Grand Prix Milan and Boston

Going into the last PT of the season, I was in a pretty rough spot. I had a relatively bad season, and at 31 points I didn’t even have Gold (35) locked up. Being the equivalent of Platinum for the last 5 or 6 years, I couldn’t even imagine what completely bricking this year would do to my life. If someone offered me the Top 100 finish—good enough for the extra point and Gold—before the tournament, I would have taken it. I really wanted to stay on the train, and in the end Platinum is “just” money and recognition.

The Gold level means you are qualified for every PT and you also get a free plane ticket, which is a good start if you want to be a professional Magic player. There are no appearance fees, but at least you are still guaranteed to be on the train and you can make up for it by doing well.

There were still two GPs to play in—Milan and Boston, but I had already reached the cap with 3 Top 8s and 2 Top 16s, so the only way I could have earned that one additional Pro Point that would lock me for Gold outside of the PT would be to Top 8 one of those GPs. I had high hopes at GP Milan, but a bad deck in the first draft meant my To p8 chances were over. That meant I had to do well at either Boston or Portland.

For people coming from Europe, Boston was conveniently on the way to the PT. That meant the group I always prepare for Limited with before PTs decided to test Constructed as well—Frank Karsten, Stanislav Cifka, Ivan Floch, Matej Zatlkaj, Robert Jurkovic, Robin Dolar, Petr Sochurek, Adam Koska, and Nikola Vavra. I wasn’t very excited about Modern, as that meant having to prepare for yet another format, but as long as it was a chance to get that extra Pro Point I wasn’t going to complain.

I played Merfolk, using the exact same list I wrote about a few days before the GP. I felt like it was a good choice, had experience with the deck, and the metagame didn’t change, so there was no reason for me to play anything else. I ended up going 11-3 and drawing into Top 64 in the last round with Stan. I dodged Affinity, which was definitely very lucky, but played against 4 or 5 different decks with Grim Lavamancers and lost a super close match against Infect where drawing a land for multiple turns would have very likely allowed me to win both of the games I lost. Not what I was hoping for, not the worst either, considering the tournament had 2,400 players.

Frank (Affinity) unfortunately missed the Top 8 on tiebreakers and finished 9th, but at least he got the points he needed to lock up a spot as team captain for the World Cup. Speaking of tiebreakers, DCI Reporter cannot handle events with over 2,000 people and has to reset tiebreakers after Day 1, which then creates very large % swings every round in Day 2 and people have no idea what to expect. I’m not a programmer but I’m sure it can’t be that hard to fix it, and it has been a known issue for a very long time. Robin (Junk) made his third Top 8 in the last few months and then won the whole tournament, which was awesome and it even brought him to 32 points, which means he gets all the invites and tickets for next year as well.

Pro Tour Magic 2015

Next up was the PT, the last tournament of the season. I had to do well. I set aside 3 weeks for testing because I wanted to be as prepared as possible. Having Frank organize Constructed testing was great, the guy is a machine and he made sure we didn’t waste any time and that everything we did had a purpose. He kept track of all the results in a spreadsheet which was going to give us a good idea of how the format played out and help us choose a deck based on our expected metagame. There were a lot of numbers, percentages, and calculated guessing, but it all made sense.

10 years ago when internet information wasn’t so ubiquitous and players didn’t have access to as much free information they have today, you could almost always show up with a deck that caught people off guard. To this day I remember when a Japanese player at my first PT played the Food Chain Goblins deck against me and I didn’t know what the card Food Chain did. Something like that would never happen today. R&D does a good job of making sure there are no decks that are too powerful. Everything can pretty much win and lose against anything. You aren’t going to find a deck that has better than 55% win percentage against the field.

There will be exceptions, but not very often. The last time someone really broke it was Caw Blade in Paris 2011, and before that Elves in Berlin 6 years ago. I guess we could also count the Mono-Black Devotion deck at PT Dublin, but considering the guy only played 2 Pack Rats, he probably didn’t even know how great the deck was himself. The best you can do these days is to know your deck inside out and have the right sideboard for the expected metagame. I’ll talk about this more in the future, because I think accepting this is more important than people realize.

We also did about 15 live drafts of M15, and around 10 more on MTGO. The online drafts weren’t very helpful because it was too early after the release and for most people it was their first draft, which meant that you could get cards like Cone of Flame 3rd pick or wheel an Inferno Fist, which should just never happen. Red and white seemed like the best colors, green felt above average, black below average, and blue unplayable. The best deck you could hope for was mono-white with Triplicate Spirits, a lot of early drops, and Inspired Charge, but I also really liked the aggressive red decks with removal and intimidate creatures.

I figured it would be better to write about the Standard deck I played, because GP Utrecht is this weekend and I’ll leave M15 Limited for next week. There is also the team GP in Portland, but since both days are now Sealed, talking about draft won’t be useful.

We tried pretty much all the decks but nothing really stood out, so we just made sure we had good versions of everything and in the end just decided to play whatever everyone felt the most comfortable with. 2 days before the tournament, Cifka built the U/W Cleansing deck and started having really good results with it, and it actually looked like he might get to like 60% or even a little more against the field we expected. But that was him playing it. He played the deck for most of the season and had so much experience with it that he was doing everything automatically. Floch also knew the deck well, so he decided to join him, but for the rest of us it didn’t seem like a good choice because it would take us 30 seconds or more every turn figuring out what to do, and considering that the deck usually wins on like turn 50 that would mean we would get too many draws or make too many mistakes and that didn’t seem worth it. Two days wasn’t enough to learn everything about the deck, so the rest of us stuck with whatver we had picked already.

That left Frank and I with G/W Aggro, Cifka and Floch on U/W Cleansing, Robin played R/W Burn, Matej ran Mono-Green Devotion, Adam normal U/W, and Petr and Nikola played mono-black aggro that most of us wanted to play for most of our testing until we ultimately decided that it wasn’t good enough about 3 days before the PT.

Here’s my deck list:

GW Aggro

Until the last day, our one-drops were split between 3 Soldiers and 3 Elves, but the Soldier proved to be so good in the mirror that we would rather risk occasionally getting 2-for-1’d with Bile Blight then only play 3.

Banishing Light helped the deck a lot, before you were just playing all creatures with very few ways to interact with your opponent’s board, and now you have a card that can remove anything from Pack Rat to Master of Waves. Having to play 4 Mana Confluence is painful but you need to make sure you have enough sources of both colors. We tried 1-2 Mutavaults for a long time but it’s just not worth those times when it is your second land and you can’t cast anything.

Most of the lists we saw online had 2-3 Boon Satyrs and 1-2 Ajanis, which would be fine if all the black decks played 4 Nightveil Specters, but with green getting more popular it seemed that most people would switch to Lifebane Zombies. It’s even better against control because they can’t remove it with Last Breath. By playing 3 Ajani and 0 Boon Satyr we lowered the chance that Mono-Black can take a card from our hand at no cost, which helps in the attrition war. Also Ajani is just very, very good and there should probably be 3 copies of it in your deck no matter how many Boon Satyrs you play. I also saw a lot of lists with only 3 Selesnya Charms which seems just wrong to me because you really need an answer to cards like Desecration Demon or Polukranos, and it’s just a great, versatile card overall.

The sideboard is built mostly for Mono-Blue, the mirror, and the red aggressive decks because the main deck is already so good against Mono-Black and UWx Control that there pretty much isn’t anything else you would want to add. Your main deck is already very strong and you don’t really want to change too much unless it’s something high impact like Archangel of Thune which can completely win the game on its own.

Cards that didn’t make the cut

Hushwing Gryff – This seems like it would be good against Green Devotion that boards 4 Nylea’s Disciple, or black with Gray Merchants, Lifebane Zombies, and Obzedat, but it just doesn’t have enough impact on the game, and 2/1 for 3 mana is very unexciting compared to all the other creatures in the deck.

Polukranos – Can’t be killed by Mizzium Mortars, but that’s about it. You already have 4 instant-speed 5/5 trample creatures and you don’t really want more expensive spells. It’s very good against Mono-Blue and it’s an answer to Master of Waves, but you already have 11 cards in the sideboard against them. They can also play Rapid Hybridization in response to monstrosity and blow you out.

Gods Willing – A lot of people board this in against black but the problem is that most of the time they will know about it from Thoughtseize or Lifebane Zombie, and when it doesn’t have the surprise factor it’s not as good.

Trostani – We wanted to have this card for the mirror, but the problem is that you board out 3-4 Voices and then your only token to populate is from Advent of the Wurm, which almost always gets immediately removed by Selesnya Charm.

I started the PT with a solid G/W aggro deck that splashed 2 Lightning Strikes and an Inferno Fist off of 2 Evolving Wilds and 1 Satyr Wayfinder. I got passed Spectra Ward in pack 2 and drafted around it, which meant that I played cards like Boonweaver Giant, which was actually really good in my deck because no one knows it can bring the Aura back from your graveyard as well. I won one round just bouncing him back with Roaring Primadox and replaying it every turn and bringing back Inferno Fist which kept killing all my opponent’s creatures. Last round was pretty tough because Sam Pardee had a Hornet Queen which is one of the most difficult cards to beat in the format, but fortunately he only drew it in game 1, and I 3-0’d.

After that I went 3-2 in Constructed, losing a match to Owen where my draws weren’t very good, then to another B/W devotion player in the last round where I would have sideboarded differently if I had known his sideboard, but lost because he had different cards than I expected. I beat Frank in the 75-card mirror just by having better draws, another G/W player with Archangel of Thune, and got somewhat lucky against Lee Shi Tian playing G/R Devotion. Winning the die roll and having a lethal Ajani were crucial.

I was feeling pretty good at 6-2 even after losing the last round, and thought I had a good shot at another 3-0 draft to start Day 2. During the draft it felt like the overall card quality in our pod was pretty low, but as it turned out that was just because all the good cards got opened on the other side of the table. My deck was a fine B/W deck that I would probably go 2-1 on average, but I ended up losing to Hornet Queen + Spectra Ward in round 1 and then when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, my second opponent beat me with Soul of Ravnica, Soul of New Phyrexia, the Indulgent Tormentor, and other powerful cards. At that point all my thoughts about Platinum were gone and I was just hoping to get 3 more wins and secure another year on the train and get this over with. Fortunately, I won the last round of draft and somehow managed to 5-0 the second Constructed portion as well, which was good enough for 11th place. I did have the same record as two people that made Top 8, but I knew my tiebreakers were bad from the start of the day, and just getting there to lock up Platinum was more than I could have asked for.

My Constructed record was 8-2. The deck was very good and I would only change a few sideboard cards based on how the metagame evolves. Mono-Black and Revelation decks are still going to be the most popular, and it seemed that red aggro was the breakout deck of the tournament. All three of those decks are good matchups for you so I would happily play the deck again.

Sideboard Guide

Mono-Black

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Against B/W you also bring in up to 2 Reclamation Sage if you expect them to have multiple Banishing Lights and Nyx-Fleece Rams.

Mono-Red

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The reason why some number of Skylashers is better than the full set of Selesnya Charm is that they often have Legion Loyalist, which makes tokens unable to block.

U/W(x) Control with Detention Spheres

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U/W Planar Cleansing

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Mono-Blue Devotion

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Boon Satyr is good because you have 5 protection creatures to put it on. Just be careful to not run your Skylasher into their green 3/3 token from Rapid Hybridization when they have open mana. Advent is bad because it usually just gets countered by Judge’s Familiar.

R/W Burn

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Sage is good here because they bring in 3-4 Satyr Firedancers and go up to 4 Chained to the Rocks.

Jund

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Green Devotion

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G/W Aggro

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White Weenie

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I think this deck is very well positioned right now and I definitely wouldn’t advise you to play the U/W Cleansing deck Floch used to win the tournament. It was a good choice for the PT because his opponents didn’t know his list and therefore probably tried to play around cards like Detention Sphere that weren’t even in his deck. At GPs, every round is also only 50 minutes, and that just isn’t enough, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with the deck.

I would like to thank Frank Karsten for helping me realize what’s important in choosing the right deck for the PT and making sure I stuck with it. Without him there was a very good chance I would have ended up switching last minute to something else that I didn’t have that much experience with and end up playing random cards in my sideboard with no plan. Also big congrats to my longtime friend Ivan Floch for winning the PT, you really deserve it and I’m very happy you finally got that big finish. Everyone else on the team deserves props as well—Cifka for building a PT-winning deck yet again, Matej for cheering us on and helping us on Day 2 even though he didn’t have a very good weekend himself, and everyone else for making sure we were well prepared for the PT. Now that I think about it, someone from the group actually won both tournaments we attended, which is even more insane!

As usual, thanks for reading.
Martin