Two Months of Tournaments: Dominaria, WSOP, and Core Set 2019

These last couple months have been pretty crazy for me. As you may have noticed (or not), I haven’t done much writing. When we don’t have a lot of data out there, and with much of the metagames established with few changes, it was pretty hard to get excited about Deck of the Day. The last two months of my life, however, have been a wild ride.

End of May/Early June

I got to spend about a week where I grew up in Northern Virginia at my parents’ home. This lined up perfectly with the Team GP in DC and from there I headed down to Richmond for Pro Tour Dominaria. For the GP, I got to team with Ben Stark (likely the best Team Limited teammate in the world) and PV (likely the best Magic player in the world). Suffice to say, the team was really good. We ended up losing a close finals for the second time in as many Team Limited GPs, but a pair of 2nd-place finishes was quite nice.

I spent my time testing for the PT by myself online, theorizing, and talking a bit with former best Standard player in the world, Matthew Foulkes. I ended up playing U/B Midrange, a reasonable choice for the field. After a 3-0 Draft and 6-1 start overall, things were looking great, but nothing went right from there on out. My lands and spells didn’t cooperate, and I averaged more than a mulligan per game down the stretch to finish a disappointing 9-7.

Mid-June

Grand Prix Vegas was unbelievable. While having a GP in your hometown where you get to sleep in your own bed is always a fantastic experience, this was one of the best conventions I’d ever been to. Between the plethora of events, panels, vendors, and so much more, this was an event like none other.

My focus, however, was on qualifying for the Beta Draft. This would have been a total dream come true and I ended up not even registering for the Modern GP in order to play more qualifiers. Unfortunately for those of us trying to play a bunch of these events, the schedule didn’t make that very easy thanks to each starting about an hour after the last. This meant that you would barely have time to finish a single round before moving on to the next and you weren’t allowed to play in two at once even if the round times didn’t overlap. I wish more could have been done to prevent this, but the hall hours restricted the events from starting too late into the day, so it looked like this was the only real option.

My first Beta Draft Qualifier (BDQ) was on Thursday before any main event had started, so it had many of the best players in the world also in the competition. I opened an average deck that looked unlikely to get me the 5-0 record I needed to make the Top 8 Draft, but I won my first round before moving on to build the second  BDQ deck.

This deck was slightly better, but at the time of building I didn’t realize that we couldn’t be in two at once if the rounds weren’t paired. I submitted my deck and went back to BDQ 1 to play out my round 2 match. I was winning game 1 when the judges approached me to ask which BDQ I wanted to drop from. With only a slightly better deck for BDQ 2 and up a match while winning game 1 in BDQ 1, I stuck it out in the first one and moved to 2-0. That’s when I had to go build my deck for the final BDQ of the day.

That deck was really, really good and I thought that it would give me a great chance of going 5-0, but I decided that 2-0 was worth more than this improved deck. Everyone to whom I showed BDQ 3 deck said that I made a mistake and should have dropped to start over with this deck, but the damage was done. I was all-in for the day on the first BDQ, and I somehow did manage to win the next three to make Top 8.

The Top 8 Draft started well and I got a third-pick The Mirari Conjecture, one of the better cards in the set, to make my U/R Wizard deck pretty bomb-heavy. Unfortunately, despite being nearly mono-blue at the end of pack 1, passing nothing but a lone red card as the packs were definitely not loaded, Ben Seck to my left also ended up in U/R. This left me effectively without a pack 2, and considering none of my three first picks were particularly good or particularly rare, my deck was not as good as I had hoped.

I ended up defeating Thiago Saporito in the first round of the Draft, but lost round 2 to a really strong deck. I had a great chance thanks to his weaker draws, but needed a land game 1 to seal the deal. When I had established a pretty good board with the ability to blow him out with a small combination of spells in hand and waited to draw the action to punish him, I managed to hit 11 lands in a row. I think that I was a pretty big dog to win a game 3 versus this deck even if I had faded one of those situations, but it really hurt. I wanted to win that tournament really badly, and my opponent ended up falling to Juza in the finals.

The rest of the weekend was just more BDQ failures. I was never able to double queue, and with two a day, I was only able to manage a pair of 4-1s in the other two I got to play more than a single round in. 14-2 was my final score for the Sealed portion, good enough for some prize wall tickets, but no Beta cards.

Wizards really went all out with lots of cool giveaways, gift bags, and other awesome things throughout the weekend. The Beta Draft gave me chills even despite the disappointment of not being in it, and it was awesome to see my good friend BenS open some of Magic’s greatest cards ever printed.

Early July

Early July in Vegas can only mean one thing. The World Series of Poker main event is the biggest game there is. Close to 8,000 people ascend on Sin City to pay $10,000 each to play a poker tournament.

My tournament didn’t start off particularly well. 90% through Day 1, I had not amassed more than a starting stack and my bottom was being down to $20,000 in chips from the $50,000 starting stack. I put on a small rally and ended the day just above where I started.

Day 2 was more of the same. I made some big calls to end up with a decent amount of chips, but ended up losing a big all-in to leave me back to around where I started, and I entered Day 3 with just over $70,000 and well below average.

Day 3 is where everything changed. I was on the ESPN Secondary Feature Table for a bit, and it’s always interesting what ends up making it to the edited TV show. We were moved off of the table after Ray Romano from Everybody Loves Raymond busted, and I went on a run. I ended up increasing my stack from $70k to over a million before the dinner break and got to cruise into the money on Day 4.

From there, things were just crazy. I wanted to stop making Twitter posts with random chip stack updates since I thought those were going to be annoying and clog up people’s feeds, but the reaction was the polar opposite. People kept asking for more and sent out non-stop support.

Things continued to go extremely well for me as I moved into Day 5 and Day 6. My stack kept slowly getting higher and the support from the Magic community was the most unbelievable experience of my life. The nonstop tweets, texts, and social media support made an already special moment feel ten times better than I could have ever imagined.

I ended up eventually falling on Day 7, short of the final table and the guaranteed million dollars that goes with it. I busted out in 23rd place. I went from cloud nine for over a week to having that bubble burst. I ended up collapsing on a bench just outside of the tournament hall and couldn’t really move for hours.

I started coming down with some sort of cold/sickness during Day 5, but the adrenaline really kept me going throughout as I ordered hot tea after hot tea at the table. Once I was out, my body was no longer protecting itself very well, and the unbelievable exhaustion of intense mental activity for over a week straight on very little sleep meant bad things (the tournament started at 11 a.m. each day and didn’t get out until after 1 a.m., then factor in time to commute home, wind down before bed, wake up and get ready in the morning, commute back early enough to make sure you aren’t late, etc. This meant maybe seven hours of sleep if you’re a robot who can just turn off immediately and sleep straight through to an alarm. In reality, six is lucky). I was sick in bed for close to a week trying to recover physically.

From there, I was summoned for jury duty. The jury selection process was long and boring, and we ended up having to spend three full days there before finally being dismissed. This meant that I both had to miss my flight to GP Sacramento and didn’t even get to serve on the jury.

Early August

It was off to Minneapolis to compete in the GP and PT. The GP started well as I was 6-1 with a deck with 0 rares in it, but mana issues crushed me and my dreams in the last couple of rounds. At 6-3, I showed up for the Draft on Day 2 but dropped before registration since I didn’t like my odds of going 3-0 and anything short of 12-3 felt like wasted time when I could be preparing for the PT.

My PT preparation was strong. Despite testing solo or with only David Williams all season, we had a nice group for this one, including a number of Pantheon players who were left on their own when their top six-man team wanted to prepare with smaller numbers. We also added on the Kibler teams and Amaz teams after the Silver Showcase was announced and they got to bring along previously unqualified players.

For Legacy, I spent a lot of time talking to Kai Budde. We’ve playtested together before, but it’s been about 15 years at this point since it last happened. I love to troll him, but he’s one of the biggest trolls around, so it works out well. Kai is someone everybody already knows for being one of the best in the history of the game, but having him on your team is invaluable. He will playtest any deck, understands what’s important, can extract the relevant data from his results, and is incredibly brilliant. Working with him is such a pleasure and I’m jealous of everyone who gets to do it more regularly.

We also had Rich Hoaen, Ben Seck, and Tannon Grace on Legacy, but there was nothing that everyone really liked. I posted a deck that I was kind of shocked went 5-0 in a Legacy League on MTGO to our group chat—a Mono-Black Smallpox deck—but after testing it myself, I was surprised at how decent it was. Many members spent a decent amount of time there trying to tune the deck, but in the end it just felt a little underpowered and playing a deck where it takes so long to close out a game felt like it could be a real problem in a tournament.

We also spent a lot of time on B/U/G Shadow. Some of the iterations were poor as cards like Delver and Wasteland were either trimmed or cut, but it was one of the decks that tested well. In the end, the latest MTGO results made it seem like Shadow just wasn’t a great choice. There was a ton of Grixis Control, lots of U/W decks that packed four Swords to Plowshares, and many of the remaining decks were Chalice decks. None of those are good matchups for the Shadow deck, and expecting there to be a very low amount of combo meant that Shadow wasn’t going to be the best choice possible for the PT.

I tested a lot of Storm as it’s a powerful deck that I love and many of the best Legacy streamers love playing it. This gave me entertainment in something to watch while I was playing myself and also gave me extra data from some really strong pilots. In the end, even though I knew that many of the decks with small amounts of interaction were favorable matchups, I was worried that there would be too much Eldrazi, it would be too punishing to make small mistakes (which is more likely to happen with so many rounds playing live), and it was too tilting to lose the games you felt like you “should” win.

This left Eldrazi Aggro. MTGO grinder and streamer LewisCBR had been crushing Legacy Leagues online with the deck, and his list looked pretty close to perfect. We took exactly what he had and started running it through some Leagues. It felt broken. We would continually put up 4-0 or 4-1 Leagues with the games rarely feeling close. Having a 4th Wasteland felt important as it did more when you had excess lands in a lot of the games than the extra Mishra’s Factory he had, but the rest of the main deck went unchanged.

As for the sideboard, the Spyglasses were underperforming and were never critical. We decided to go with Tumble Magnets as an additional way to gain an advantage in the mirror while still having a card that could be impactful against Sneak and Show.

Here’s the list that myself, Kai, and TBS registered for PT25A:

Eldrazi Stompy

I think that there’s a very real chance that this deck is the best in Legacy and I wouldn’t play anything else if I could go back and play the tournament over again. I had to mulligan a lot, even for this deck that does have to mulligan a fair bit, and I had only a couple of “really” good draws throughout the event, but the deck was just solid. I believe my personal final record with the deck was an underwhelming but solid 9-5, and Kai had even better results.

For our team, things were looking really good for the vast majority of the event. The reason for that was Turbo Fog.

For our testing, Gabriel Nassif had played against the Turbo Fog Ramp deck at French Nationals and thought that there were things about it that showed a lot of promise. That list had four Karn and four Karn Temporal Sundering, so these were easy areas to improve upon. He made some changes, shared it with the group, and started testing himself, despite the fact that he was in the Modern seat for the PT. The results were fantastic.

He was crushing R/b and green decks. Adding sideboard Duress did nearly nothing and the win percentage remained high. The control matchup was kind of tough and the Storm matchup was bad, but beating the best two decks in Standard by a considerable margin was a great place to be.

Mark Herberholz made a handful of changes to the deck and played a number of games with David Williams heading in. The day that decks were due, nobody else on the team was on it. Many looked to play Dustin Stern’s Storm deck. Williams acquired the cards for Storm, and hopped into an MTGO League with it Wednesday morning. After losing the first match, I asked for him to stop the Storm nonsense and just focus on the Fogs. He was thrilled to have the support, immediately dropped Storm, and got down to work. Late Wednesday night, Ben Rubin decided to audible off the Storm deck into a slightly different version of Turbo Fog, so it would be the two of them playing it.

Kai would lament the entire tournament about how much he wished his team had played Fog.

Here’s the list Williams used to crush the Standard portion of the PT:

Turbo Fog

David Williams, 5th place at PT 25th Anniversary

His record in Standard over the course of the weekend was 11-3 and he managed to beat the “unwinnable” mono-red burn, beat the “unwinnable” G/B Snake deck, and go undefeated versus control.

It felt like having Caw-Blade all over again. People didn’t know how to play against the deck and made a lot of mistakes that added percentage points. The games he lost looked like something went horribly wrong. On top of all of that, of the three matches he ended up losing, Nassif and I both managed to win in two of those rounds, so only one loss technically “counted.”

On the other side of it, it meant that the rounds we lost or drew we only needed Nassif or I to win. I think Nassif ended up with a really strong record with his U/W Control deck in Modern (as well as several matches that didn’t finish), but the rounds where DW steamrolled his opponent and we didn’t win were real feelbads and I think both of us definitely felt like we let the team down on more than one occasion.

In the end, we fell just short and finished the tournament in 5th place with our 10-3-1 record. Our 9-3 match was against the Hareruya Latin team of ***Berthoud, Salvatto, and Pozzo, and I think I could have won my match. I read a card I wasn’t totally familiar with (despite having played against it a number of times many years ago) and managed to not read all of it, missing the final line of important text. This potentially cost me game 3. Williams won his match, and Nassif was down a game in the U/W Mirror with no possible way to play a game 3, let alone finish it. All of the credit in the world goes to Salvatto and Pozzo playing out that match. Despite it being complicated and a team tournament, they kept up a very fast pace of play even when it didn’t benefit them in the slightest to do so. It’s very common and almost “expected” for players to slow down, at least a little, in a spot like that while up a game and likely needing to win this round and the next to Top 4, but they didn’t consider it for a second. Nassif ended up taking game 2 in extra turns to force the draw.

Present Day

I’m back home and loving every minute of it. I’m hopeful for the future of Magic and the changes that might be made to the PT going forward. Having a team Pro Tour again was fantastic and my teammates were a blast to play with. I’ve managed to get myself into a really strange place points-wise as it felt like I was totally locked for Gold with no hopes of doing anything else this season, but I finished with the exact record to leave me with 49 and needing to Top 8 a GP to upgrade a finish into Platinum. With the weird season structure going on right now, this incentivizes me to go to some tournaments I wasn’t planning on attending, so I’ll definitely be looking up flights to see if I can make GP Richmond happen.

To close out, thanks for reading, and thanks to the amazing community for all of the continued support. The cheers and rooting during poker events and Magic events are both incredible and I’m so fortunate to be in my position. Thanks.

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