It’s the Monday after the Pro Tour in Valencia, and I am sitting in a train heading to Barcelona, surrounded by cheerful conversations in Spanish. A perfect time for reflection upon my last couple of months in Magic, since the last article that I wrote was right after the Pro Tour in San Diego.

Pro Tour Theros Flashback

Following my Top 8 in California, I was qualified for the first two Pro Tours in the new season, which were fortunately both in Europe. I actually like traveling to the States a couple of times in the year, even if fighting through jet lag has become increasingly tough as I have gotten older. But Dublin was next on the agenda and I had to first solve the problem of finding a team. I could not come to an agreement with the team of Czechs and Slovaks that I worked with for San Diego, and fortunately I was contacted by a couple of players to join the Danube Alliance team, made up of players from Hungary, Austria and a few Germans. Even though it might not have been a team with tens of Pro Tour Top 8s, the team had an impressive array of talent and any of the players could make a run at the Top 8 given the right circumstances.

Teams have become such a big thing at the Pro Tour these days and I am not surprised. With so little time to prepare after a new set comes out, it is difficult to figure out the Constructed format and learn enough about the intricacies of Limited if you are on your own. The biggest things when I am looking at joining or trying to put together a team for the Pro Tour is experience at the top level. If teams want to be efficient and not have skewed testing results, they need players who have played PTs, played deep into Grand Prix, and are able to work hard for a common goal. This makes it that much harder for Pro Tour first-timers, but to those players I suggest networking—connect with as many people who are in a similar position and try to at least bounce ideas off of each other.

For PT Dublin, the Hungarian part of the team quickly discovered the Mono-Blue Devotion deck, and even though the others seemed skeptical, one big testing session in Vienna the week before the Pro Tour convinced us that the deck was very powerful. We did run [ccProd]Vaporkin[/ccProd]s, [ccProd]Claustrophobia[/ccProd]s, and [ccProd]Dissolve[/ccProd]s in the main deck, but all of these cards worked quite well in the metagame at the Pro Tour itself.

I started off with a loss in draft to Raphael Lévy, but rattled off 7 wins in a row on Day One. The next day started with two draft wins where my run was halted by Raymond Perez Jr. Two wins in Standard put me one win away from the Top 8, but Sam Black and Victor Bitter dashed these hopes, though I was still able to draw into the Top 16 with Christian Calcano. Our team did reasonably well, placing one person in the Top 25 and a couple of people in the money. Our results showed the weak points in our testing where we had plenty of people across the teams with 7 and more wins in Constructed but no one on the team managed to have more than 4 wins in Limited.

Putting Together Team Elaborate Ruse

I still wanted to improve upon the team results so I set off on a quest to put together of what was later called Team Elaborate Ruse. As mentioned previously, my goal was to put together a team full of experience and quality, especially because we needed to prepare for a format as open as Modern. We finally managed to put aside some differences with the core group from the team in San Diego and so we started off with my good buddy and one of the most underrated players at the Pro Tour—Ivan Floch. He is very good friends with PT Return to Ravnica champion Stanislav Cifka, and so a core group of the three of us was created and we debated which people to talk to.

I always wanted to try and test with the Modern genius Willy Edel, and in San Diego he mentioned he would be open to such discussions and we quickly came to an agreement that he and known MTGO grinder Juliano Gennari (babones) would join us. I also couldn’t pass up the chance to invite my fellow coverage co-commentator and friend Simon Goertzen to the team, as I think he has one of the strongest theoretical fundamentals in the game while also being a Pro Tour Champion. I have also grown friends with some Swedish Pros and getting them on board was great—Hall of Famer Olle Rade, Gold Pros Joel Larsson and Denniz Rachid, Silver Pro Elias Watsfeldt (quietly one of the most talented players under 20 years of age), and Swedish PTQ end-boss Ludde Londos. This meant we had 12 very solid players which I feel is a great size for logistical reasons and makes for efficient testing.

I get asked a lot where the name Elaborate Ruse comes from and the best explanation I can give is that we wanted to keep the team a secret and make it harder for other teams to scout our decks at the Pro Tour. We had people of 5 different nationalities, each of which had several other people qualified so we thought it would be quite the ruse if could manage to create some confusion about who is playing what. In the end it didn’t particularly matter as our team played 5 different archetypes and with this Pro Tour focusing so heavily on the individual teams, it was that much harder to keep things under the covers.

The testing process had its highs and lows, but for Constructed the bannings and unbannings were so impactful that we certainly didn’t have enough time to figure it out as much as we had hoped. It also created a problem that we didn’t have a good idea what metagame to expect and this skewed our preparation. In the end a group of 6 including me decided to run Jund, 2 were on the Summer Bloom deck without Hive Mind, 2 on Infect, 1 each on Faeries and Naya aggro.

For Limited, we felt that white was the best color, closely followed by blue. UW was consistently performing the best but any archetype could work if you got the right cards even though we felt that some such as UR and BG were very hard to put together in a way that they could 3-0 a draft. I did enjoy drafting green but it presented some pitfalls depending on which cards you got passed. Black is not very good but can come together if you read signals well and manage to be as far as possible from the other black drafters.

Pro Tour Born of the Gods report

My first draft pod was a tough one, because I had Brock Parker to my left and PV and Simon Goertzen 2 and 3 to my right respectively. I opened a pack with [ccProd]Courser of Kruphix[/ccProd], [ccProd]Ephara’s Enlightenment[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Raised by Wolves[/ccProd], taking the Courser even though in retrospect, the green aura is probably stronger. I then got only decent green cards passed and ended pack 1 with 11 playable green cards, counting 2 [ccProd]Aspect of Hydra[/ccProd] which can be huge in a heavy green deck. I then dipped in and out of white and red before settling on white and putting together a decent GW deck with a lot of three-drops but good bestow guys and tricks. These kinds of decks can easily 0-3 a pod depending on pairings but I felt I could get a 2-1 if I played solidly.

I did get the 2-1 after defeating a RW deck, losing to BW control, and then getting the second win in some hard-fought games against UR. Highlights included attacking with a 14-power [ccProd]Staunch-Hearted Warrior[/ccProd] and clutch Noble Quarries getting me vital wins.

In Constructed, I first defeated Melira Pod thanks to Anger of the Gods and a timely [ccProd]Grafdigger’s Cage[/ccProd]. I then had good fortune to defeat a GW Hexproof player, where in game 2 he drew way too many lands after putting good pressure on me, but Courser of Kruphix got me back some life, made me draw into my good cards, and [ccProd]Scavenging Ooze[/ccProd] grew way too big for him while I was still holding [ccProd]Abrupt Decay[/ccProd] for any big auras. Playing Liliana was key in the first game, as it usually is if they can’t protect their big guy from here. After that I had a tense couple of games against UWR Twin which proved to be a decent matchup because I had so much spot removal, especially in Abrupt Decay, while also getting discard spells to keep checking on what my opponent was up to.

The biggest scare in Constructed was my match against RG Tron in round 7. Traditionally a bad matchup, I put good pressure on him early as he struggled to find the last piece of his Tron, and by the time he did he was tapped out and I was able to get him in two swings even through a [ccProd]Karn Liberated[/ccProd]. I easily lost game 2 from back-to-back [ccProd]Wurmcoil[/ccProd]s off the top, after he had a natural Tron in his opening hand. In game 3 he mulliganed and I had pressure backed by [ccProd]Fulminator Mage[/ccProd], which was barely enough.

The last round was against the eventual winner Shaun McLaren and we split 2 non-interactive games before a nail-biting third where we had no cards in hand with my active Liliana against his 2 Soldier tokens from [ccProd]Timely Reinforcements[/ccProd] but his draws of [ccProd]Ajani Vengeant[/ccProd] on my [ccProd]Raging Ravine[/ccProd], [ccProd]Cryptic Command[/ccProd] on my [ccProd]Courser of Kruphix[/ccProd], and a [ccProd]Logic Knot[/ccProd] on another Courser were enough to take me down.

6-2 was certainly much better than I thought I would do, and it put me in a decent position for Day Two.

My Day Two pod included Quentin Martin and teammate Olle Rade. The draft started out nicely with me opening a [ccProd]Flame-Wreathed Phoenix[/ccProd], albeit in a very strong pack. I kept taking red cards highly with my first non-red card being a 5th pick [ccProd]Swordwise Centaur[/ccProd]. Since then, I did not get passed any red or green bombs but managed to put together a solid RG deck featuring 4 [ccProd]Leafcrown Dryad[/ccProd]s that I first- and second-picked in packs 2 and 3.

I first got a win over Quentin Martin in the feature match area with his BW deck offering up the wrong answers to my threats in games 2 and 3. A win over a UG-based deck the following rounds set me up for the finals against David Fulk where the die roll decided the match as we traded tempo-starts in the first two games and David having clutch [ccProd]Sudden Storm[/ccProd]s and a [ccProd]Dissolve[/ccProd] for my lethal [ccProd]Minotaur Skullcleaver[/ccProd].

That put me at a combined 8-3, just barely in Top 8 contention with better than average tiebreakers. I needed to win out, but that was rendered irrelevant quickly in quite the match against Josh McClain and his Melira Pod deck, which I felt favored against but couldn’t fight through the amount of lands I drew in game 2. I then quickly dispatched the Blue Moon deck by fetching up basic lands and keeping up [ccProd]Abrupt Decay[/ccProd] for [ccProd]Threads of Disloyalty[/ccProd], with discard spells giving me perfect information about what counterspells my opponent had. I then defeated Hexproof with a little luck, before defeating Melira Pod in round 15 to put my record to 11-4. I was then in a good position to draw into 10th place, as a win could only put me to 9th while a loss might have put me outside of the Top 25.

So after a Top 8 in San Diego, I got a Top 16 in Dublin into a Top 16 in Valencia, which just seems unreal to me. People who know me are well aware of the fact that I don’t consider myself to be a particularly good player but I love the game, love the community, and it makes me happy that I can play at the biggest stage and will be able to do so for a while now! I am now at 32 Pro points in the season, so just showing up at PT Atlanta will lock me for Gold this year and next. I will keep doing coverage for European GPs, but will probably play a couple more Grand Prix than I anticipated.

It would not have happened if I didn’t have my awesome team and I am very glad that I had such an amazing group of players around me. We shall see if we continue the Elaborate Ruse.

Jund in Modern

Jund master Willy Edel came into the testing with strong intentions of playing Jund. We were all skeptical about it as it wasn’t on anyone’s radar after the banning of [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd]. Everyone thought the deck was dead, but Willy insisted on playing it. After a couple testing sessions, the deck picked up pace among the team and after getting thoroughly crushed by it while playing Melira Pod, I was set.

Here is the final deck list that I managed to take to a 7-2-1 record:

[ccdeck]4 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
1 Copperline Gorge
1 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Forest
2 Marsh Flats
2 Overgrown Tomb
4 Raging Ravine
1 Stomping Ground
2 Swamp
1 Twilight Mire
4 Verdant Catacombs
3 Courser of Kruphix
4 Dark Confidant
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Abrupt Decay
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Terminate
2 Thoughtseize
—–Sideboard—–
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Batterskull
3 Fulminator Mage
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Rakdos Charm
2 Thoughtseize
2 Thrun, the Last Troll[/ccdeck]

Notes about the card choices:

• After talking to people at the site on Thursday, we figured we wanted [ccProd]Anger of the Gods[/ccProd] maindeck because we expected a lot of Zoo, Melira Pod, and Affinity. We felt that there would be few decks that Anger is totally dead against. It is key in killing a lot of the important creatures, especially [ccProd]Voice of Resurgence[/ccProd], [ccProd]Wild Nacatl[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Kitchen Finks[/ccProd], and most of your creatures survive it.

• We were going to run Kitchen Finks, but it didn’t interact with Anger of the Gods and sometimes it was just too small to be impactful. Courser solved that issue, giving us better draws and working well with fetchlands to improve your draws. Also combines well with Chandra.

• Being able to play [ccProd]Abrupt Decay[/ccProd] was a great boon because it is versatile enough that it is relevant against almost all decks and people would not expect seeing a lot of that card. We had to accommodate some [ccProd]Terminate[/ccProd]s into the deck because we were lacking interactions with 4+ toughness guys such as Restoration Angels, [ccProd]Celestial Colonnade[/ccProd]s, etc.

• 4 [ccProd]Inquisition of Kozilek[/ccProd] and 2 [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] were chosen to minimize the damage taken while also giving us enough discard in the early stages of the game.

• The toughest thing about the deck is the mana as you do want to have double-green, double-red, and double-black on turn 3, and sometimes you just can’t make it work. We struggled hard to find something that works but I’m sure the mana base can still be improved, maybe at the cost of more life from shocklands/fetchlands, which we wanted to avoid.

• The sideboard rounds out some maindeck cards along with some super-powerful cards in certain matchups which we expected. It gets light in some matchups, but Angers and [ccProd]Batterskull[/ccProd]s give you game in aggressive matchups, discards and Lilianas are good against most combo decks, while together with [ccProd]Thrun[/ccProd]s and/or [ccProd]Fulminator[/ccProd]s can get you far against control.

I think Jund is here to stay as it does offer a very strong shell of cards and has a wide range of customization to fight a particular metagame that you can expect in your local tournaments. I think that even after all these bannings against Jund, we will keep seeing it at the top level because of this versatility. The problem of the deck that it doesn’t really have any extremely favorable matchup but also can beat any other deck in the metagame by virtue of having efficient discard spells, removal, and creatures. With the versatile sideboard options, I think Jund might be a good choice for GP Richmond!

Thanks to everyone for the support and kind words that I have received after my good results and I hope to be more active in the coming months as I do plan on streaming and doing videos!