For two weeks before Pro Tour Fate Reforged, the Pantheon and I rented a house in D.C. to get as much testing, drafting, and format-breaking done as possible. The cast of characters was largely the same, although we lost a few familiar faces and added former teammate Josh Ravitz back to the team after his requalification for the Pro Tour along with Tom “The Boss” Ross.

Our first hiccup came relatively early on in testing, as Kai came down with what could best be described as the plague. Kai was basically bedridden for an entire week, and I worried that the contagion was going to spread throughout the team. Luckily, everyone was spared. Except for me. I ended up getting sick, but not nearly as bad as Kai. I spent a little time in bed and battled a fever, but in a couple days I was on my feet. I was still feeling it a little when Pro Tour time came around, but Kai had it so bad that even during Day 1 of the Pro Tour, once he picked up his fourth loss he had to drop and go to bed.

When we arrived at testing, we didn’t bother testing any Storm at first, since we all assumed Jon wouldn’t do anything else. When Jon arrived, much to our surprise, he informed us all that he didn’t particularly want to play Storm in the tournament, as he expected people to finally be ready for it. I agreed, especially given that Owen, Reid, and I had recently played the deck at the World Championship. Also, as Kai was quick to point out, Abzan was the deck to beat, and Siege Rhino has white mana in the casting cost. (Meaning that the most popular deck would have access to all of the best sideboard cards against Storm, like Rule of Law, Rest in Peace, Ethersworn Canonist, or Eidolon of Rhetoric)

The first deck I started working on was a U/R Blue Moon deck, similar to the build that Lee Shi Tian made Top 8 with at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. The deck was good, and had promise, but ultimately, at Kai’s suggestion, I transformed it into a Splinter Twin deck, similar to the one that my teammate Jelger Wiegersma ended up playing to a Top 4 finish at the Pro Tour.

Tom Ross had been playing with an Infect deck, which had a lot of promise especially considering that, surprisingly, the deck was faring very well against Abzan in our testing. Cuneo took on the role of working on the UWR Control deck to the surprise of no one.

Another deck that showed a lot of promise was Chapin’s delve deck. Although it started as Grixis, it went through a few iterations of Grixis, U/B without a splash, and Esper. Reid did most of the work on Abzan and other B/G midrange decks. Owen championed Zoo and Burn. Ravitz worked on Tron and Naya. Nassif hadn’t joined us yet, but he was working on U/W Control with whatever time he had leading up to the Pro Tour. Gauadenis mostly tested the Amulet deck, and Zvi took charge of Affinity. As the pretenders were discarded and the contenders started to be evaluated, I felt that I’d most likely end up playing either U/R Twin, U/R Storm, Infect, or the delve deck.

In the end, I actually thought several of our decks were pretty good, but it seemed like in almost every set the Infect deck played, it came out ahead. Zoo was a tough matchup, as was Burn, but even then the games often ended up 50-50, and we could try our best to work on sideboarding strategies for those matchups. Also, this is Modern, and there are so many decks that we could simply hope not to play against it. Burn was certainly more represented than we, or at least I, expected it to be though.

Constructed Portion of the Pro Tour

Here was the Infect list that most members of the Pantheon played at the Pro Tour:

Those were the 57 cards that basically everyone played. Beyond that were what we considered the “flex slots” I opted for:

This just happened to be what we thought was the best “thirteenth infect creature” to play. Cuneo played Viridian Corrupter, as that gave him an extra sideboard card against Spellskite, and a maindeck way to deal with it. Also, one worry of playing the Myr was that it made Ancient Grudge a little better against us in the sideboard games since people would likely board it in to combat Inkmoth Nexus anyway.

Really good in some matchups that rely on interacting with our creatures, and also decent against some decks where having an 0/4 body to block is relevant.

Allows you to use your mana and have some element of card selection when digging for an infect threat or a pump spell.

Sideboard

Mostly to combat opposing Spellskites with the bonus of providing some splash damage against Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, Signal Pest, and Ornithopter. Some of us played 3 of these, since it was easier to board them in “blind” if we were unsure if our opponents would be bringing in Spellskites, since at least we could cycle them.

Good against Spellskite, Affinity, Amulet etc. Some people had more of these in lieu of Twisted Images.

For decks where we want to block and protect our creatures, such as Burn, Fast Zoo, etc. Also has the added bonus of being great in the mirror and against a deck like Bogles.

Against Liliana of the Veil.

Against decks that rely on Path to Exile as removal, as they help us ramp into Carrion Call, and often don’t have a single card to deal with two instant-speed infect creatures.

One-mana answers to other combo decks or any decks where we’d need to cheaply interact in the first few turns of the game.

Particularly strong against decks that use red cards to kill our creatures, we wanted to have access to a third. Since the red burn spells typically do 3 damage and Wild Defiance triggers on our opponent’s spells as well as our own, having the third proved very useful.

My record with Infect ended up being 7-3. I beat: Affinity twice, Burn once, Abzan twice, Merfolk, and Dredgevine. I lost to: Burn, Bogles, and a near 75-card mirror to Andrew Cuneo. At dinner on Saturday night, we attempted to figure out our team’s overall record with the deck, and I think it came out to 65-33 not counting teammate vs. teammate mirror matches, which is pretty good. I was happy with the deck, but I don’t think it’s something I’d play in any upcoming Modern tournaments. It’s certainly a deck that relies on the element of surprise and people not being ready for it, which is lost for the time being.

Limited Portion of the Pro Tour

Of course, we also spent a lot of time practicing and discussing draft in the weeks leading up to the Pro Tour. I don’t personally like the impact that Fate Reforged had on the draft format very much. Too often the first pick is a rare, and the cards in Fate Reforged are weak enough on average that it makes it very hard to switch out of the color(s) of a rare, because the power level disparity is so high. But, in any case, it’s important to know which strategies are performing the best, and which kind of strategies were strengthened and weakened the most from the addition of one pack of Fate Reforged.

I did pretty well in testing with WB-based aggressive Warrior decks, and also I liked to draft UR-based control decks, often Jeskai. I was always partial to two-color decks in triple-Khans of Tarkir draft, but largely in part due to the allied-colored Dragons, I found myself playing three colors more often than I used to. One thing that stood out in testing was that I felt the Sultai decks that I drafted, as well as those that my teammates drafted, very often performed a lot worse than they looked. At least a couple times I thought I had really good Sultai decks, and then when I actually played the games the decks just didn’t perform as well as I thought they would. Sultai was something that I definitely preferred to avoid going in to the Pro Tour, but did feel that I knew how to draft it if need be.

Red was the overall weakest color, we thought, but I actually don’t mind it as much as some of my teammates. I think I like Cunning Strike more than most people, and always seemed to like my decks and do well when I ended up with a couple of those in UR-based decks.

As always, our Limited meeting was helpful and informative. We typically spend a few hours toward the end of testing just discussing pick orders, the quality of various rares, where the top uncommons rank in comparison to those rares, the best commons and uncommons of each color, and look at the data of the best-performing colors and color combinations in our house up to that point. Some people on our team preferred the strategy of taking lands in the first pack over practically anything, and then taking powerful cards in the 2nd and 3rd pack, and playing four- or sometimes five-color decks. I’m not a big proponent of that strategy, but it definitely worked for some of the guys, and the decks were doing pretty well in our testing. I was planning to just draft what came and hopefully play well enough to win as many matches as I could.

Day 1 Draft

In the first draft, I unfortunately didn’t start with a rare, but instead a Sandsteppe Outcast. I didn’t accurately evaluate the Outcast before actually playing with Fate Reforged, but after just a few drafts, realized my mistake and noticed that it is, in fact, one of the best commons, and the single best white common. It’s a decent first-pick, but in a set with such powerful rares, it wasn’t where I wanted to start. I picked up some solid white and black cards, including a second copy of Sandsteppe Outcast, and was in decent shape going into pack two. In pack two, I picked up two copies of Chief of the Edge, as well as a Mardu Charm, and a couple red dual lands, and ended up with a solid W/B Warriors deck, splashing a couple of red cards. I lost the first round and was pretty grumpy since I was still a little sick and losing the first round of the Pro Tour really sucks, but luckily was able to salvage the draft by winning the next two.

Day 2 Draft

In the second draft, I did open a good rare: Silumgar, the Drifting Death. Silumgar is an absurdly powerful card, its biggest problem is its colors. Like I said before, I didn’t particularly want to play Sultai, but there’s not really another good avenue to go down when we start with a Silumgar. In the end, I liked my deck. I had Silumgar, Dead Drop, a couple counterspells, a few creature removal spells, two copies of Archers’ Parapet, and solid creatures. I started the draft 2-0, and had a decent chance to 3-0 the draft, I thought, but I lost the final round to a really good Abzan deck featuring powerful cards like Armament Corps, Siege Rhino, and Abzan Falconer.

So my overall records were 4-2 in draft and 7-3 in Modern for a total of 11-5. 11-5 is probably the worst record where I’d consider the Pro Tour to be a success on a personal level, so I was pretty happy with it. I finished 39th place, which is definitely respectable, and finished well enough to earn 10 Pro Tour Points, putting me in a great position to reach Platinum again next year, and in great position to qualify for the World Championships in December.

It was great to see Jelger make his fifth Top 8, and it’s unfortunate that he exited in such annoying fashion in the Top 4, but we were all super proud of him. Jelger is a true talent, and one of the nicest guys in Magic. It’s very hard to not root for him, and we were all happy that if we were only going to put one in Top 8, that it was him.

Big congrats to Eric Froehlich, as well, on his fourth Pro Tour Top 8. EFro has been killing it so far this year, winning Grand Prix San Diego the week before the Pro Tour, as well as consistently having great results at nearly every tournament he enters. I think the fourth Top 8 will be the major finish he needs to solidify himself a spot in the Hall of Fame this year, but we’ll see how it all unfolds.

The next Pro Tour in Brussels, Belgium isn’t even that far away, under two months, which is exciting. I’ll be playing a couple Grand Prix before then, starting next weekend with some Standard in Memphis. After playing nothing but Limited and Modern for several weeks, I’m looking forward to delving into the new Standard format, and seeing what kinds of shake-ups Fate Reforged will cause there. I’m not sure which deck I’ll choose to play yet, but I’m anxious to get started on trying new things.