I’m not gonna lie (not even once this report), I was having a great season even before Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. In fact, I didn’t have high hopes or expectations for the Pro Tour, and was mostly there to ensure that I was qualified for Worlds.
As usual, I’m going to start this incredibly strategic report well before the Pro Tour, as the story begins before the set is even released.
My Pro Tour journey began with the plane of Naya, which I still maintain is not a card. My wife Geneva and I were expecting a baby on July 10th, and what we got was a baby on June 29th. We hadn’t exactly finished deciding on a name, and thanks to my persuasive argument that there isn’t a Magic card named Naya (and the fact that Geneva does really like the name), we welcomed Naya Scott Vargas Sarcedo to the world.
We then promptly wrapped her like a burrito, which she seemed to enjoy.
Given the new addition, I did not expect to spend nearly as much time preparing for this Pro Tour, and indeed I didn’t. Luckily, I still had Wrapter and Matt as part of my squad, and they were glad to continue our tradition of testing at my place. I played a lot of games with a baby in arm, which had the unexpected bonus of not letting me shuffle (“Matt, shuffle me”).
Short aside on Matt Nass:
Besides being underrated in basically everything he does (Matt Nass is the nuts), he also has the distinction of being referred to solely by his full name. I don’t think I’ve ever not called him “Matt Nass,” and when someone says “Matt” around him, I get very confused and start looking for this Matt they are talking about. It’s not even clear that Matt is the second-most common name he gets called, as Nassty might even be ahead of it.
On the Team
Team ChannelFireball once again prepared for the Pro Tour with Team UltraPRO, with the teams as follows:
- Paul Cheon
- David Ochoa
- Andrew Baekstrom
- Ben Seck
- Ben Stark
- Corey Burkhart
- Justin Cohen
- Matt Severa
- Pat Cox
- Sam Black
Because of !baby (that’s a Twitch command, which means vastly different things depending on which stream you are in), we revised our testing strategy here in Denver. Normally, we’d try and get in a couple drafts at local stores or at my place, and play Constructed a bunch besides that. Instead, we decided to ration our limited time by playing only Constructed, and drafting on MTGO when we got to Australia.
That seemed like a pretty good plan in theory, as organizing in-person drafts is not very efficient, I couldn’t easily leave my house, and having 7 other people over wasn’t an option. We had a couple advantages, the main one being that our team was doing a ton of Limited prep, and we got to lean on that. Has anyone ever said being on a team is good? Because it’s good.
To begin with, we had all the participants of the various draft weekends (at least the ones held in Madison and Berkeley) posting their decks and thoughts. Pat Cox even graced us with his 4 Wolfkin Bond masterpiece, which led to me claiming he loved the card the entire trip. He then complained it was unfair that he had to post his first draft decks and I didn’t say anything about Limited until I was 10 drafts deep. Look, I wasn’t the one who posted a 4 Wolfkin Bond deck, and claimed I loved the card.
We kept jamming Constructed, starting with the new Jace, Wharf Infiltrator.
On Wharf Infiltrator
For whatever reason, the first 5 or 6 decks posted in our team forums contained Wharf Infiltrators. Lots and lots of Wharf Infiltrators. I didn’t understand it, but I duly made some of the decks, and started battling.
Things did not go well. Wharf Infiltrator just didn’t perform well against Jace or spot removal, and any time we drew it after turn 2 it was a very unexciting play. If I were a betting man, I’d gladly have bet against Wharf Infiltrator making its way into the Top 8. Unfortunately, nobody was willing to take me up on that bet (why would they?).
We tried a bunch of different Voldaren Pariah decks, and that card did seem like the real deal. If you can madness it out, it’s super efficient, and flipping it and eating their board is absurd. One of the decks I liked early on was RB Vampires.
This deck suffered from a problem we would get hit hard by later: the format was not what we thought it was. This deck plays pretty well against creatures, and did show us how weak Bant was to Pariah (can’t be Spell Quellered), but this would get mauled in the current Eldrazi metagame. We ended up shelving it because it just wasn’t good enough overall, though it wasn’t that far off.
On Spirit Bant
For a good amount of testing, we were high on Spirit Bant. Wrapter really liked how the deck played, and it looked very promising.
Being able to keep all your mana up and play at instant speed is awesome, and the combination of Rattlechains, Spell Queller, Ojutai’s Command, and Collected Company means that your opponent will often have no good options. This deck hatesLiliana, so if she ever becomes less popular, this is an interesting place to look.
On a 16-Hour Flight
We departed on the incredibly long trek to Sydney, and even picked up a Cheon on the way (since our flight was from San Francisco). We got seats together, and did a good amount of battling Standard on the airplane.
At one point, I drew a Thalia’s Lancers, and asked Cheon deadpan if he knew the creature type. Was it a Human, or was it a Lancer? Him not being a fan of The Killers, answered with “I’m pretty sure it’s a Human.” Matt then explained the joke to him, at which point he conceded it was at least mildly clever. I then repeated the joke about 10 times, which I can only assume made it funnier each time.
Another thing about the flight: I’m just gonna go ahead and say testing on airplane tray tables, in the semi-darkness, with horribly scrawled card names, is not optimal. That didn’t deter us from trying, but we didn’t get tons of useful data from that session.
If you follow Magic Twitter, you may have noticed a rash of visa-related questions pop up about a month ago. It turns out that players attending the PT needed a special cultural event work visa of some kind, and it required a fair amount of documentation. When all was said and done, it wasn’t that bad, but it still was a lengthy and often-unclear questionnaire, and demanded lots of corroborating documents.
Cut to us getting to Australia, putting our passports in a machine, and getting a slip of paper that essentially said “have a nice day” (or whatever the Australian translation of that is). Look, I know that it’s better for the customs process to be that easy, and I’m not asking for hassle, but after filling out all that visa nonsense I did expect a little more.
On Our Testing House
Actually, we were pretty off our testing house. It looked like a haunted house from the outside, which is fine, but the real problem was that it wasn’t powerful enough, literally. The power went out 10+ times a day, but luckily the owner showed me where the fuse box was, so I could turn it back on. As fun as that was, it got very old. Add to that the WiFi not working, and we had a serious problem. We intentionally scheduled our testing such that we’d done 0 drafts, and it was critical that we get to do some.
Sam ended up buying a WiFi hotspot, which kind of worked, but it was far from optimal. At one point, I clicked join a draft, and nothing happened. I kept clicking, and all of a sudden I was in 3 drafts at once. I’m not going to claim I’ve never been in 3 drafts at once, but it’s always been by choice, and this certainly wasn’t. They all lagged out anyways, and no fun was had.
On TD International
Luckily, we moved to the hotel conference room on Wednesday, which I’d rented under the name TD International. Just imagine that the TD stands for Topdecks, and you will be close enough. This setup was great, and we got to jam a ton of drafts and more Constructed, with some of the drafts hooked up to the big screen.
On Medium Bant and 20% Zombies
We did not succeed in Constructed. That’s just a fact. Our win percentage was bad, and our decks were not well-positioned in the metagame. It’s pretty obvious why that happened: we ignored the 50,000 pound elephant in the room.
We had a variety of Emrakul decks early, but never really liked them. As testing continued, we didn’t do a good enough job of going back and checking our work, and as a result largely dismissed the most important card at the Pro Tour. All of our subsequent errors stemmed from that, and that’s what led to half the team registering Wharf Infiltrator (and the other half registering the most level-1 deck you can ever imagine).
The Blue/Black Zombies deck did what our team wanted, and it did it well: it crushed Bant and beat GW. The problem was those were much less played than Liliana/Emrakul decks, neither of which the Zombies deck could beat. The resulting win percentage wasn’t pretty, which is typical of metagame decks that don’t hit the mark.
As for the rest of us, we just wanted to Bant people out.
This deck is still good, don’t get me wrong—Bant is a powerful deck, playing great cards, and it’s going to continue to be a part of the metagame. The problem is that it’s the MOST OBVIOUS DECK IN EXISTENCE. Not a single person we would sit across from hadn’t played against the deck, and even worse, they must think it was a good matchup. Bant was public enemy number one, and that’s not a good place to be.
If I were playing Bant after the Pro Tour, I’d play the following list:
Bant Company, Updated
Swapping Command for Clash makes you worse in the mirror, but way better against the Eldrazi decks. It does mean you can’t play Jace anymore, but Nissa keeps the Company hits high, and this configuration should make you pretty well-equipped to battle against Eldrazi.
To provide an example of this, take the exchange that happened when Pat Cox showed up on Monday.
Pat: “So we are playing Bant? What’s our tech?”
Matt: “Fortified Village. It’s great, it always comes into play untapped, and nobody else has it.”
Pat: “Fortified Village? That’s our tech? Are you kidding me?”
To be fair, Fortified Village is good, but calling it tech is a mighty stretch.
On Lucky Shirts
— Luis Scott-Vargas (@lsv) August 3, 2016
All I’m saying is that I’ve Top 8’d every Pro Tour where I wear this shirt on Thursday. It’s like a lucky horseshoe, or something.
On Killer Combos
My first draft did not go as planned (they rarely do). I was getting passed to by Matt Severa, who as a member of our team, had basically the same likes and dislikes I did in this format. That’s tough, as we had all hoped to snag the blue/green emerge deck. It turns out he did, and I stayed out of it, leaving me with a medium (but rare-heavy) red/white deck.
It wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but it was what I had to work with. Maybe I’d get a little lucky?
— Luis Scott-Vargas (@lsv) August 5, 2016
Uh, I guess that counts.
I was battling Dan Ward, who was also on RW, though a much more aggressive deck. We split the first 2 games, and game 3 was becoming a board stall. I was chipping away at him while he built up his forces, and I could tell he had something like Borrowed Grace in hand. I kept leaving back Assembled Alphas, knowing that eventually he was going to go for it, and go for it he did.
He attacked with 7 creatures, I cast Give No Ground, and I got to live the dream. That’s one way to start a Pro Tour.
I won my next 2 rounds, beating Severa in the finals. I did have an insane game in round 2 against Pierre Dagen, where I discarded to hand size on turn 8 while stuck on 3 lands, but managed to survive to pull off Subjugator Angel, then next turn Long Road Home on his second main phase to tap down his team again.
On Banting People
“Banting” became a verb pretty early on. It basically just means to play a 2-drop into Spell Queller into Company, or something like that (which Ben S. inexplicably claimed never happens). All I know is that Bant went from a feared deck to something nobody wanted to play, and everyone thought they beat. As it turns out, they did not beat it as easily as they thought, in large part due to sideboarding (we did have a legit good sideboard), and I banted a lot of people. In fact, the only person I couldn’t Bant was Steve Rubin, and I finished the day 7-1.
On the Team
Sadly, the team wasn’t faring as well. Paul was 6-2, which was sick, but Wrapter and Matt failed to make Day 2, and the rest of the team had records that ranged from medium (4-4 and 5-3), to dead. It wasn’t the most upbeat dinner I’ve ever had, and for some reason nobody sympathized when I lost the credit card game.
On Me Being Lucky
Occasionally, I’ve gotten lucky, and this PT is another example. I’m sure many people, teammates included, were both amazed and disgusted that it was looking like I was going to Top 8 another PT. The reason I’m sure is that Pat Cox would say every round “you are going to Top 8 another goddamn PT,” though to be fair he did follow it up with “that’s great.” I don’t know why I have run so well, and I don’t begrudge anyone asking the same question.
I showed up for draft number 2, and things did not go quite as well.
I wish I could blame this on the packs, or Ember-Eye Wolf, or something, but I really can’t. I’m not sure what all the decisions were that I could have made differently, but there were plenty of places. I tunnel-visioned too much on emerge, and despite correctly being in red, made a bunch of regrettable picks. That is how you end up with this:
I would have taken 2-1 in a heartbeat, and after getting trounced by Yuuya, did not feel optimistic. Was I going to 0-3? Were my dreams of a 3-peat dead? Did I forget for a second how unreal lucky I am?
Fate had other things in store. I squeaked out 2 wins against far better decks (read: draft decks), and all of a sudden I found myself at 9-2.
Meanwhile, Cheon was having a rougher go of things. You really should check out the Chlog, as he’s got some great stories there (and a fantastic account of the beats he suffered this tournament).
On Beating Double Emrakul
After beating a horribly flooded Jacob Wilson, I was paired up against Reid Duke. He was playing Red/Green Eldrazi Ramp, and I defeated him game 1. Game 2 was absurd, and I’ll try and do it justice. You can watch it here as well:
Reid mulliganed to 5, but had the perfect draw, where he curved a delirium’ed Ishkanah into a very fast Emrakul. I knew the Emrakul was coming, and my draw was good, so I was able to pressure Reid a ton before it came down. He did eventually slam it, and the following happened:
I topdecked Selfless Spirit, played it, and passed. He hit me to 11, then played a second Ishkanah (without attacking with the first to play around Clash of Wills). I then drew Reflector Mage, and was forced to bounce his Emrakul. The Selfless Spirit let me protect my 2 Advocates when I ran them into his Spiders.
I then topdecked another Selfless Spirit, which stopped Kozilek’s Return from killing my team. Reid took my turn (again), and killed off my Reflector Mage and Advocate. That left 1 Advocate againt his Emrakul, Ishkanah, and Spider, with him at 4. Lo and behold, the second Tamiyo appeared, and all of a sudden I was winning. He didn’t draw anything, and I won my luckiest game of the tournament.
On Making Top 8
After defeating Owen, I was a lock for Top 8. I wished Owen and Reid the best of luck, and let it sink in. Somehow, I was doing it again. I was pretty overwhelmed, and very happy. I’m not trying to be a broken record here, but when I say I got lucky this year, you should believe it. The game against Reid was absurd, but I also didn’t miss on my 2-landers, or have to mulligan much. That adds up, and it doesn’t take a ton of small things before your 60-65% win rate edges towards the 75% you need to make Top 8.
On Losing in Top 8
I defeated Reid in the quarters, in what I’m now starting to think is just a favorable matchup. Double-Emrakul games notwithstanding, his deck doesn’t go over the top of Bant by as much as you may think. I felt pretty good playing against Red/Green Ramp, and think my next matchup is a much tougher one.
I battled Owen, and our match was pretty great. We talked the whole match about how we hoped someone got horrifically mana-screwed in the decider, and we got our wish. My favorite moment of the match is when he was Emrakul’ing me in game 4, and deep in the tank.
I said “I’ve never taken a turn this long,” which is probably true, and I feel goes against the spirit of controlling my turn. He of course then proceeded to make me put all my cards in the graveyard, and won handily from there.
On the ORAT
It’s been said many times, but Owen is great. I voted for him for Hall of Fame, and love that this Top 8 (plus Player of the Year title) moves him into the slam-dunk category. He’s earned it, and there are few people I’d rather lose to in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour. Even if he didn’t win, he had a weekend to be proud of. Plus, both years where I’ve Top 8’d multiple Pro Tours he’s won Player of the Year, so we have begun a tradition of sorts.
On Going into the Booth
I was in the booth (with a jacket and tie hastily added) within minutes of losing. Hey, I love doing commentary, and even if I’d rather win the Pro Tour, I still enjoy talking about Magic. I am happy to go straight from losing my match to the booth, and if that means I get to play and commentate on Sunday, I’ll take it.
On the Long Road Home
Thus ended the Pro Tour. Lukas Blohon won a quick 6 games in a row once I entered the booth (I guess he saw no reason to waste time), and that was that. I had an awesome team dinner at a Korean BBQ place that TBS (The Ben Seck) took us to, and found out that BK (not Brian Kibler, nor Brian Kowal, but somehow Andrew Baekstrom) had never eaten KBBQ. We rectified that, and a good dinner was had by all. Well, almost all, as Wrapter celebrated the PT by paying. Rough beats, Wraptero.
I got to hang out some with Marshall, Gaby, and Tim Willoughby, who were still getting over a long weekend of coverage, and we observed a bunch of drafts while wisely refraining from joining any. The days that I want to draft until 4 a.m. are long past, I’m afraid.
The Denver crew plus Gaby all had the same flight to Dallas, and despite trying to make the 16-hour flight without sleeping, I don’t think any of us did. Wrapter at least got to watch 5 or 6 romantic comedies that Matt insisted upon, while Gaby and I somehow avoided actually doing any Grand Prix Indy prep work that we (still) need to do. Efficient.
That wraps up my Top 8 report, which is somehow a sentence I get to keep writing. You won’t hear me complain about luck for a good, long while (until my next stream).
Draft Deck #2 Sample Hand
It’s the worst 3-rare (one is even mythic) hand I can imagine.
Title image credit: Wizards of the Coast.