I was excited to play Dwarves at Pro Tour Kaladesh. Here’s the original deck list I started with:

It’s true. When I was 6 years old, one of the first decks I ever built was a Dwarf deck. I hadn’t yet grasped all of the subtleties of competitive MTG, but I knew enough to be sure that Dwarves were sweet, and that I wanted to have a Dwarf deck.

I only mention it to show that me sleeving up some Dwarves for a Pro Tour has been a very long time coming. (And as a humblebrag that I owned a Balduvian Horde back in 1996).

But the reality is that by 2016, I’d somewhat lost my way. I seldom choose aggro decks, and it was very unlike me to show up to the Pro Tour with what many people would consider “the most obvious deck.” When the results of the SCG Open in Indianapolis came in, 12 days before the Pro Tour, my reaction was, “so I need to find a deck that beats W/R Vehicles.”

Over the course of PT preparation, I constructed (and otherwise stumbled upon) plenty of decks that I liked. We had a handful of builds of Aetherworks Marvel decks, some control decks with Torrential Gearhulk, and various flavors of red and white beatdown, just to name a few. And yet the deck that really stood out to me was one that nobody else had taken much of an interest in—our gauntlet version of Chris Van Meter’s SCG-Open-winning W/R deck list.

I played both with and against the deck in dozens of practice sessions, and it came out on top in virtually every set. Nothing too incredible—6 wins and 4 losses here, 7 and 3 there—but it was starting to add up. I also really liked the feel of the deck. It was the perfect intersection of offering busted aggressive nut-draws, but also having Smuggler’s Copter and Veteran Motorist to smooth things out and ensure that you wouldn’t flood in the late game.

One of my philosophies in Magic is “don’t overthink things.” More often than not, when you believe you’ve identified the best deck, you’re best served to just play that deck. W/R Vehicles was powerful, consistent, played with a lot of the best cards from Kaladesh, and was winning a lot in testing. Finally, when Boros master Paul Rietzl used his Midas Touch to perfect the deck list, it felt like a slam dunk.

R/W Vehicles

Reid Duke, 10th place at PT Kaladesh

We didn’t change much from Chris Van Meter’s deck list. Our major innovation was to add Archangel Avacyn, which came out of the realization that it was one of the cards we least wanted to play against. Most of the common play patterns with Vehicles involve tapping out on your precombat main phase and attacking with all your creatures. An opponent flashing in Avacyn can be a nightmare. We were excited about her in the mirror match, but also felt that she was a generally good card with a lot of important uses. But before you give us too much credit for a great idea—let’s face it—it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, a Pilot Exemplar, or a Consul of Innovation to put Avacyn into a white creature deck that’s already playing Selfless Spirit.

We added a fourth copy of Depala, Pilot Exemplar. Despite being a legend, she’s simply so good that we wanted to maximize our chances of drawing her. We also cut the Weaver of Lightnings that Van Meter had used in his sideboard for aggro mirrors. As a sideboard card, Weaver faces the dilemma that it would be outrageously good in game 1, but often loses value based on how the opponent sideboards. We were content that if our opponents were bringing in Weavers against us, we would bring in planeswalkers as a way to trump all of the 1-for-1 removal spells.

Day One: The First Draft

My Draft started nicely with a pack 1 pick 1 Smuggler’s Copter, which is among the best cards in the set, and colorless to boot. Unfortunately, it didn’t prove to be one of those easy, smooth Drafts that you always hope to have. A couple picks in, I took Aethertorch Renegade over Contraband Kingpin, despite my instincts really telling me I was going to end up in U/B. For most of the draft, I focused on black cards and artifacts while being unable to find a second color. In pack 3, I was gifted with a Saheeli’s Artistry, and that cemented me as a U/B Control deck splashing white for Cloudblazer and Restoration Gearsmith.

When the draft finished, I felt my deck was pretty average. Worse, I had somehow managed to build a deck where Smuggler’s Copter wasn’t even particularly exciting. My deck had about 12 creatures, and 2 or 3 of them had 0 power!

Nonetheless, things started off well and I won round 1 against a U/G deck. In round 2, I decked myself in a game 1 that lasted about 33 of our 50 minutes. I didn’t expect to get out of the match with a win, but I had turn-2 Smuggler’s Copter in both games 2 and 3 and somehow turbo’d through to 2-0. In match 3, I won two very long games against another U/B Control deck. After the match, my opponent showed me a Skysovereign, which he hadn’t drawn in either of our 15-turn games. That’s an example of the type of thing you need to go your way in order to 3-0 a Pro Tour draft.

Day One: The Constructed Rounds

I felt nervous going into round 4. The last time I’d played a true aggro deck in a PT was my 1-5 performance with extended White Weenie back in 2010. Plus, I have an irrational anxiety at tournaments that tends to last until I get my first win with my Constructed deck. “What if I’ve somehow registered a deck that’s incapable of winning?!?”

I was paired against Travis Woo and his Jeskai Control deck. In game 1, he dismantled me with Dynavolt Tower. During sideboarding I mused to myself, “boy, if I’d known I was going to do well in Draft, maybe I shouldn’t have put all these 3/1s and 1/2s in my Standard deck.” But then the powers-that-be reminded me what it can be like to play an aggro deck. Game 2 I had a nigh-unbeatable draw on the play, curving into a quick Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and similarly quick win. Game 3 looked close, as Travis passed the turn with 2 Dynavolt Towers and 4 mana untapped. I surveyed the board, and decided that my best option was—as is usually the case with aggro—to fire up my Vehicles and Needle Spires, and attack with everything. Travis thought for a moment, then dropped his hand on the table and said, “yup, I’m dead.” I was so surprised that I had to stifle myself from going, “wow, really? Cool!”

I’d forgotten how fun it can be to beat down!

Round 5, at 4-0, I had a feature match against Eric Froehlich playing B/G Midrange. I made an embarrassing, overly-fancy play in game 1 where I declared my creatures as attackers, resolved my loot with Smuggler’s Copter, and then pointed a removal spell at Eric’s creature before blockers. He played Blossoming Defenses and ate my creature. Blossoming Defenses is not a card I would’ve chosen to play around out of B/G Midrange, but there was simply no reason to do things the way I’d done them. Once I decided to commit my ground creatures as attackers, there was no card I could’ve drawn off my Smuggler’s Copter that would’ve changed my plan, so I should’ve simply cast my spell before attacking.

I went on to lose that game, but won game 2. Game 3 was fun as Eric was on the play and we both had good draws. The games where you actually have to play with W/R Vehicles are quite challenging. On the crucial turn, Eric played Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and attacked in such a way that I was going to have to trade a creature and give him a Zombie. But I had my 1-of Chandra, Torch of Defiance in my hand and if I could hit my fourth land and kill the Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, maybe Eric would have to spend some resources attacking my planeswalker and I could actually get my feet underneath me. So I activated both of my Smuggler’s Copters and double-blocked, which gave me 2 extra draws at a fourth land. Unfortunately, I found 2 spells and a land that would’ve come into play tapped and ended up getting run over the following turn, falling to a 4-1 record.

Next I beat a U/W Flash deck on the back of Avacyn, and then I had 2 excellent draws to beat Carlos Romao and his Jeskai Control deck. I’m a long-time fan of Carlos, ever since he won the Magic Online Championship in 2010. From my experience, he’s a fun and nice opponent to be paired against, and a very talented player who’s great to watch. We’re lucky to have him back on the Pro Tour.

To round out the day, I beat an Aetherworks Marvel deck. My opponent’s deck did not deliver in game 1. In game 2, a fast clock and a couple of Fragmentizes got the job done for me. I finished the day at 7-1.

Day Two: The Second Draft

You can watch my Draft viewer here.

In this draft, I locked up 3 powerful late-game rares—Saheeli’s Artistry (again), Marionette Master, and Aethersquall Ancient—early in the draft. Since I already had those, I tried to make the most disciplined picks I could for the remainder of the Draft, prioritizing cheap, defensive artifacts to help me survive to cast my rares, as well as to fuel my 2 Underhanded Designs. I’m relatively happy with how I drafted, except that I had an unexplained moment of temporary insanity for pack 3 pick 7. I truly have no memory of passing a Prophetic Prism, and would never have done so if I’d seen the card and been thinking clearly. I’d like to make sure such a thing never happens to me again. Maybe making an effort to get more sleep between Day 1 and Day 2 would be a good start.

Overall, I was happy with my finished product. It was a defensive U/B/w deck, just like I’d gone 3-0 with the day before, and I thought that this deck was even better than the first.

In the first round, I defeated Ben Weitz on the back of my rares.

Next, I was paired against the esteemed Shota Yasooka. He’d been a featured drafter and had played on camera the previous round, and rumors had reached me that his deck contained Noxious Gearhulk, Saheeli’s Artistry, Confiscation Coup, and 2 copies of Aetherworks Marvel. This was bad news for me since my deck wasn’t designed to win fast, and I’d be heavily outgunned in the late game.

I saw a glimmer of hope in the first game as Shota missed a land drop. I threw caution to the wind and played out all my cards, hoping to press my advantage before lands arrived for my opponent to cast his rares. Unfortunately, everything showed up just in the nick of time for Shota. The turn I played Aethersquall Ancient, he found a fifth land for Confiscation Coup. The turn I played Saheeli’s Artistry, he found a sixth land to Saheeli’s Artistry back. I ended up losing, but it was an intense game and I could’ve played better.

I won game 2 with a nice draw against an awkward hand from Yasooka. Game 3, I was on the draw and my hand was full of anti-control sideboard cards like Mind Rot and Tezzeret’s Ambition. Unfortunately for me, this time Shota curved out and didn’t even give me time to use these weapons that I’d been so excited about. As is always the case when I face Shota Yasooka, I lost the match feeling like I’d been outdone.

For the third match of the draft, I was paired against Pierre Dagen and his U/W Flyers deck. We split the first 2 games, where—believe it or not—I actually used Dovin Baan’s emblem to good effect. In the third game, he had turn-2 Smuggler’s Copter on the play and I never really stood a chance.

So a disappointing 1-2 finish put me at 8-3. And because it was a relatively large Pro Tour in terms of attendance, this likely meant that I could not lose again if I wanted to make the Top 8.

Day Two: The Constructed Rounds

Round 12 was just like round 8, where I defeated an Aetherworks Marvel deck that simply refused to give its pilot what he needed.

Round 13 I got revenge against B/G Midrange, this time in the hands of Kenji Tsumura.

Round 14 I played a crazy match against Steve Rubin. Steve beat me with a super-aggressive B/R Aggro draw in game 1. After that, the dynamic of the match changed dramatically as we both sideboarded in upwards of 8 removal spells. Game 2 we killed each others’ creatures and both drew about 12 lands. It was the presence of Needle Spires that tipped the scales in my favor. Game 3, Steve missed his fourth land drop and I was able to close out the game using an aggressive draw with a Chandra, just before Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet would’ve turned things around for him. My planeswalkers did a ton of heavy lifting and I was starting to wish I’d played even more than the 3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikars and 1 Chandra in my sideboard.

In round 15 I was again paired against Shota Yasooka, and yet again we played a fantastic match. You can watch it here. I’m still reeling from losing this one, and I’ll have to write a Game Analysis article if I’m going to do game 2 justice. In the end, I was defeated, but there’s no shame in losing to the best.

Still, I got to end on a high note by defeating Joe Lossett and his Grixis Control deck in the final round of the tournament.

I finished in 10th place with a 12-4 overall record. (4-2 Draft, 8-2 Standard). I loved W/R Vehicles, and I can’t help but think that the Sarpadian Dwarves from Fallen Empires would’ve been proud of me.

Despite being an overall success, Pro Tour Kaladesh was a humbling experience for me. I have the feeling that if I’d been able to overcome Shota Yasooka in either (or both) of our extremely close matches, I would’ve been able to reach the Top 8. Regardless of the outcome, I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to play great matches of Magic against the true masters from across the globe. I hope to keep improving and have the chance to try my luck again sometime soon.