For Pro Tour Fate Reforged my usual testing group, Team Face to Face, worked in collaboration with Team ChannelFireball (20 people exactly). When I began my foray into competitive Magic Team ChannelFireball was at their peak of dominance on the Pro Tour. I appreciate that players I once looked up to from afar have gradually become my peers.
In my first couple of Pro Tours I envied the players on big teams who seemed to have a superpower of card evaluation and ability to predict the metagame. In these first few Pro Tours I played extremely proactive decks like Mono-Red or Amulet of Vigor combo because I was not confident in my deck selection and wanted to have a deck that ignored my opponent. I performed poorly at each of my first several Pro Tours despite succeeding at nearly every other level of Magic (PTQs, GPs, etc.).
My revelations was that the Pro Tour is not that different than any other Magic tournament. In order to win a Pro Tour it is not necessary to break the format or to implement a radical strategy.
During the testing process and the Pro Tour itself I was part of a documentary by VICE about Magic (I will definitely share it online when it is released). From Wednesday to Sunday I wore a microphone and had a camera crew around me. I am happy to be a part of anything that promotes Magic, but still, I was feeling the extra pressure.
I felt confident in Khans of Tarkir Limited—and the introduction of Fate Reforged had a significant impact, because FRF is different than Khans in a few distinct ways:
- There are no triple-colored gold cards at any rarity
- There are no morphs
- There is exactly one land per pack (Khans is random)
In my first couple of drafts I found myself ill-prepared for the differences in the sets. After pack one I would often be a two-color allied pair like blue/white or black/red. These combinations are all well and good in triple-Fate-Reforged draft—but unfortunately allied colors limit possible powerful cards in Khans.
Several premium uncommons in Khans of Tarkir are enemy-colored: Ride Down, Chief of the Edge, Master the Way, Death Frenzy, and Icefeather Aven. In the first pack I like to either stay predominantly one color or prioritize dual lands to be able to pick up the powerful gold Khans cards.
Tom Martell wrote an article summarizing our team’s Limited thoughts.
I spent the majority of the time leading up to the Pro Tour unsure about what deck I would play. The deck that I put the most effort into is definitely Blue-White/Blue-White-Red Control. In a diverse format like Modern building a pure control deck is quite difficult. I liked the way that Blue-White played against the most popular decks in game one—once sideboards entered the picture, however, I was completely turned off by the archetype. One reason that control performed so well during game one was that it had no respectable targets for removal spells like Abrupt Decay. When my opponent’s useless Abrupt Decays turned into Duress or Fulminator Mage I was thoroughly outmatched.
Fortunately, a benefit of being a member of a large team is that when you fail to create a playable deck you can turn to a trustworthy teammate and reap the rewards of their efforts. Whenever I feel clueless about a format I rely on old-faithful: Sam Pardee. Despite playing zero games piloting Green-White, I decided that I would play it in the Pro Tour because Sam told me it was in my best interest to do so. Josh McClain, Jon Stern, Brian Kibler, and Sam Pardee were the main developers of GW Aggro. The majority of the rest of our team played Abzan, three played UWR control, two Burn, one Zoo, and one Faeries. In an ideal world we would have come to a consensus about the best decision—but our world isn’t that.
The first draft of any Pro Tour always makes me anxious. Am I well prepared? Am I going to be lucky with the packs I open? I started to draft blue/white in the first pack as I received Sandsteppe Outcast and Whisk Away late. As pack two progressed it became obvious that blue was not open and that Mardu was. I received 12th- and 13th-pick Mardu Skullhunters. In pack three I took Mardu nonbasic lands early in anticipation of receiving powerful spells during my later picks, which worked out well. My deck was highlighted by its excellent mana, Raiders’ Spoils, Master of Pearls, and two Mardu Roughriders. The pick I was most unsure of during the draft was P3p1 Master of Pearls vs. Dead Drop. At the time my deck contained many cheap creatures and no removal spells. I was reassured of my decision by every player I asked about it who all said that Master of Pearls was the pick.
Draft One: 2-1
2-1 is a respectable draft record, especially at the Pro Tour. At the time I was disappointed that I lost because I thought that draft was my best opportunity to gain an edge against the field. The success of my Constructed deck would largely depend on the metagame.
At this particular event, the most prominent murmurs that I heard were that ChannelFireball Pantheon was playing Infect. In our testing, I never witnessed a single game played with Infect. My initial inclination was that my deck would have at least a decent matchup against Infect because of Lingering Souls and Path to Exile.
Fortunately, the Constructed portion of Day One went smoothly. I defeated Burn, Infect, Splinter Twin, Junk, and Jund. Going undefeated in Constructed on the first day cemented my confidence in our deck. 7-1 is the best record I have ever had on Day One of a Pro Tour. Expecting that a record of 12-3-1 would make the Top 8, 7-1 is ahead of the curve. It is essential in lengthy tournaments to stay focused on the present—do not count your chickens before they hatch.
On Day Two I was in the featured draft with several players I deeply respect. If you want to review my draft or any of the other players’ you may do so here. At a startling number of Grand Prix and Pro Tours I draft the same colors in both drafts. I suspect that there must be something subconscious about having just done well with an archetype that makes me gravitate toward it in the next draft.
In round 9 I played against Jesse Hampton, who qualified for the PT by winning Grand Prix Nashville with Matt Nass and me. Jesse is a great player whose motivation to play Magic is the challenge of competing against the best players. During our match Jesse illegally cast Harsh Sustenance with Forest, Island, and Scoured Barrens. The game certainly would have been better for me had he not been able to cast Harsh Sustenance that turn. I have no doubt that Jesse made an honest mistake and I was happy for him to have squeaked into Top 8 later that day.
Round 15 against Seth Manfield was the main video feature match. This match was a win-and-in for the top eight.
About the one-of Leyline of Sanctity that won me this match: Prior to the player meeting I counted only 14 cards in my sideboard and had no clue what it was supposed to be. I looked at my email for the deck list, Leyline of Sanctity was the card I was missing. In reality Sam, Josh, and Kibler all played an Abrupt Decay in this slot and I was looking at an outdated list.
The amount of luck I had in this match motivated me to declare that I would never complain about variance or luck ever again. Because of how fortunate I had been throughout the tournament combined with how well positioned my Constructed deck was I felt invincible. I was thrilled to make the Top 8, but my goal will always be to win outright.
After treating half of the team to dinner, (EFro took the other half), testing for the Top 8 commenced. I ran into Splinter Twin aficionado, Patrick Dickmann, in the lobby of our hotel and he was kind enough to play a few games against me and predict how Jelger would sideboard (thanks!). The playtesting session revealed to me that I was the underdog in the matchup—nonetheless I was optimistic and eager to play on a Pro Tour Sunday again. Playing during the Top 8 is a special environment that I hope I can be a part of in the future. Before our match, Jelger asked if I was nervous, to which I replied, “not at all.” I genuinely am most comfortable in high-stakes, high-pressure scenarios. I only wish that I could simulate the same mindset during playtesting.
Finish: 7th place. Once I lost I was greeted by several condolences from my friends. Finishing in the Top 8 was great and I have zero negative feelings about the experience. About a year ago I lost in the finals of a Pro Tour and have never been more devastated—my friends likely feared a repeat performance. Part of the reason that I was disappointed in Valencia was that I thought I had missed my single opportunity to win a Pro Tour. Today, I am confident that I have a lot to learn about Magic and that I will have more opportunities in the future to take a shot.
Mistakes Were Made
Doing well in any Magic tournament requires playing well and a ton of luck. Of course, I did not play perfectly throughout the tournament—Let’s take a look at some of my important mistakes.
• Playing against an opponent playing GB (either Abzan or Jund) I was faced with the following decision: I am on the play with a Noble Hierarch on turn one. My opponent only plays an Overgrown Tomb tapped. On my turn two I can cast either Loxodon Smiter or Lingering Souls.
There were less than 10 minutes on the clock—this lead to me rushing my decision and trying to end the game quickly. Ultimately, I chose to cast Loxodon Smiter to generate the greatest amount of pressure possible. My opponent cast Abrupt Decay on my Smiter. The following turn after I cast Lingering Souls my opponent cast Scavenging Ooze and used it to exile my Souls. If you ever find yourself in a similar position I advise playing around Scavenging Ooze with your timing of Lingering Souls.
• In round 14 I had a win-and-in feature match against teammate Eric Froehlich.
EFro had a dominating board position of four Lingering Souls tokens and a tapped Gavony Township. I drew Zealous Persecution, “Wow I am so lucky, I am going to Top 8 this Pro Tour!” was all that was going through my head as I passed the turn back to EFro. When he activated Township, I responded with Zealous Persecution only to be matched by EFro’s own Zealous Persecution. I was and am still in disbelief of my greed. There really is not a reasonable excuse to not cast Zealous Persecution while EFro was tapped out. I was punished in such dramatic fashion that I will likely never forget this mistake. The next time I am sure that I am about to win a game I will take a moment to reevaluate the situation to ensure that I am not missing something.
• Playing against Jelger in the Top 8 I made one mistake that is indefensible. In game two on turn four I had six available mana and Qasali Pridemage plus Loxodon Smiter in my hand. I wanted to play around Splinter Twin, so I cast Qasali Pridemage and left up my mana without casting Loxodon Smiter. When using Qasali Pridemage against Twin it is necessary to have two mana up because of Deceiver Exarch/Pestermite’s ability to tap one of your lands. What I failed to realize at the time was that I drew a Verdant Catacombs for my turn and could have that as my sole untapped land to play around Splinter Twin. When Pestermite targets my fetchland I will simply activate it, getting an untapped land. I understood this interaction from previous experiences against Splinter Twin and am confused as to why I made such a blunder. In game three I left a fetchland as my only untapped source of white mana for Path to Exile multiple times when I ended my turn.
Looking back at the Pro Tour the greatest error that I made was submitting the sideboard that I did. The vast majority of my sideboard went unused throughout the tournament. Given the fact that the maindeck is well suited for attrition-based matchups, the sideboard should be geared toward unfair/combo decks. Here is the sideboard I would register for Grand Prix Vancouver:
Currently I have 41 Pro Points which is a fantastic position to be in with two Pro Tours to go in the season. My primary goals (aside from winning each event) are to qualify for the World Championship and World Magic Cup as the captain of Team Canada.
Thank you for reading!