The story of the Pro Tour is told through results, epic plays, and timeless deck techs, but in reality, so much of what goes into every Pro Tour is never told.
The concept of a testing house is nothing new. Basically, you and a bunch of Magic playing friends shack up in a house and play a lot of Magic for as long as you are there. When it comes to the Pro Tour, testing houses have become commonplace, almost mandatory for success. From the outside, we all know that a bunch of people go into the house and hopefully emerge with a single deck that crushes the tournament, but a lot happens en route from point A to point B.
Each and every member of a good team has a role. These roles are not always assigned, but people fall into a groove and gravitate toward whatever they are good at. You see the deckbuilders building decks and the tuners scouring the forums for that one card suggestion that fixes everything. These tasks are important to cross off the list in order to give the team the best chance at success.
Someone like Ari Lax will often be attributed as the “leader” of a team (Team TCGPlayer in this case), but that title isn’t just given out. What Ari does is how he earned that title and the respect that goes with it. He data mines, crunches numbers, and provides feedback on just about everything that we put in front of him. Because he does this consistently and in a respectful manner, over time more and more team members learned to defer to him. His role came into existence through his actions, not the other way around.
Imagine going up to a team member and simply appointing them the leader. Even if they are willing to take on the challenge, there is a good chance they will be bad at it, or they will lack the respect from their peers that enable leadership in the first place.
Now imagine doing that same thing for any Magic skill. Appoint someone as a deckbuilder, or appoint them as a tuner, and there is a good chance that will blow up in your face.
This makes it vital that the people that actually contribute in these areas are not only good at it, but enjoy it. A deckbuilder is going to produce a lot more and better material when they love showing up to the office and getting down to business. I try to keep this in mind at all times. If I am sitting there, staring at a blank screen, trying to magically project a new deck on to the canvas, there is a good chance I am not going to be happy with the end result. Compare this to those moments where you bolt out of bed at 4 a.m. and rush to the computer to piece together some random idea you had in the middle of the night. Even if the premise that deck is awful, your excitement will fuel your exploration and creativity.
And this is extremely important because as a deckbuilder on a team, I am looking to do one thing: make decks. A lot of decks. Presenting as many viable ideas to the team as possible allows for the most informed decision when it comes time to make one. Imagine working for months and showing up with a single deck at the end of it all. That would not be the most helpful thing to the team unless you happened to strike gold, which is beyond rare these days.
So we end up with a bit of formula. Being genuinely excited about decks and ideas leads to more decks and ideas, and more decks and ideas leads to a more well informed team and a well informed team leads to better results. But it all starts with some passion.
Allow me to share a few of the products of those 4 a.m. scrambles to the computer. As I have talked about many times, so many decks get left on the cutting room floor but those decks are much more than just a bunch of failed ideas. Those decks help us learn more about the format and what might be working or not. Sometimes, the decks left behind aren’t even bad, they just didn’t meet the requirements for our expectations of the format.
For example, early on in our testing I identified Villainous Wealth as a powerful card that we might want to explore. While no one else was necessarily that excited by the card initially, after realizing the card was the best way to go over the top of other decks, specifically control, it became a focus. I wanted to figure out the best way to use Villainous Wealth, so I began drumming up lists.
Presenting the team with a single list would be nice, but because the card was extremely open-ended in terms of where it might fit, I wanted to showcase a few different strategies to not only propose these decks, but also just to get team members thinking about the card in a different way.
The first list is very much a traditional control deck. It happens to be the colors of Wealth and despite new wedge names, the temptation to call this VW BUG is just too great, so there you go!
The basic premise here is to control the game just like any BUG deck might, except instead of ending the game with something like Prognostic Sphinx, you end the game with Villainous Wealth, either alone or in combination with Dictate of Karametra. There is the option to win with your ‘walkers as well, but they will generally be under a lot of pressure which is fine because it gives you a breather while you continue to establish your mana.
In fact, buying time is all this deck wants to do. Villainous Wealth with enough mana would beat any player, so just slowing the game down felt like a reasonable plan. Hit your land drops and draw your “combo” and things will go pretty well. The best cards at stalling have always been Fog effects, but Standard has some really awful options in that category. Really only Defend the Hearth is reasonable and it doesn’t protect your planeswalkers, which sucks, but I still wanted to give it a shot:
While there are about seven different versions of this in my notebook, this was the most unique. Dictate of Kruphix gives the deck a turbo-fog feel, even though it only has so many Fogs at its disposal.
It is very well possible that this deck just doesn’t want any permanents in it other than lands, but the Caryatid/Courser combination was one of the strongest known entities going into the Pro Tour and I definitely wanted to take advantage of it in every list where it made sense, this not being an exception.
There was another angle to explore using VW though. While both of the above lists are sort of built to just stall and buy time, you can control time in a different way by accelerating it. In this case, we can accelerate our mana to reach a point early in the game that we typically would not expect until later on. The deck that could generate the most mana was definitely Mono-Green Devotion, so I decided to piggyback that list:
I had been working on lists like this one for awhile, except Hour of Need was the big finisher for the longest time. There is a good chance that this deck just wants Hour and no Wealth as it does slightly stretch the mana, but not terribly so. This deck has the most robust plan should it not draw its Wealth, which adds appeal.
We moved away from these Nykthos decks in general just because the format seemed rather hostile to it, but plenty of people ended up jamming mono-green or green/red anyway, so perhaps this would have been a solid choice. There was one final angle where I was trying to bring back five-color control, with Villainous Wealth as the finisher:
The biggest issue with this list proved to be that it was just too clunky. While the Charms are powerful, having all of your removal sit at three and four mana just made for awkward turns much of the time. Last Breath or Lightning Strike were options, but not the most appealing ones. I still think this list has promise, but the metagame would need to change pretty drastically first. I expect to revisit it come the next set release.
Finally, I wanted to give a bite to anyone who does not have Villainous Wealth coursing through their veins the way that others might (coughTravisWoocough). This deck was a novel idea on how to best utilize High Sentinels of Arashin. We isolated flying as a key point for the PT, with really only Arbor Colossus standing in your way. High Sentinels could even get big enough to march past Colossus, forcing them to spend their six mana and opening up blowout potential with a timely Abzan Charm.
Remember to love what you’re doing and it will love you back. Happy brewing!