The last time I was in a Pro Tour Top 8 was in 2011, and I made it there with three other teammates—a feat I never expected to repeat (the three teammates part, though lately I had started to wonder about the other). This last weekend, I finally made it back, and even had two teammates in the Top 8 alongside me. It was an awesome weekend, and the fact that our team went from being 5% of the field to 40%* of the Top 25 is incredible. Here are my musings on the Pro Tour, the weekend, and pretty much anything else I feel like talking about.

*I got 10 players and 40% confused, so this number is way more impressive than I first indicated – LSV

The Deck

The Eldrazi deck was broken (duh). I first have to give credit to all the F2F and CFB guys who met in Vancouver to test it, because I can’t claim to have contributed to the finished product—besides maybe strongly advocating for Mutavault, a card we were likely to play regardless. I also talked about how bad a card Ratchet Bomb was (accurate) but eventually gave in and played them, because there truly was nothing better.

I also have to admit that while the deck was broken, I didn’t realize exactly how broken until we started playing in the tournament. Testing results were conservative, and even though it’s way better to underestimate a deck than overestimate it, I wasn’t convinced the deck was the nuts based on playing it against Affinity and Abzan. Those were the decks I thought would be most popular, but Burn being 13% of the field was a huge boon for the deck, and part of why it was so good.

The Team

I decided to order names by length, which shows a clear foreign bias. I also realized after doing so that I arbitrarily shortened “Alexander” to “Alex,” but I don’t feel like changing it now.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
Shuhei Nakamura
Andrea Mengucci
Thiago Saporito
Nathan Holiday
Ondrej Strasky
Jacob Wilson
Sam Pardee
Alex Hayne
Mike Sigrist
Neal Oliver
Ivan Floch
Jon Stern

The Team Forum

Vancouver requires you to separate garbage into organic and non-organic matter. I know this because there were numerous posts a day (by Jon Stern) informing the team of such.

Paulo also accidentally pulled a BenS, and posted something on his Facebook wall that he meant to post in the team forum. Luckily, it was “Has anyone seen my black flip-flops?” which gave away minimal strategic advice.

The Team Who Didn’t Cross the Border

The Denver/Cali crew (with an Iowan field agent) helped as well. Between battling online, Skype calls, and having Wrapter, Matt Nass, and MJ head over to my place for a mini-draft camp, I felt like I got a good amount of prep in.

Here I decided to go in order of Nationals team appearances + GPs won with Birthing Pod, which amounted to at least one for almost everyone on the list.

Michael Jacob
Paul Cheon
Josh McClain
Josh Utter-Leyton
David Ochoa
Matt Nass

Storm

Storm is not good. I played more games with Storm than any other deck leading up to the PT, and realized that the main drawback of being bad against hand disruption, graveyard hate, enchantment destruction, counterspells, and fast decks was slightly too much.

Affinity

Affinity is good, and I almost played it. I was worried about hate cards, though it looks like that worry was somewhat unfounded, as two Affinity decks made Top 8 and Paul Cheon and Jon Stern both played it to good results. It turned out that Eldrazi beat all the decks that could play Stony Silence, and Affinity was a solid choice against Eldrazi overall.

Burn

This was another deck I almost played. I wish I could say I had a strategic reason to not play it, but the honest answer is that I’d be too miserable. I played Abzan at the last Modern PT, despite hating the deck, and was miserable the whole time (granted, going 1-4 likely exacerbated that feeling). Either way, I wasn’t going to play Burn. Even if I lost as a result, I decided there was no point in showing up to the PT and playing a deck I truly hated.

The First Draft

My draft was covered, though I’m not really sure why they picked my pod.

I opened Fall of the Titans, and took it. Smart. I then took Isolation Zone over Captain’s Claws, a card which some people love and many people hate. My next couple picks were all Zada’s Commandos, a card I think is great, and the first decision point came when I saw Saddleback Lagac fifth pick. We rated Lagac as the best green common, so picking it up this late was a great sign, and I switched without hesitation. It would have been easy to take a Wall of Resurgence there, and end up in a much worse deck, but I’m not a fan of Wall in RW to begin with.

I then got passed another Lagac, and was feeling good about my decision. I immediately had the first inkling that this Pro Tour might just go well when I saw Mina and Denn 8th pick. I don’t know why it was still there, but I wasn’t going to look a gift Ally in the mouth, and I slammed it.

I never strayed from red/green, and ended up with this:

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Click for big.

I went 2-1, losing to Shuhei “I love 3/5s” Nakamura, who defeated me soundly.

The Notebook

Realizing that we were all winning (thanks to Jon Stern’s handy team-tracker notebook), was pretty awesome. At about round 5 or 6 you actually find out how good or bad your deck is, and finding out that it’s unreal is way better than the sinking feeling you get when all your teammates are reporting losses. I’ve been on both sides of that, and I prefer this one.

Constructed Rounds (AKA, This Deck is Dumb)

That sums up my first 4 rounds of Constructed (including a hand against EFro in round 5 where I had the above plus Gut Shot for Birds of Paradise), which left me at 6-1.

Round 8, The One Where I Ran Well

In round 8, I played Mahakito Mihara, and had the luckiest game of my tournament. It was game 3, and I had been without a colorless source all game.

The board was as follows, with him tapped out and me at 7 life:

Him:

Me:

I had just sacrificed a Relic of Progenitus and drawn the Mutavault. I cast Thought-Knot Seer and saw:

I took Lightning Bolt, and played an Endless One for 2.

I was dead to any land or any 1-mana spell. He drew, thought, played a Wild Nacatl, and passed.

I then played another Thought-Knot, taking an Atarka’s Command, then played a Chalice of the Void for 1.

He still needed any 1-mana spell, as triggering the double Swiftspear was likely good enough to force a bunch of chump-blocks. He drew, thought, and passed.

On my next turn, Thought-Knot number three came down. He Commanded me to 4 in response, and I took the Nacatl he’d drawn out of his hand. I won a turn later by attacking with a bunch of 4/4s.

To recap: I needed to fade land + 1-mana spell, 1-mana spell, AND any sequence with multiple 2-mana spells. He drew creature, creature, land.

That’s how you Top 8 a PT, in case you were wondering: incredible luck in situations like that.

7-1

Aside on luck

I keep mentioning luck, but I’m not trying to be humble or modest (let’s be real). It takes luck to do well at a tournament like this, and I ran very well all weekend. Yes, I’m happy with how I played, but I’ve played well at plenty of tournaments where I got crushed. We did have a great Constructed deck, which does mean I needed less luck than at other tournaments, but I’m not deluded enough to think that I didn’t get lucky in the spots where it mattered.

End Aside

The Second Draft

This draft was a little more stressful. I started off with General Tazri, followed by Grasp of Darkness (see, I’m great at draft). I then took Kor Sky-Climber over Reflector Mage, mainly on the basis of how bad UW is. I ended the pack with all black and white cards, and was feeling pretty good. Pack 2 was OK, but pack 3 was an unmitigated disaster, at least until Drana sent a pair of Emissaries my way. I got one sixth and the other seventh, and that was game.

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The Cheon Ranking Face-Off

Playing Paul Cheon at 7-1 was great. Not only did it mean we were both doing well, but I knew Marshall was in the booth, and I got to make him explain actions such as my activation of Shambling Vent at the end of Paul’s turn. I also enjoyed handing Paul a 3/1 Elemental token when he played his 8th land, implying he should pay 3 for Akoum Stonewaker. He had a Valakut Invoker in play at the time.

The whole match is here, and was one of the more fun matches I’ve played, despite getting crushed.

That’s a Plain(s) Waste

In round 10, I played against Alex Majlaton, who wasn’t too happy with his RW/Colorless deck. The most exciting thing that happened during our match was Alex tapping a Wastes instead of a Plains, and getting us both a warning. I can’t blame him, as they look identical, and he certainly didn’t get an advantage out of it. I was just baffled by why these two cards look so similar, and wasted a little time appealing on that basis (it didn’t work).

Round 11, The One Where I Never Entered Combat

In game 1, I saw the following cards:

I sideboarded with that in mind, and I won game 2 without ever attacking. I even went so far as to not attack with fliers into a board without any. See, my opponent always had 4+ cards in hand, and there was no way he didn’t have at least one way to punish an attacker. I instead relied on my three Chainmages (one from the sideboard) and Seer’s Lantern, which, combined with Drana’s Emissary and Essence Depleter, ended the game without getting my hands dirty.

Don’t be afraid to do things like not attack, because there are times when a very odd strategy is your best call. At the end of the game, my opponent showed me a hand of the above cards plus a Roil’s Retribution, all cards that would have been much better if I were venturing into combat.

Another 2-1 in draft left me at 9-2, with a goal of 3-1-1 in Constructed.

Griselbrand Enraged

I battled Yuuya Watanabe and his Griselbrand Reanimator deck in Round 12. We had some fast-paced games, and Thought-Knot Seers and Chalices were crucial. The key strategic point in the match came when I played Pithing Needle and named Griselbrand. Marshall came over to verify what I named so the coverage booth would know, and I said “Griselbrand Enraged.” He was confused, then mildly annoyed, and everyone was satisfied.

The video evidence of such can be found here.

The Gut Shot Heard ‘Round the World

In round 14, I found myself at 11-2, facing down Frank Lepore and his Sultai Eldrazi deck. After splitting the first two games, we went on quite a rollercoaster ride game three. I got him down to 1, then he peeled Blight Herder to stabilize, then we had this gigantic board stall. He went World Breaker, I went Oblivion Sower, and we were gearing up to fight a battle of recursive Eldrazi.

Then I ripped Gut Shot, and immediately started to hear Bon Jovi usher me into the Top 8. It was a nice flashback to Worlds 2011, where we had Gut Shot in our deck and I played the song “You Give Love a Bad Name” every time it got cast.

I do have to admit, despite knowing that nobody will be sympathetic, I was really looking forward to a grindy game of Eye activations and more Oblivion Sowers followed by 4x Reality Smashers for the alpha strike. Oh well, Gut Shot that is.

That round’s feature match can be found here.

I have to give a shoutout to Frank for being a great sport the whole tournament. It’s easy when you are winning, but even when he lost three rounds in a row to fall to 11-4, he displayed excellent poise. He ended up winning his last round and snuck into the Top 8 at 12-4, which is a gift given to very few.

The Top 8

After a very enjoyable and not-at-all expensive team dinner, we got down to business. i.e., I watched Web and MJ play a game of UR vs. Colorless Eldrazi, then went back to my room and watched Gaby Spartz and Andrew Baeckstrom play Eldrazi against Mono-Black Bad Moon on Gaby’s stream.

My team once again came through, and their playtesting notes were very helpful, despite the fact that Shuhei, myself, and Ivan all fell to UR Eldrazi.

You can watch the whole Top 8, and that pretty much sums it up. I had some really tight games against Pascal, one really close game against JC (game 3, and it was awesome), and a bunch of fast and not close games where I unfortunately came out behind. The dream was dead, and I was not to be a Pro Tour Champion.

My day wasn’t quite over yet…

The Finals

I always joke about missing coverage because I’m in the Top 8, but I never imagined that both was an option. I realized that if I missed the finals as a player, I could still be there as a commentator. I didn’t have to cover the finals, but I legitimately wanted to. Yes, the loss was unfortunate, and yes, I felt bad about not winning the PT, but I was able to set all that aside and deliver the high-quality commentary that everyone expected of me.

By that, I mean a detailed explanation, to Marshall specifically, of why Ivan Floch was about to name “Ape” on Cavern of Souls.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that’s my all-time favorite coverage moment. It’s the finals of the Pro Tour, and I get to straight-faced explain how naming “Ape” is not only a play one could make, but the correct play. Let that sink in.

How and why did this happen?

What happened was that Ivan Oblivion Sowered JC, and hit two Caverns. Given his ample supply of colorless sources, he could easily cast every creature in his deck.

Every creature except one.

Five seconds later, we cut to the floor, and Ivan had just named “Ape” with Cavern of Souls.

I can’t top that, so I’m calling the report there. Hopefully it’s not five years until next time.