My travels this year started early, on January 1st. My girlfriend had something to do in Pittsburgh, so I decided I’d go with her, stay there for a bit, and then fly from Pittsburgh to some North American GPs and back, until eventually going back to Brazil after GP Washington D.C. in March.

My first 2 GPs were uneventful—I played Esper Dragons to a 10-5 finish in Oakland, and Day 2’d Vancouver while not getting any extra points. Since the PT was in Atlanta shortly after the GP, we decided to just playtest in Vancouver. We rented an awesome house that wasn’t very expensive, and spent two weeks jamming games of Modern and eating sushi with the newfound love of my life, ponzu sauce. For this PT, we had a CFB + Face to Face collaboration going on—we were testing separately (since CFB people had responsibilities like work, kids, and other nonsense), but we’d talk online and eventually meet in Atlanta.

In Vancouver, most of my time was spent on a deck that I would ultimately play at a future GP: Lantern. What was originally a joke of a deck turned out to be pretty powerful, and I liked how it played out against most of the field. Parallel to that, the rest of the team was working on many different decks, including the two decks we ended up playing—Affinity and Colorless Eldrazi.

I wasn’t intimately involved in the colorless Eldrazi process, so I don’t know how it came to be, but I think it originated from the B/W Processor builds and went something like “all those spells suck anyway—let’s beat down instead.” We took out all of the colors and replaced them with more Eldrazi that attack, Simian Spirit Guides, and Chalices. We then took out all the colored lands and replaced them with creaturelands, which fit the plan of attacking a little better.

The reaction to our Eldrazi deck was mixed. Some people—Sam, Jacob, Ondrej—loved it from the get-go and basically locked into it very early. I was a bit more skeptical. I usually am. I’ve found that people naturally want to believe they’ve found a broken deck, so they’ll convince themselves that they have. I liked the deck and thought it was good, but I didn’t love it and I thought it actually had some problems with the B/G decks, whereas other people felt that they crushed them.

If I was skeptical, though, it didn’t compare to the skepticism that we got from the people who were not testing with us in person—mainly Michael Jacob. His reaction to the whole process was very interesting…

mj-comment-1 mj-comment-2 mj-comment-3

That wasn’t MJ’s proudest moment. He ended up playing Eldrazi himself, of course.

Most of my days before the PT were spent agonizing between a deck that could be awful or great, Eldrazi, and a deck that I liked and thought was solid but unspectacular, Living End. At that point I had given up on Lantern because I thought it was bad versus Jund and Abzan post-board, and I expected those to be the most popular decks.

In the end, I was convinced that playing Eldrazi was better, as it was simply too good in its best matchups, and it was doing something slightly different than the rest of the format. It’s safe to say that this was one of the best decisions I could have made, because we crushed that tournament like nothing I’ve ever seen.

We thought everyone was going to know about Eldrazi since it was so obvious, but that didn’t seem to be the case. I guess that in Modern most people adapt the decks they have played rather than trying to come up with something completely new. It makes sense, because the new cards are usually not as powerful as the old strategies, but that really wasn’t the case this time around and everyone who didn’t try it missed out.

This was the deck we played:

Colorless Eldrazi

I ended up finishing 19th with an 8-2 Constructed record. Our team put 3 members into the Top 8 of the event, disentombing both Luis and Shuhei, and putting an end to their years-long drought. On top of the 3 in the Top 8, we had another 6 in the Top 24—over a third of the Top 24 was people from our team. It’s hard to express how hard this is to do in the modern era where everyone has access to information and Magic Online, and I was very proud of my team for accomplishing that. I honestly don’t think something like this will ever be repeated unless teams grow to, say, 50 members.

Lesson learned: You’re teaming with your teammates for a reason. If you don’t have a strong opinion but they do, you should probably just follow them.

By this point, I had basically locked up Platinum (since I had Top 8’d the last PT of 2015), and as a result I was a more relaxed person in every tournament after that. It’s a great feeling to be free of the pressure to perform, and if you can lock Platinum in the middle of the year I’d definitely recommend it.

After Atlanta came GPs Houston, Detroit, and D.C. Houston was Standard, and I decided to play the G/W Hardened Scales deck that most of my team played:

G/W Hardened Scales

The deck wasn’t bad, and I finished 18th with a 12-3 record (good for 3 Pro Points and $500), but it wasn’t the deck for me. The people who said it was good—Sam Pardee and Matt Nass—are the people who thrive on casting horrible, completely unplayable cards and making them work. I am not one of those people. I like casting Dragonlord Ojutai. They like casting Servant of the Scale and Endless One for 1. Even though I did well, the deck frustrated me to no end. It ended up under-performing as a whole, despite the talented cast of magicians who decided to play it, and it basically vanished from the format as quickly as it appeared.

To add insult to injury, this was the one time in my life that I decided to speculate on a card. I bought a bunch of Nissas on Magic Online. They were kind of cheap, I had some tickets to spare, and it was the type of card that would become very expensive if the deck became good all of a sudden. Even if it didn’t, Nissa is a 3-mana playable planeswalker. How low could it really go?

It turns out the answer is “very, very low.” By the time I bought the Nissas, the deck was already somewhat popular online, which inflated their price. They plummeted after the deck turned out to be bad, and I was stuck with dozens of them. We actually managed to make a Nissa deck be great for almost a season after that, but I completely forgot about them, and now that I remember, they’re low again. Thus continues my quest to make Nissa great again so I can at least make my money back.

The lesson here is that I am very bad at speculating and shouldn’t do it. If I’m going to do it, though, I have to remember to actually sell the cards when they are high.

After that came GP Detroit, where I played Lantern in a sea of Eldrazi to a 10-4-1 finish, and then GP D.C., which was team Limited. I was rooming with my two teammates (Thiago Saporito and Ondrej Strasky), and, when given the choice between staying the middle-week in Detroit or D.C., we chose to stay in Detroit, which in retrospect might not have been the best choice. Most of our time was spent in the hotel eating pizza and playing League of Legends with some American friends, including Shahar.

Someone should order a case study for Shahar, because it’s inconceivable that someone so smart can dedicate so much to something and still be so bad at it, like, “thank God there’s nothing lower than Bronze 5” bad. Shahar is the kind of person that will be playing Morgana support and, as you get ganked and the skillshot is flying directly at you, he’ll Shield himself, Bind a minion, Exhaust the opposing support and Flash away. Then, after everyone else is dead, he’ll say “sorry, it lagged.” This image I found sums up my experiences with him perfectly:

lol-graph

(This also applies to playing with Willy if he picks literally any champion that is not Nocturn. If Nocturn is banned, you should dodge.)

During this trip, I also finally got Ondrej to watch Mean Girls and Miss Congeniality, which are two of our generation’s greatest movies. If you haven’t watched them, you should stop reading this article and go do that right now.

GP D.C. itself wasn’t as spectacular as the week in between, and we finished an unexciting 10-4. We did succeed in an Escape the Room though, so hurray for small victories.

After that I finally went back home, and there was a break before the next PT—Madrid.

For PT Shadows over Innistrad, we decided to arrive earlier and go to GP Barcelona. We got a house that wasn’t nearly as good as our house in Vancouver, but it did have a swimming pool. The fact that temperatures were almost freezing didn’t stop any of the Canadians or crazy people from getting in, but it did stop most of us who had any semblance of sanity.

Testing for Barcelona was frustrating because I simply didn’t know what to do. All the decks were bad, and we didn’t even know what other people were going to play. Did anything exist other than Bant and Humans? We tried a lot of different decks, but nothing really worked.

I started developing Esper (again) and got it to a point where I thought it was good against both Humans and Bant, though it was bad versus other control decks. Some people seemed to like it too (Ivan, Shuhei), but most thought it was bad. When the time came to play the GP, I felt so clueless about Standard that I actually conceded my last round of Day 1 after having won because I wanted to playtest more Standard and thought it was more important.

Thankfully for me, my team did it again, and the day before the event we found the G/W deck that became such a force in the metagame for months to come:

G/W Tokens

The combination of cheap creatures, planeswalkers, and Avacyn made the deck capable of fast draws while still being able to compete in the late game, which is a very unusual quality to have. I was instantly hooked and played the deck to a Top 16 finish. Most of our team did well with it, including eventual winner Steve Rubin.

Or rather, that’s how I wish things had gone. Reality was just a tad different. I liked the deck, but I was worried that we simply didn’t have enough information to know if we were right or wrong. It was different than the Eldrazi deck—that one we tested for a week. This one was a product of desperation a day before the event. People clung to it because, like me, they didn’t have anything else they liked. The deck seemed good, but how was it versus the rest of the field, the part we didn’t have time to test again? How was it after sideboarding? Which cards were actually good in each matchup? What hands was I supposed to keep?

We didn’t know, and that scared me. So I decided to just play Esper instead, because I didn’t want to risk it. Yeah, I’m a coward. I ended up playing against three control decks that out-controlled me (Mardu Planeswalkers, Season’s Past, and a more planeswalker-focused Esper version) and ultimately did not Day 2. The rest of the story is true, though—our team did do very well with the deck and Steve Rubin won the whole thing.

At least I picked the right PT to not Day 2, as my mother, my girlfriend, and her mother were all in Spain with me. What followed was a month-long tour of Europe, going to Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy, culminating in a cruise on the Greek Islands with a stop in Montenegro.

I had never done a cruise before, and I thought it was going to be okay. Instead, it surpassed my expectations, and turned out to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Everything was amazing. I thought the “cruise days” were going to be boring, but there were so many things to do on the ship, ranging from fine dining to Disney quizzes to Broadway-style shows to Bridge games to karaoke contests, that soon enough I was actively looking forward to spending days at the sea.

The places we visited were also great. Some were a bit of a letdown:

athens

But some were more beautiful than I could have imagined:

santorini

After that there was a big break for me until I eventually took the small flight to São Paulo to play in a Team Sealed GP with Willy and Lucas Berthoud (who had been my teammate last year for the World Cup). We opened what I perceived to be two average Sealed Decks and finished 9th.

Soon after came PT Eldritch Moon in Australia, and with it came the visa issues. As a Brazilian, I’m required visas to enter certain countries, such as the U.S., Canada, and Japan, either on a once-per-visit basis or for a period of X years (Australia is one of those countries, so I paid the $100-ish fee and applied for a visa).

Normally I’m pretty diligent when it comes to those things, so I did not expect there to be any issues, but there were. I got a message back from the Australian department of immigration that said my visa application was denied and I had to apply for a different category. Of course they were not going to return my $100 fee and I had to pay for it again. It also turned out that, for once, it wasn’t just me who needed a visa, but everyone competing in the PT. As a result, WotC offered to defer the invite for everyone who was unable to get one. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the whole PT would change drastically because of that.

What followed was chaos, and I can’t say it wasn’t a little bit entertaining to watch. You see, Americans are not used to having to fill out visa forms. I saw posts from multiple pro players that they had been “trying to fill out this form for two hours and weren’t even close to completing it.” I saw comments like, “There’s this section on ‘How do you plan on paying for your stay?’ do they think I don’t have enough money in my bank account to stay in their stupid country for a week?” You know, basically all the things that every one of us has to answer every time we  want to go to the U.S.. For as bad as they thought Australia was, the U.S. visa process is much, much worse.

Of course, once the forms were actually filled, “U.S. privilege” kicked in again and those people had their answer within a couple of days without problems. My answer actually took the better part of a month, as the Australians analyzed whether I was a risk to their country. In the end, I was deemed worthy of stepping foot in the great Commonwealth of Australia, and departed for my almost-40-hour-long trip.

Our testing in Australia was bland—other than a dead rat falling on the floor out of our chimney, nothing exciting happened. Sydney is a great place to visit, but the area we were in was not so great. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but other than cars driving on the other side of the road (the wrong side), there wasn’t anything particularly Australian about it—it was a forgettable suburb. It took going to the PT hotel and being face-to-face with the murderous creature called an “Ibis” just casually walking down the sidewalk to remind us that we were, indeed, in a different place.

Testing for the PT, however, wasn’t bad. The format was interesting, and many of the new cards were powerful—Liliana, Grim Flayer, Emrakul, Elder Deep-Fiend, and Voldaren Pariah. The GP was also okay. I finished 100th.

Most of my early testing time was spent trying to make Brisela happen. When that clearly was not working, I started trying different U/B Zombies lists, which Ondrej eventually played at the event. When that was also not working, I joined Team Delirium in an effort to make an Emrakul deck better. We got it to a point that we liked it, and most of us registered this:

G/B Delirium

We did well in the event (I think we had the highest Constructed win percentage of any team), but I think this time we got very lucky. Our deck made great use of the new cards in the format, but it didn’t push them to the extent that other decks did. We had the right idea, but the wrong execution—we gave up too soon on turbo Emrakuls and Elder Deep-Fiends.

We also ignored the fact that, due to deferred invites, this PT would have anywhere from 50 to 100 fewer people. You see, it’s much better to qualify for the first PT of the year, so a lot of people deferred their invites even if they were able to attend. 50-100 is a big portion of the PT, and it’s also a number taken from the portion that plays stock decks. Everyone who was on a big testing team would still be attending—none of the deferred invites came from there. As a result, the concentration of “new” decks was much higher than it usually is, and the concentration of “established decks copied from SCG” much lower. This was bad for our deck, which was good against the normal decks but worse against the new, more powerful Emrakul/Deep-Fiend builds.

I had been to Sydney already, so I decided to only sight-see for an extra day. We went to a wildlife park called Featherdale, where we got to interact a bit more with the animals than you would in a normal Zoo:

featherdale

After that, we went on a food tour that Sam arranged. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t amazing either. My favorite thing we tried was the kumquat-flavored sugar cane drink, which was miles better than any non-kumquat-flavored sugar cane drink I’ve ever had.

Most people were flying home for a GP—Ondrej, Shahar, and I were instead flying to New Zealand. I’d never been to New Zealand before, and since I doubted the Magic Pro Tour would ever go back to Australia after the visa shenanigans, this felt like a good opportunity to visit another country.

Arriving in New Zealand was considerably harder than we expected, as it turned out that New Zealand immigration thought that 3 young guys from 3 different continents traveling together for a week of sightseeing in New Zealand was a bit suspicious. We were thoroughly searched and questioned, though my agent was very nice throughout the whole process. She seemed almost apologetic, as if knowing it was a formality. It was quite different from my time at U.S. immigration, where I was forcefully asked, “WHERE DO YOU KEEP THE DRUGS?” in the same way that Dumbledore asked Harry, “DID YOU PUT YOUR NAME IN THE GOBLET OF FIRE?”

Ondrej’s agent, however, wasn’t nearly as nice. He interrogated him for much longer, with questions that included asking whether he did drugs and whether he had any pornography on his laptop.

Once we were cleared, we took a cab to our hotel and were very pleasantly surprised. As you may or may not know from my GP Rotterdam report (or just by looking at us, really), in the group of PV-Shahar-Ondrej, PV is definitely the adult. I did all the booking for our trip and most of it was done blindly, going off what I had read online. I didn’t know whether Queenstown was going to be interesting or boring, so I only booked us enough time there to go to Milford Sound and a day to spare. It turned out to be great and one of the most beautiful and charming cities I’ve ever been to, starting with this very unassuming view from our hotel window:

queenstown-view

Once there, we took one day to go to Milford Sound (we went by bus and flew back—I’d recommend the bus), and another day to to go a canyon where they filmed the Arwen scene with the horses. The drive to the canyon was through a very narrow pass in the mountains, which made it terrifying, but eventually we got there and it was gorgeous:

canyon-pic-1

One great thing about traveling with Shahar is that he’s just better than all selfie-sticks.

As for the actual Canyon jet ride, some people greatly enjoyed it:

canyon-pic-2

And some people, not so much:

canyon-pic-3

We also got to eat the self-proclaimed best burger in New Zealand: The Fergburger. The line was absolutely insane, and it was indeed as advertised—I can actually believe that it’s the best burger in New Zealand.

Our time in Queenstown came to an end quickly, and we flew to Auckland. By then I was already tired of the trip and of planning everything, so we spent a few days in the hotel and walking around our neighborhood since all the “activities” were a bit far from Auckland itself. One thing we did do, however, was black water rafting in the Waitomo Caves. It wasn’t rafting per se, but it involved swimming and tubing through an underground river in freezing water and pitch blackness.

black-water-rafting-1 black-water-rafting-2

My next stop was Modern in Indianapolis, and then Worlds in Seattle. For Worlds, I tested with Luis, Siggy, and Sam. Our testing was done mostly online, and mostly focused on Standard. Soon enough, Sam and Luis found a deck they really liked, and, though Siggy and I weren’t having as much success with it, we also decided to play it:

R/U/G Emerge

The deck turned out to be incredible. The combination of Jace + Traverse + Emrakul won you all the long games, and Kozilek’s Return + Elder Deep-Fiend made sure you got there. This is the deck I wish I’d played at PT Eldritch Moon. Our sideboard plan was also quite good as we brought in a bunch of beaters to win the mirror when people sided in answers to Emrakul, such as Summary Dismissal and Infinite Obliteration.

As for Modern, I was undecided on what to play. It’d be either Junk (Abzan for those who are new) or U/W Control. I played GP Indy the week before with Junk (I finished 15th) because I figured the added testing was better than the information I was giving people, and ultimately we all decided to play it because U/W had too many swingy matchups. This is the deck we played:

Abzan

We actually misjudged the metagame pretty badly. We expected a lot of Death’s Shadow Zoo and Eldrazi, and instead the field was basically all Abzan and Jund. I guess everyone thought as we did and arrived at the same conclusions.

The tournament itself was a bit unexciting, as I finished an incredibly average 7-7. I know you can’t ask for much more when you’re playing with the best players in the world, but it still hurts because getting to Worlds is so hard, so every time you don’t do well it is a huge missed opportunity.

Our next big tournament was PT Kaladesh in Hawaii. We rented a big house yet again, and this time decided to skip the GP the week before. My approach to Hawaii was a bit different than usual—partly because it was Hawaii, but mostly because I was dealing with some personal problems and couldn’t really focus on the tournament. As a result, I was more relaxed throughout the whole process. I knew I hadn’t put in much work, so I didn’t expect many results.

After testing a lot against the aggro decks we thought were going to be popular, we arrived at the following Delirium build:

Jund Delirium

Needless to say, we also misjudged this metagame badly. The aggro decks were nowhere to be seen, replaced instead by a deck we couldn’t possibly beat—R/U/G Marvel. We knew about the deck, but we expected it to be 5% of the field—instead, it was 25%. I played against 4 of them in 10 rounds, and I even managed to beat one with the combination of incredible luck and unbelievable luck, but the other 3 got me. I ended up finishing 99th after a 5-1 Limited record, which is disappointing for someone who usually does much better in Constructed than in Limited.

In this tournament, contrary to the one in Sydney, I think we got a bit unlucky. The Marvel decks weren’t actually that good (though the new ones are!), and people just played them because they were flashy and new. B/G Delirium was a horrible deck for that tournament, but immediately after it became one of the best decks in the format. It was, in fact, what I played in the very next GP.

Overall, our team did very badly in this tournament—only Ondrej cashed. This was by far our worst result ever, and I imagine it’ll never be topped (bottomed? I don’t know).

After another long break, I went to GP Santiago. Going to GP Santiago is always one of the worst feelings because I know it’s very close to my house, yet there are no direct flights, so it takes me 10 hours each way. I have to fly in the opposite direction for my connection. I played B/G Delirium to a 21st place finish.

At this point, there were only 2 tournaments left: GP Rotterdam and the World Magic Cup. I played the GP with my travel buddies Shahar and Ondrej, and we managed to finish 4th. I wrote about it in detail here a while ago.

The World Magic Cup was a different matter. I thought our team was very good (composed of myself, Thiago Saporito, Patrick Fernandes, and Alex Rodrigues) and we prepared, but nothing really broke our way and we were eliminated on Day 1 from a tournament that qualifies about 70% of the competitors for Day 2. We went 1-2 in Draft and 2-2 in Modern, playing B/G/w, Burn, and Infect. We drowned our sorrows in an all-you-can-eat sushi place called Shabu Shabu, and we bought some chocolate to make ourselves happier as well:

chocolates

So, in the end, here’s the breakdown of my year:

  • 10 GPs played
  • 9 GP Day 2s (though I won my match and conceded the last round, so technically I guess I could have Day 2’d all of them)
  • 8 GPs I earned Pro Points
  • 6 GPs Cashed
  • 1 GP Top 8
  • 4 PTs played
  • 3 PT Day 2s
  • 1 PT cashed (!)
  • 202 days away from home
  • 4 new countries visited (Greece, New Zealand, Montenegro, Portugal)
  • 8 countries revisited (U.S., Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Chile, Netherlands).

So as you can see, I didn’t actually do very well in MTG, but I rocked the sightseeing department. Luckily for me, I had a great buffer from the end of last year, so I still hit Platinum for 2017. I currently have a decent number of Pro Points, 23, which puts me 14th in the race, but the Latin American slot is looking harder than ever with Carlos and Salvato already ahead of me. There are still 3 PTs in front of us, though, so I’m hoping that will be enough to either catch them or secure myself an at-large spot for Worlds (which I currently hold).