Things have been crazy and hectic in my neck of the woods recently, between going to a GP, PT, and a GP in consecutive weekends, coming home to start the World Series of Poker the very next day, and dealing with some serious struggles in my personal life. But hey, maybe it will make for a little bit of interesting reading, right? So I’m going to try to touch on EVERYTHING that has happened in the past month with some of my takes on the various formats in Magic going forward.
Part of what made writing a Pro Tour tournament report so challenging is that I work on an incredible team of both Magic players and writers who tend to write reports on our testing process for each event. What this means is that I can either repeat everything they said, or I’m losing out on that half of the report that people will find interesting. In this case, I actually think our testing went quite well and we had the framework of our BUG deck that the entire team ended up playing before heading off to play GP Minneapolis the weekend before. We probably didn’t do as many drafts as needed, but with only one pack added to a draft format that didn’t change dramatically, I don’t think it was a huge concern.
It was my take going into this Block format that the aggro strategies were so easy to pinpoint and perfect that we should focus all of our initial testing on going deep. This meant many of us tried various constellation decks (which turned out to simply not be powerful enough for the anticipated format) and various control and wacky decks. The mana in decks that didn’t have Sylvan Caryatid was too bad and losing out on Courser of Kruphix in this format just had to be a mistake. Toss in getting to play Thoughtseize, Kiora, and Ashiok—some of the format’s most powerful cards—as well as Prognostic Sphinx and black’s removal? It was an easy choice in the end to play some BUG Control.
However, first things are first, and it was going to be a Modern GP the weekend before the PT, and certainly nobody could practice or prepare a single game. This is another case of terrible scheduling by WotC, something that we were promised would be fixed, but I guess having the Limited GP in Europe was considered good enough? I’m not really sure, but it’s certainly unfortunate.
I knew for this tournament I was 100% to play either Splinter Twin or Pod. I really don’t see any reason a good player would differ from one of these strategies as I don’t think there is any deck on their level. Yet, I wasn’t completely sold on one or the other. While I felt Twin was the better deck it was also the one I had far less experience with. Having performed adequately (11-4) in the previous Modern GP using Pod, I thought it might serve me well to run it back, but the idea to use Twisted Image from Owen Turtenwald a couple weeks prior was still swirling through my head.
I’ve lost count of how many messages and Tweets I’ve received asking me about my Twin list, and all I can say is that I’m completely in shock that the Magic community as a whole is still so easily able to be trolled by LSV. I know he’s a bully and a trouble maker, but c’mon. At some point people just have to learn.
Anyway, here’s the list I registered for GP Minn:
I guess there’s some chance that the deck was built slightly off, as I’m not sure the 23 lands can fully support 75 cards and so many 6-drops, but no gamble no future. I really liked having so many dedicated anti-Pod cards main and the ability to board into the 6th-10th Inferno Titans is not something people expected.
The deck was pretty great even though Twisted Image was horrible for me the entire tournament, except against specifically David Ochoa and Josh Utter-Leyton. I actually cast 4 copies of Image game 3 against Wrapter thanks to Snapcaster, which was incredible. “Kibler’ing” my team was great and I highly encourage anybody out there to do it in order to gain an edge against your closest competition. Without those wins, I would have still gotten the 0 additional Pro Points I earned from the event, but I would have had far less fun.
I went 7-2 on Day 1 (with 3 byes) losing both matches to burn decks. I have no idea if this is a bad matchup or a great matchup or somewhere in between, but I felt very advantaged. I took 6 mulligans between the 2 matches and they had to topdeck very specific burn cards (where it couldn’t be a suspend burn spell, 2-mana burn spell, any creature, etc.) on 4 isolated turns between the matches, but it is what it is. I managed to defeat Merfolk (which seems very hard to lose to with all the Bolts and Angers, although I’m not sure it’s a real deck), Tron (an extremely easy matchup in general), Twin mirror (great matchup!), and UWR control (where I think I played very well and baited a counter war by Cryptic Commanding his land to set up casting a Blood Moon and locking out his hand).
Day 2 was more of the same, where I went 4-2 once again and lost to the same deck twice (this time being Jund, or BG control—even worse for me). I had some mediocre draws after mulligans in both matchups and had to get very unlucky to lose one of the games, but I got smoked both times and really had little chance to even be competitive. Playing in the last round for a possible Top 16 and 2 points that I so badly needed, my opponent (through a translator) said he could not scoop as he was trying to accumulate planeswalker points to qualify for the WMCQs. That marked the third time this season that I lost playing for Top 16 in the final round of a GP and end up outside of the Top 32. I just can’t close!
My thoughts on Modern going forward are the exact same as they were going into Minneapolis. You really need a good reason to not be playing some variant of Pod or Twin. There are many variants and I’m not sure which is necessarily best, although I prefer Melira Pod with Archangel and UR Twin, but I do strongly believe them to be the best decks. If I were playing a PTQ tomorrow, I would start with the deck list above (minus all the 5-ofs and 6-ofs that LSV tried to add into my list). If your local metagame isn’t too Rock and Jund flooded, Twin is a great choice. If it is, stay away, because that is really no fun!
So the goal of picking up much needed Pro Points in Minneapolis was a bust (and I only had 24 going into the tournament, leaving me an underdog to achieve Gold and in very bad shape to get 45 for Platinum), but it was a good time. I’m well vocalized on my distaste of the Modern format, but I’m glad I got some experience with a deck I haven’t played in a tournament before and it’s definitely one I’ll be experimenting with more going forward… and with that, it was off to Atlanta (where the players play).
+$550, +0 Pro Points (24 total)
I felt very prepared for this particular Pro Tour and a large part of that was being able to stay in America finally. It was exciting for me to travel the world as a kid to play in all of these tournaments, but with the difficulties in travel, the jet lag, and the less than adequate room conditions and beds in European venues, it was a great relief after Dublin and Valencia to stay a little closer to home. I still wasn’t sleeping great, as is common for me, but at the time I had someone special in my life that was making things feel less overwhelming and keeping me focused, which is just huge for someone.
As for the tournament itself, I can’t imagine anything less interesting at this point than hearing about matches in Block Constructed, a format that just isn’t the intriguing itself and is long over. My first draft started with me taking a Heroes’ Bane over a Gnarled Scarhide before picking up a handful of mediocre blue cards. I grabbed a 5th pick Squelching Leeches, hoping that one I saw earlier would table, and it did while I saw no other reasonable black.
Pack 2 started with a Herald of Torment and I was rewarded handsomely for my speculative picks in pack 1. I got a Siren of the Silent Song and a bunch of middling blue and black cards to round out the pack. Pack 3 had the common theme I’ve been experiencing in all my drafts leading up to the Pro Tour—I opened a pack of blanks. There were 6 green cards, 5 white cards (many of which excellent in both colors and I wheeled a Time to Feed and a Nessian Courser I believe out of this pack), a Fanatic of Mogis, a Loathsome Catoblepas, not a single blue card, and a Guardians of Meletis that I was forced to take. Blah. I followed that up with a Shipbreaker Kraken and a Shipwreck Singer, so all was not lost, and I had an OK deck.
Luckily, things went smoothly, and I faced a mono-red aggro deck and a Boros deck in the draft (where my deck featured 2 Omenspeakers and several 1/3s for 3 with no abilities) that happened to match up extremely well. The Guardians was the MVP for my on-camera match against Bladetusk Boar, as well! My other match was against Jasper Johnson-Epstein who had an absolutely absurd UG Constellation deck that I got extremely lucky to rip a key Disciple of Phenax against to take away his Nimbus Naiad after he scryed to the top a way to runner-runner kill me in a game I thought I had locked up (and in game 3 beat his mana problems with the good cards in my deck).
Not much feels better than starting 3-0 in the PT, and after winning my only roll of the Constructed rounds against UW Heroic in round 4, 2-for-1’ing him every turn starting on turn 3, being 4-0 felt even better. But the wheels came off.
I played Darwin round 5, mulliganed to 5 game 1, kept 3 scry lands, Caryatid, Silence, scryed lands to the bottom turns 1-4 and never drew a nonland spell. Game 2 I kept a 2-land (1 scry) Caryatid nut hand and didn’t cast a second spell. He was playing aggro white weenie, a fantastic matchup, but one that requires me to play! Brutal.
I finished the Constructed rounds 1-2, ending the day 5-3 after my 4-0 start. It felt awful. I really felt this was my PT to get back on top, find my way into the Top 8, and get Platinum. It was a tough night and I was really feeling it. Luckily I had the help and guidance of someone who really cared about me who helped get my head on straight for the next day, but I sure took it hard.
My entire Day 2 draft was a trainwreck. Nothing went right. I received some great white cards on the wheel pack 1, causing me to feel I would see the same in pack 3 and making me abandon my black for white. This caused me to draft Ornitharch over Gild, thinking I would be rewarded for reading the table. Of course, in pack 3, I’m literally wheeling Gray Merchants and see no white whatsoever (after opening another pack with no first pick and getting nothing playable pick 2-4 either). I picked up a 6th pick Medomai the Ageless, so I think I read it correctly and got unlucky, but it resulted in a mess.
My very first game of the draft and day, I play an early Starfish, but I’ve flooded out horribly. I’ve drawn a total of 9 lands (with 2 more already on the bottom thanks to the ‘Fish) when I cast my Interpret. I see 3 lands. 3 bottoms (yadda yadda). Reveal land. Yeahhhh…this is how my day is gonna go!
Luckily, my opponent tried to “press” his advantage with a Dictate of Kruphix after I cast Fated Retribution. I think this was my only out as I had essentially no lands left in my entire deck. Drawing 2 spells per turn allowed me to stabilize the board from his leftover bestow creatures and new spells cast and pull out an absolutely absurd game from the brink of death. Game 2 would be far less interesting as I rolled.
Round 2 I managed to go through literally more than half of my entire library (21 cards deep) before finding a blue source. Even with that, I was still way ahead, drawing essentially 2 cards per turn thanks to Medomai, and needed to just hit a 2nd blue to completely lock it up. I failed, and he hit runner-runner for Extinguish All Hope to wipe my board and hit me for a lot, and then Gray Merchant off the top before my Whitewater Naiads would finish him off. More issues and Gray Merchant would repeat the favor for a frustrating loss to knock me out of Top 8 contention with 6 rounds left to play.
And now for an aside on tilt…
For those of you who follow me on social media, you have likely seen a long thread I wrote during the actual Pro Tour asking people what they do to be able to handle losing. There were many excellent responses, as I’m fortunate enough to have some very smart and insightful people in my life. It turned out that the guys at Walking the Planes also saw it and ended up doing a rather lengthy interview with me on the subject, much of which made it into the final cut for the latest WTP. I’d like to discuss it a little bit more here.
There is no question that I’m an emotional person. I can be very stoic, I’m a professional poker player after all, but I constantly feel the need to vent. Now, I’m not going to insult my opponent while we’re playing, berate his plays, tell him he doesn’t deserve to win or other mean things… but I DO often think them. Sometimes I even insinuate that on social media. And I hate it.
It’s not a choice. Not a conscious one at least. It’s definitely not something I want and definitely something that does me absolutely no good in life. When I first got social media like Twitter, it was solely to have an outlet to vent. Who cares what you do every day? Who cares about your random thoughts on this and that? Let’s use Twitter to spout off our rage!
I’m working on this. I actually feel like I’ve done a great job in the past month to be a much happier person and not let things affect me on the same level. Now, I’m still going to be emotional. I’m still going to care. This last week I’ve gone through one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to go through, and considering it involved the person who I’ve been closest with for a long time, in many ways it felt like I had to do it completely alone. I’m also, at this time, 10 days into the WSOP and have been running absolutely horrendously bad, taking absurd beats left and right. And I almost feel fine.
Now, I’m upset to lose someone I cared so tremendously about, as I’m sure anybody would be. I’m not pleased that I’m running so far below expectation, already bubbling two different tournaments that I definitely didn’t deserve to. But I’m not mad. If anything, I’m just sad at what I lost while also appreciating all that I had when I did have it. It’s not always easy for me to remember how lucky I am as a person (something that I’m sure many people reading this can relate to) because I DO get unlucky. Like often. Like a lot. No, even more than that. And part of me needs to just realize how lucky I’ve been in my life and that the reason why it seems I’m getting unlucky so often is because I’ve put myself in a position to do so by getting to the highest levels of the things I compete at. You can’t get unlucky when you’re punting games of Magic or playing hands poorly in poker. While I would love to get unlucky less often, I hope I’m able to put myself in a position where I have to get unlucky to lose. That’s a good place to be and will lead to more winning and more of what I want in the end.
As far as tilting off on social media, I really want to do much less of that. Sometimes it happens, usually I delete it pretty quickly, but I would like to get to the point where it stops completely. It’s worthless nonsense and I shouldn’t need that outlet. The last thing I want to do is take away from someone who may be feeling an incredible high of beating me, maybe that will be the biggest match he or she will play in their lives, and why do I have the right to belittle or demean that accomplishment?
I really appreciate everyone who took the time to comment in that thread. I did read it all, I always read it all. The friends who put some serious thought into their answers, please know how valuable that insight was to me.
And now back to the PT, because frankly, the thread worked…
With Top 8 out of the picture, with the realization that tilting and being childish was getting me nowhere, it was time to focus on the tournament. And I really think I played great. I saw the games really well and took some sharp lines. I’m sure I made a handful of mistakes, but I felt confident and poised and everything fell into place. I rattled off the 5 wins in a row I needed to lock myself into a Top 16 finish and I couldn’t have been happier. I desperately needed the 15 points! This put me at 39 and somehow in striking distance again for Platinum, which would be incredible to achieve again.
I felt euphoric after this finish. I felt like I really accomplished something from my mindset at 5-3 and then 6-4 that finishing that strong made me feel something I hadn’t previous felt. And it was great.
The next few days were spent in the suburbs of Atlanta in the CFB: Panthers house. I didn’t play much Magic other than a single one-on-one sealed deck against Owen (in which I opened both Kiora and Courser of Kruphix, which was very unfair). I got to take in a Braves game in Atlanta and check out the Aquarium, which was pretty fun, even if I was forced into eating at the literal last choice imaginable on the block in Hard Rock.
+$8,550, +15 pro points (39 total)
My Sealed deck in GP Atlanta offered absolutely nothing in the way of blue or black cards, so it was going to be a GW or RW aggro deck featuring Celestial Archon. My other rares were 3 Temples, Dictate of Karametra, and Chained to the Rocks, which led to me wanting to play RW to go will Fall of the Hammer. In the end, despite the sweet removal red had, green had 2 Time to Feeds, more targeting effects for all my heroic, and a GW Temple (as well as UW and GB) caused me to end up in that direction.
My deck wasn’t great, but it had a decent curve and some powerful draws. The deck ended up playing out quite well, only getting really horribly double mana-screwed on camera, which you can look up and see if you want to view my torture, but winning against all other comers. 8-1 was a great record for me to put up, especially when a Top 8 would lock me for Platinum.
It was not to be. I think my draft deck was fantastic, starting with an Eidolon of Blossoms and a bunch of constellation UG creatures, wheeling of Kruphix’s Insight. I first-picked a Raised by Wolves over Sudden Storm, then took a Nyxborn Triton over a 2nd copy. I love Sudden Storm in UG, but I think the other cards were just stronger with the enchantment theme of my deck. I picked up 2 late Kiora’s Followers, which were even more insane with the Retraction Helix I got. Pack 3 I got a Sea God’s Revenge, Thassa’s Emissary, and my deck was just excellent.
Things didn’t pan out though. I struggled to find a combination of lands and spells against both Yuuya’s RG deck and Shiels’ RB deck. I think I had the far more powerful deck in both matches and matchups, but they were pretty unforgiving on my draws and I was quickly eliminated from my goal. I pulled it together to win a pretty epic match against Trey Van Cleave in the battle of 0-2s in the pod (it looked like his deck was the best I faced). This was my first time playing past the clock, as I only have 3 unintentional draws lifetime (that were all in the same event and my first ever PT), and 1 other match that didn’t complete in time.
The next draft was the trainwreck to end all trainwrecks. I had no powerful cards, no synergy, and played 18-land Boros aggro with Gluttonous Cyclops. I’m not sure there was anything I could do, the packs just kept breaking so badly for me. I think I was in the right colors, but my deck was horrendous.
This draft, I would catch the opposite breaks of the previous, getting a solid aggro draw against Mark LaLague’s far more powerful albeit slow UB deck, quickly winning 2-0, before playing a grind-it-out match with Cyclops taking both games home against Pedro Carvalho (losing g2 to his active Keranos).
I was hoping to receive a stroke of fortune with someone not needing Pro Points the final round, but Tsu Ching Kuo thought he needed them and wanted to draw. Not thinking I had a reasonable chance to win or any real chance to Top 16 with a win, I took the draw, and picked up a crucial point and a Top 32.
Total: +$9,200, +16 pro points (40 total)
Overall, the entire trip was a huge success and lot of fun. If I can get a weekend away from the WSOP, I will try to hit up GP Chicago to get a crucial point or two since Platinum is just so valuable, but we’ll see. I’m hoping to put up another great PT finish now that it’s back in the PST time zone that I love so dearly!
As far as tilt: What are some great ways to dull the sting of losing? I’m always open to suggestions!
Thanks for reading everyone, and it’s back to the WSOP for a pretty insane grind coming up, before PT Portland rolls around…Wish me luck!
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