I placed 30th with an 11-5 record at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar in Milwaukee, but things weren’t always looking so bright.

Day 1 Draft

I started off the first draft with an awful pick: Clutch of Currents over Vile Aggregate. I’m not sure what I was thinking. Even though Clutch is solid and might be the best common in the set, it’s nowhere close to Aggregate. The main reason I didn’t pick the uncommon is that I didn’t want to be stuck in UR or RB, even though those are two of the best three archetypes, and it’s not like it’s unplayable otherwise. I didn’t get punished too hard and drafted a decent UR deck, but I think I would have had a better RB deck had I first-picked the red card. My most notable pick was a Serpentine Spike—pick 4, pack 2.

Round 1 was close against the player I was passing to. He was UB with 2 Grip of Desolations. I won game 1 but he curved out perfectly in game 2 and got to cast Grip while I was stuck on three lands in the deciding game.

I beat a mediocre WR deck in round 2, and it took my opponent SIX mulligans for me to beat him in round 3.

I was satisfied finishing Limited 2-1 given how badly I butchered the draft (even though it was only one pick).

Constructed – Preparation

Next was Standard. I decided to stray from my team’s deck even though their Dark Jeskai deck was solid. I think one of the reasons I keep doing that is a lack of self-confidence. I feel like I need an edge because I’m so rusty compared to my teammates, so I gamble with my deck choice.

Since my wife started working, I don’t really have the luxury to leave for an extended period of time anymore, and I only got to join the rest of Team Pantheon on the Monday before the PT. I tested online with Kai Budde a few weeks before the Pro Tour.

The first deck I worked on was Eldrazi Green:

Eldrazi Green

The deck was bad against Atarka Red game 1 and had the usual problems: you need the right mix of acceleration, lands, and threats. The 2-cmc mana dorks aren’t great, and Nissa, Vastwood Seer is fine but seems replaceable. Nissa’s Renewal is also decent but 4 copies is probably too many and a good idea for this slot is Oblivion Sower. I played with Conduit of Ruin but it was underwhelming. I’m not sure how this list fares against tier-1 decks but it might not be horrible.

Next, I tried adding red and white to fix some of the deck’s problems:

Naya Dragon Eldrazi

I didn’t test this exact deck list but it’s not a bad starting point. It’s mix of what I tried and what Shahar Shenhar tested—except he included Shaman of Forgotten Ways instead of Radiant Flames in the main. Everyone liked the Shaman but since the deck wasn’t doing well with it, I made the switch.

The deck was performing poorly against Atarka Red but wasn’t so bad against Dark Jeskai—it was even favored in game 1. It should do OK against Abzan and might be fine against Esper. I’m not exactly sure if a ramp deck can be tier 1 right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it could.

I showed up in Milwaukee with only one deck built with actual cards, and it looked something like:

5-Color Control

I thought Languish was good in the format and that Kolaghan’s Command and Sarkhan, Unbroken—and Radiant Flames in the sideboard—were worth the red splash. I quickly gave up on the deck after playing some games against Dark Jeskai. The deck felt too clunky. Maybe the red has to go and the deck should be transformed into some kind of Dark Bant.

Dark Bant

After a couple days of testing, I was confident in our Dark Jeskai deck, but I decided to build Stephen Sloan’s BG Aristocrats on the Wednesday before the PT just to make sure I didn’t miss out on anything.

I tried his exact list but found Liliana underwhelming and Fleshbag Marauder unplayable against Hangarback Walker. I eventually added Smothering Abomination and the deck seemed to do much better against GW Megamorph. It also felt fine against red, but Dark Jeskai had a tough game 1. Even though I went 3-3 in testing against Kai, I didn’t feel so hot. I was running short on time and all of my teammates had locked in their deck choices so I couldn’t find someone to play games with.

I decided to play the deck all day online on Thursday knowing I could fall back on Jeskai if it didn’t feel good enough. I was winning a lot but lost every match to Abzan Aggro. (Anafenza is a nightmare.) I also lost to all the Jeskai decks, but the matches were close enough that I felt like I would win if I played better. I didn’t think there would be much Abzan Aggro at the PT anyways, so I decided to register the deck on Friday morning:

BG Aristocrats

Blisterpod was a notable cut from the deck. The card is fine, but with only 1 power it doesn’t really trade with anything in the format and it is much harder to play a turn-1 untapped green source with the mana base I was playing.

Day 1 Standard

I was paired against Frank Karsten in round 4 in the feature match.

I was feeling good about game 1 with a solid opening hand and a mulligan on Frank’s side, but I flooded out and he drew all gas after my turn-1 Duress. His draws in game 2 and 3 poorly matched mine and I was able to take the match.

I was paired against finalist Ryoichi Tamada in round 5 and got crushed. It was my only clean loss in Constructed—the only match I didn’t punt or get ridiculously unlucky in. It didn’t help that I hadn’t figured out how to sideboard against Jeskai yet.

I then lost to my supposedly good matchup: GW Megamorph. We were running out of time, both playing fast, and I made a mistake that cost me the game. My opponent attacked me with a 2/2 Hangarback Walker and I had the option of blocking with a Sifter or a Carrier Thrall. I intuitively blocked with Sifter and ended up losing—1 Eldrazi Scion token short without a sacrifice outlet on board but a Nantuko Husk on top of my library.

I got paired against a Bring to Light deck in round 7 and won game 1 easily since my opponent flooded. In game 2, he cast Languish with a Rhino on board, while I had 4 Thopter tokens, a Cutthroat, a Sifter, and a Carrier Thrall, and I had to decide between responding with Collected Company or casting it after Languish resolved. I cast it in response, since I’d kill him if I hit a 2nd Cutthroat (he was at 16)—a Husk was fine and a Grim Haruspex would draw me a full hand. I only managed to hit 2 Hangarback Walkers and couldn’t recover.

I had him on the ropes in game 3 but I was down to 4 life, and he drew back-to-back Siege Rhinos before I could finish him off.

I was 3-4 now and needed to win my last match to advance to Day 2. I got paired against a Mardu deck which I thought would be fine, but I was worried about an aggressive start backed by Crackling Dooms. I stole game 1 when he didn’t block Husk and I was able to cast Collected Company into 2 Sifters for the win.

Game 2 was looking real bad and my only out was to hit Husk plus Cutthroat from Company without my opponent having any removal—that’s exactly what happened, so I didn’t have to go through the stress of playing a game 3.

I went out to dinner with Chapin, Rietzl, and Sperling who had all done well with Chapin’s Esper deck. Rietzl was 5-3, Chapin 6-1-1, and Sperling 7-1. It was nice to catch up with my old teammates, especially since I couldn’t attend Sperling’s wedding and I’ll most likely also miss Rietzl’s in December.

They ran the credit card game, I bought out and it was Patrick against Paul left for the next-level battle, except Patrick still had three cards in to Paul’s one (they had put in more than one each to give Matt the right odds). Paul then did the unconceivable: he bragged about how his Discover card had never lost him the CCG before. If that’s not jinxing yourself, I don’t know what is. He obviously lost after declining Patrick’s-Deal-or-No-Deal-banker-style offers (35/65 with four cards left, 40/60 with three cards left, and a generous 45/55 heads up).

Day 2 Draft

I started Day 2’s draft with a Stasis Snare pick (probably the best uncommon in the set), and somehow got passed an Emeria Shepherd. I then picked up a Stonefury and after pack 1 it was looking like I might have a WR control deck which worried me. I felt much better after opening a Planar Outburst in pack 2 and getting passed an Akoum Hellkite in pack 3. I also ended up with 4 Stonefurys.

I managed to 3-0 my draft pod and was hoping to play a bit better in Standard than I had on Day 1.

Day 2 Standard

I started with a horrible mistake in the deciding game of round 12: I played the wrong land on turn 2 leaving me unable to fetch for an untapped Smoldering Marsh on turn 3 to cast Rending Volley on the opposing Jace before it flipped.

I spent the entire time in between rounds venting about the mistake to anyone who would listen (or not) and felt better when I sat down against Max McVety in round 13. He was playing Atarka Red but couldn’t do much in either games, crippled by mulligans.

I was then paired against Dan Jordan on Jeskai Black and we played a very close match that could have ended in a draw, but we agreed that whomever was behind when time was called would concede. I was way ahead on board after the 5 extra turns but I was at 4 life, and Dan would win if he drew 2 of his remaining Wild Slashs/Crackling Dooms. I was probably a 90% favorite to win the game so Dan conceded. He did ask me if I would consider the concession so he could qualify for the next PT by winning out and I was “only” playing for extra money and Pro Points. Even though I’ve scooped pretty liberally throughout my career, I didn’t think it was reasonable to do it in the first Pro Tour of the season.

I’m glad I didn’t since I won the last 2 rounds, defeating an interesting Grixis aggro deck and an Esper control deck.

Not only did I have my best finish in a while, but teammates Owen Turtenwald in his old stomping ground and Jon Finkel made Top 8. Reid Duke, piloting his own version of Esper, couldn’t get the 12th win he needed in the last round to make Top 8—losing to eventual champion Takimura. PV also made Top 8, passing myself and tying Budde with 10th place. This might be the motivation I needed to start taking Magic seriously again, so don’t get too comfortable Mr. Damo da Rosa.

Jon and Owen treated the whole team to dinner before testing their quarterfinals matchups and it seemed like there was no reason why one of them wouldn’t be lifting the trophy on Sunday.

Things started well with Jon beating PV, who got mana screwed, in 2 quick games. It was Owen’s turn to get mana screwed twice, and then Jon lost a close match to a very good and tough Tamada in the semis.

All in all, the PT was a blast and it was nice to have the team do well again.

I’ve played with the deck after the PT, even winning an 8-man during my first stream of Magic Online with this updated list:

BG Aristocrats, Updated

The 61st main deck card would be a 2nd Liliana, and 16th sideboard slot would be Radiant Flames #4 or a Caustic Caterpillar. I wouldn’t mind a 2nd Leap either. I also want to try Sultai Emissary instead of Carrier Thrall and maybe a version of the deck with Bone Splinters, more Lilianas, and Blisterpod.

Sideboard Guide

Atarka Red

On the play:

In

Out

On the draw:

In

Out

Dark Jeskai

In

Out

WG Megamorph

Keep the deck as is.

Abzan

In

Out

I was a bit skeptical about the new Standard, and I was worried that Jace would dominate the format, but there is diversity and still some room to brew.

Good luck to all of you playing Standard (especially if you’re playing at GP Quebec City). And for those who want to rail some sweet Standard action on MTGO, add me on Twitter @gabnassif or follow my Twitch channel Yellowhat666 since I started streaming on a semi-regular basis!