Saturday morning, I talked to Magnus Lantto about Team EUreka’s plans for Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. Technically I qualified, and technically I was part of the team, but I would have to use my Silver invite and I wasn’t sure if I could afford the trip.
I got so close the weekend prior, losing in the quarterfinals of the Stockholm RPTQ. I was joking that I would just get my qualification and plane ticket in Brussels, but it was clear to me that I was about to run out of time to make up my mind about Atlanta.
At least our deck was broken. Not just “the handle has fallen off this mug” broken. It was “shattered on the floor” broken. “This will never become a whole mug again” broken. “Martin Müller says it’s really good” broken.
That’s quite broken.
Before the tournament Müller told me that he was doing well in Magic Online Leagues with the 4-color Rally deck built by Matt Nass, and that placed in the Top 8 of GP Quebec City in the hands of Pascal Maynard. I thought the deck looked sweet and I was eager to try it out for myself. We kept up an 80% win rate over the next few weeks. It was odd—in theory, the deck should be poorly positioned. The most popular deck in the format plays 4 copies of Anafenza, the Foremost and Atarka Red would trample a durdle-y deck like this.
In reality, the games where Abzan Aggro doesn’t draw Anafenza are a breeze (it plays similarly to GW Megamorph), and Atarka Red has a hard time breaking through the ground blockers and can only really win with the combo. Post-board we have Murderous Cut to answer both problems.
Our biggest edge was that the deck was totally under-appreciated, so nobody had experience playing against it. And this is not ABC-Magic—it’s a real challenge to play against to begin with. In the end, we could only get 5 team members to play the deck: Martin Müller, Magnus Lantto, Martin Dang, Wenzel Krautman, and myself. Wenzel didn’t have time to practice with the deck—which is crucial—and didn’t make Day 2.
The rest of us took 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 11th place, respectively.
(If you’re interested in a guide to how the deck plays out, you can check out Matt Nass’ article!)
So there we were, a 5-man army, armed with the deadliest weapon of them all: The Unknown.
Round after round I played against opponents who didn’t chump-block Nantuko Husk, tapped out on the wrong turn, killed the unimportant Zulaport Cutthroat on sight, or didn’t mulligan for Anafenza. It always felt like even though the deck is hard to play, it was always my opponents who were forced to make the hardest decisions.
After my byes I kept racking up victories:
- Jeskai Black – 3-0
- Atarka Red – 4-0
A nice start to the tournament.
- Jeskai Black – 5-0
- BW Tokens – 6-0
I had never been 6-0 in a tournament before. I felt invincible. Even better, Müller and Lantto were also undefeated. Normally, I try to focus on one match at a time, but that day all I could see was the neon-glowing exit sign with “9-0” at the end.
- Esper Dragons- 7-0
I’m basically dead on board with no shot of winning the race against an attacking Ojutai and an active Jace. Then a timely Crux of Fate came to the rescue and let me scry into a lethal Rally the Ancestors.
Did I mention that Crux of Fate is really bad against this deck?
- Abzan Aggro – 8-0
- Abzan Aggro – 9-0
What an amazing rush. I got to take an “Undefeated Players” photo with Magnus Lantto to show the world that this deck, and my own performance, wasn’t a fluke.
Müller is 8-1 and Dang is 7-2. It feels like we’re just crushing the tournament. Maybe we can even put a couple of players into the Top 8.
Maybe I can clinch that plane ticket to Atlanta I was joking about in the morning.
I started Day 2 in the feature match against Kirill Tsarkov on Jeskai Black, who was also undefeated. A quick 2-game loss later and I was left wondering if I could have done anything differently. Should I have traded off a Haruspex, and not died so early? Could I have played around the 3rd sweeper in any way?
I told myself to get my act together and do my best in the rest of the tournament. I was still very much alive, that one loss doesn’t mean much. It was time to get down from my high horse and fight on the same level as everybody else.
Round 11 pits me against Abzan Aggro.
I was in a really good spot. I made sure that with all my creatures, the Cutthroat in my graveyard, and the one in my hand, my Rally the Ancestors will be lethal. I cast it, put a Jace into the graveyard to the Legendary rule and started resolving some scry triggers and a Haruspex trigger. The first scry revealed a Nantuko Husk. Nope, didn’t need that, and I quickly sent it to the bottom. Then I reviewed my board once more and realized that I didn’t have a Husk in play! What an oversight. I didn’t have lethal, and I scryed the best option to the bottom. How could I miss that?!
My next scry trigger revealed another Husk. I leave it on top, draw it, play it with my Scions, and win the game easily.
Good ol’ Nantuko Husk. Always knows when to take “no” for a “YES!”
A timely topdecked Dispel lets me resolve Rally against Lukas Blohon’s Esper Dragons before I get milled out by Jace’s emblem in extra turns.
My unfortunate Atarka Red opponent is stuck on one land both games.
I clinch my win-and-in against Mattia Kirchler playing Esper Control who can’t overcome my pressure and well-timed Rally the Ancestors.
In the last round I intentionally drew with Magnus Lantto (who somehow hadn’t lost a match!) which placed us in the 1st and 2nd seat in the Top 8.When Martin Müller emerged victorious from his win-and-in match with the same 75, nobody could doubt that 4-Color Rally is, in fact, broken.
For the quarters I’m paired against Ondřej Stráský. Team Cabin Crew also did a great job, with 2 players into the Top 8 (Blohon and Stráský) and 2 more in the Top 16. Now we’ll have to play out a series of the defining matchups of the tournament:
Esper Dragons vs. 4-Color Rally
Stráský had never played the matchup before and wasn’t looking forward to it because, as he said himself, he actually has to think. He mentioned multiple times that he thought he was going to make a lot of mistakes. I think I beat him to it. In the 2nd game, I made 3 mistakes that each cost me the game independently. And all of them were even in the same turn! See if you can find the mistakes yourself. (00:23:16)
Luckily for me his draws were pretty poor in game 1 and 3, so I got the match win anyway. But I was furious at myself for playing so badly. I think my main mistake was thinking that I was far ahead, and started picturing myself in the semifinals. I should have just kept my head in the game and tried to figure out what I could lose to—and then not do that!
Lantto fell out due to an unfortunate game loss, but Müller also moved to the semifinals to take on Blohon while I’m paired against Antonio Castellani of Italy with Atarka Red. I put on a good show of how to beat the seemingly bad matchup. In game 1, it didn’t matter that I mulliganed to 5 and got attacked by 9 creatures backed up by Atarka’s Command because I had enough blockers to survive and kill him on the backswing with a Nantuko Husk once I hit Zulaport Cutthroat off of a Collected Company.
In game 2 I took a lot of early damage but still mowed down his team with some blocks. After I stabilized with an Arashin Cleric, I made sure to keep up Murderous Cut for the rest of the match so I didn’t lose to Temur Battle Rage while patiently setting up a Rally.
Going into the finals, I watched Müller play out his semifinal against Blohon. It would’ve been sick to play against my good friend in the finals. A fitting end to the tournament: a Rally mirror for the finals.
Instead I had to face Blohon. Normally, I would say that Esper Dragons is a good matchup—I had already beatten it twice in the tournament. But Blohon was playing against Rally for the 6th time in the same day, and he had figured out how to approach the matchup.
I think he was the only one of my opponents who actually knew how to play against the deck. Not to take anything away from my opponents, because it would never be correct for them to test the matchup beforehand since it has seen so little play.
The finals would prove to be pretty tough.
In game 1, I got to resolve some good Companies and built up a board that was too big for his Ojutai to race.
For game 2, he resolved an early Infinite Obliteration, removing all of my Nantuko Husks and forcing me to go for a beatdown plan. Luckily I drew all 4 Collected Companys, but I didn’t hit enough pressure on the ones that actually resolved, and I died to his Ojutai.
In the final game, I had to go down to 5 cards. That was obviously not a death knell because this deck mulligans well with the low curve and early cantrip creatures. But I still thought about 2nd place and how I might have to satisfy myself with that.
I think I scryed wrong because I kept the low-impact Zulaport Cutthroat on top. And at the end of his turn 4, I decided to hold my 2 copies of Collected Company to try and resolve them if he played Ojutai. Instead, in a couple of turns, he casts Duress with a full grip of counterspells and forced my hand. A Dragonlord Ojutai and exactly 4 turns later I extend my hand to congratulate him on his victory.
I don’t feel bad about losing in the finals. I feel more like I won 2nd place. It’s my best GP finish yet, I lost to a worthy winner, and I still get to leave the event hall with what I aspired to most: an invitation and plane ticket for Atlanta.
Now I can use my Silver invite from last year for PT Madrid, and with those 2 Pro Tours I’m just one Pro Point short of hitting Silver again which would qualify me for Sydney and Honolulu. So right now, I’ve set my sights on Gold. We’re one-third into the season, and I have a third of the points I need, so it should be possible to get there!
Stay focused, remember your goals (but not when you’re actually playing a match) and you should reach them some day.
Also, you can follow my stream at www.twitch.tv/redbuttontie. I’m live at least every Thursday at 17:30 GMT!