managed to turn a peaceful kayak excursion into a no-holds-barred competition. Giving 8-to-1 odds, I bet on myself plus BK against Gaby and Emerson, under the theory that brute strength was the most important quality in the race. Well, immediately after making the bet, BK and I capsized due to bad luck, and I wasn’t feeling so good about things. The race hadn’t even started yet, so the capsizing didn’t cost us anything but pride, but it was a harbinger of things to come.

Cut to 20 minutes later, and we spent a solid 50% of our time paddling in the wrong direction, proving that brains do in fact overcome brawn. Also coordination, skill, and any other quality you want to add to a list. To watch the (unexciting conclusion), you can see it from the winner’s perspective here (warning: mild language):

I did win something out of all this: a signed Capsize, procured at great expense, and a reminder that I lost the Great Kayak Race of 2016.

On The 80/20 Rule, Testing, and the Predator

(Or Pareto Principle, if you are more into that.)

The 80/20 rule is one of the most useful shorthands you can learn in life, which is that 80% of results come from 20% of causes. It’s clearly an approximation, but the core concept is very important. For Magic, I found that preparing to cover a Pro Tour fell squarely into this camp. I didn’t need to get 100% of the way to a deck—I needed to understand its game plan, the cards it was playing, and how people would play against it. That only takes 20% of the time, as getting from 80% to 100% takes the lion’s share of testing time.

At this point, the team had settled on Aetherworks Marvel, which seemed like a good choice (it ended up being too good, as people saw it coming and prepared for it), and I knew how that deck worked. I didn’t need, or want, to spend 2 days grinding out the last 7 slots or whatever.

What Gaby and I did do was just play Standard Leagues with every archetype, using the Predator.

predator
Don’t anger it.

The Predator is the Spartzes laptop, and is a frightening beast. It literally weighs 15 pounds, doesn’t fit in a normal backpack, and you’ll lose a finger if you don’t watch out. It also makes a growling noise when you boot it up, and you cannot disable it. The Predator will not be silenced.

After battling through with all the expected decks, we were ready to tackle a Pro Tour.

On the Hall of Fame Induction

One of the best moments of the Pro Tour each year is the Hall of Fame Induction. It’s always incredible seeing Magic’s lifetime achievement award bestowed upon deserving new additions, and I was really excited to see Owen and Yuuya get inducted. They’ve both more than earned it, and both also immediately had more great results after being voted in (and I’m really touched that Owen mentioned me in his speech—having any positive influence on the ORAT is a badge of honor). Plus, it’s a sweet dinner with a lot of awesome people, and celebrates professional Magic in a way very few events do. I also got to steal Cheon’s food, in one of the many, many instances of that occurring during the trip (once again, the Glog linked earlier captures all this nonsense and more).
The biggest downside to this was that part of the live entertainment involved certain audience members being forced to hula dance on stage. As soon as the emcee asked people to point to someone they wanted to see hula, I knew I was drawing dead, alongside such luminaries as Jon Finkel and Paul Rietzl.

Let’s just say I won’t be making the Hula Hall of Fame.

On Not Playing

I’m not going to lie—when Draft pod pairings went up and I was at the news desk instead of waiting to crack a pack, it felt odd. This was the first Pro Tour I wasn’t playing since Pro Tour Kobe in 2006, and that’s quite the streak to break. There weren’t 0 regrets, and the thought of “what the hell am I doing?” did cross my mind.

Once I got into the groove (and the booth), that largely went away. I love doing coverage, and getting to talk about matches of a fresh format every round is really fun. We got to see Colossus (RRRRROAAAAAGH), U/R Dynavolt Tower, Temur Aetherworks, B/G Delirium, R/W Vehicles, and more. Now the format has narrowed, but at the Pro Tour it was the Wild West, as it should have been.

At the end of the day, I didn’t (and don’t) regret doing coverage, and it’s not like I’m gone forever. I may even hit up a GP if the mood strikes me, and I get to play plenty of Magic on stream. Plus, I gotta let folks like Matt Nass, and hopefully Paul Cheon, finally get the credit they deserve. Speaking of which…

On Horsecheons

View post on imgur.com

I ran back the horsecheon shirt on Thursday, but Paul refused to wear it. Given that I wasn’t competing, the luck was wasted, and he spewed a chance at a Top 8. Maybe next time he will have changed his tune.

On Transformational Sideboards

One of the best takeaways from covering the Standard rounds were the multiple matches we saw Pierre Dagen play. He eventually made Top 8 with his Dynavolt Tower deck, but the remarkable part was how effective his sideboard was. He boarded in 4 Niblis of Frost in an otherwise creatureless deck, and he just schooled all of his opponents. They largely sided out removal, and Niblis just dominated every game. He even beat 3 Metalwork Colossi (or Colossuses, apparently both are correct).

Things to note here:

  • Siding in creatures in a creatureless deck is extremely powerful—even if the opponent knows about the plan, they have to decide to leave in removal and risk you not boarding them in.
  • Make sure the creature wins the game single-handedly—Niblis of Frost or Inferno Titan do this, and cards like Archangel Avacyn won’t.
  • Make sure the creature meshes with your game plan—Niblis was perfect in Pierre’s spell deck.

On Land Selection

I recently did basic land power rankings, and Guru was at the top, with land box land (mismatched) being near the bottom. Somehow, Shota, the eventual champion, used both.

At least he put his PT winnings toward acquiring some Guru Mountains, but I can say that it tilted both Marshall and I when we were in the booth for his matches.

On Matt Nass’s Pro Tour Top 8

Matt Nass finally has a Pro Tour Top 8, which really was a long time coming. He can leave the list of “best players without a Pro Tour Top 8,” though according to PV, he wasn’t even on that list. The best thing to come out of that was the aforementioned Photoshops, both of which I find cathartic.

attunass kaladesh-mtg-art-by-dawn-murin

There’s really nothing else I need to say here. Enjoy.

On Control Mirrors

The Pro Tour finals was 2 Pro Tour champions playing 2 dedicated control decks to see who would add a second trophy to their resume. It was one of the more interesting matches I’ve covered, even though I can see why many people see 2 control decks facing off as boring. Marshall and I did our best to convey the excitement of the battle, and I wanted to touch on some of the non-obvious things going on that are exciting once you can see them.

  • Conserving threats, answers, and removal
    • Knowing how your removal lines up against their actual kill conditions
    • Knowing how many counterspells each player has, and what to use them on (card draw, threats, other counters)
  • Decking: This is a legit path to victory in the finisher-light decks being played
  • When to make your move: Knowing when to tap out and when not to is crucial
  • What to discard: This sounds laughable, but at some point you have to discard to hand size if nobody does anything, and discarding the right removal spell is important. I think Carlos could have won game 1 if he had cast Blessed Alliance to gain 4 instead of discarding it.

Watching these two navigate those treacherous waters was great, and even though I’m not advocating it for every matchup, the rare control vs. control slugfest is a thing of beauty.

On What’s Coming Up

I’m covering a variety of events in the near future. Grand Prix Dallas (though this report may barely get there before I leave for that: catch it on twitch.tv/channelfireball), the World Magic Cup in Rotterdam, and Grand Prix Denver (no travel makes this one a freebie). I’m excited to bring you the excitement of Magic from the booth and never fear, there will still be plenty of nonsense.

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