This Pro Tour was a bit different than usual for me. I’ve had the pleasure to prepare with the CFB plus Ultra PRO testing unit for many events in a row, but this time I decided to shake things up. I wanted to take it easy, as I knew I wouldn’t have time to test for three weeks straight. It also helped that the PT was a lot later than it usually is. The format was already established, so it was about finding the best deck for this metagame instead of trying to break it.
Luckily, my very good friend Steve Rubin felt the same way. We made plans to hang out in Pittsburgh (his hometown) after Eternal Weekend, and then proceeded to play both Grand Prix Phoenix and the Pro Tour in Albuquerque. (Seriously, who came up with the name for this city? I have to check the spelling every time I write and I still manage to misspell it half the time.)
Steve also managed to talk PT champion Gerry Thompson and self-proclaimed “best Korean player” Joshua Cho to test with us. They were both on my team for the Team Series—Metagame Gurus Sun—so it made sense. We rented out a great AirBnB in Albuquerque and went to work. I was a bit worried, as I didn’t know either Gerry or Josh personally, but I soon realized that if I could endure an unreasonably high amount of trolling I’d be fine.
Online, I also spent some time talking to the rest of the MGG squads, exchanging ideas and deck lists, but most of my work was done with the three people in Albuquerque. While there, we spent our days split between playing MTGO Leagues with random decks, Temur mirror matches in real life, watching Gossip Girl and Stranger Things on Netflix, listening to this song at least two hours a day, and rounding it all out with a couple games of League of Legends before going to sleep. In short, it was a lot of fun.
We did play a decent amount of Magic as well, mostly concentrating our efforts on Temur. It made sense to play Temur, as it was seen by many as the strongest deck in Standard, and Gerry had success with it at Nationals. Both he and Steve are strong deck builders, so I knew I’d have a solid list no matter what. I still had some hopes of finding a different deck I’d be interested in playing, but I’d have a great fallback option if I failed. There were two decks other than Temur I considered. Today I’ll talk a bit about those, the deck I actually played at the PT, and the PT itself.
The first deck that caught my interest early on was this U/B Gift deck.
The other members of our MGG squad were big proponents of this deck, and in the end three of them played it. Travis Woo did the best with an above average record of 7-3.
It’s basically a hybrid of the U/B Jaberwocki deck that Lucas Esper Berthoud took to win Brazilian Nationals and a regular Gift deck. This deck looks really strong to me. The Scarab God is possibly the most powerful card in Standard, and this deck is good at getting it into play and protecting it with Kitesail Freebooter. You also have a solid plan B of Gate to the Afterlife that will soon help you churn out 4/4 after 4/4 from your graveyard.
In the sideboard you have access to a transformational plan. You can side out the whole combo, which is good against decks like Temur. Against them you bring in spells like Supreme Will, Vraska’s Contempt, and Noxious Gearhulk, blanking their Abrades and making Negate a bit worse. I played a couple of Leagues with this deck, and 3-5 friendly matches against Steve on Temur.
Ben Friedman, who was the biggest advocate of the deck, thought that matchup was favorable, but I found it to be quite close. Maybe the reason was that Steve knew my deck list and therefore how to play it, which is the usual advantage of rogue decks like this. I decided to set this deck aside as I felt it might be too clunky—you have two different decks mixed together, so it’s easy to draw a combination of cards that don’t work well. But I do feel that this deck has a lot of potential and both Travis and Ben are determined to work on it, so it might just be the breakout deck of the upcoming Standard GPs.
The second deck was another variation of Jaberwocki’s deck. The guy is great at building decks. The deck I’m talking about is a 4c Energy deck with Gonti, Lord of Luxury. It was Gerry’s idea to streamline this deck, as we felt the mana base was just too problematic. We also tried to add Longtusk Cub, which is one of the best cards in Standard.
Like I said, this deck started as a Gonti, Lord of Luxury deck, but we found out that the card was lacking a bit and in the end had Bristling Hydra instead. Hydra is quite important in this deck, as the matchup versus aggressive decks isn’t great and your main play is Hydra plus Cartouche of Ambition in post-board games.
Overall, I liked this deck. Again, it has the Scarab God, so there’s plenty power in the late game. We also identified Glint-Sleeve Siphoner as one of the best cards in Standard, which proved to be right as Seth Manfield took down the tournament with it. But the problem is the removal suite. Fatal Push is much worse than Harnessed Lightning, and the absence of Whirler Virtuoso makes your matchup versus aggro much worse. This deck is well suited to win the “mirror” versus Temur, but even there you can lose to random Glorybringers going unanswered. Overall, we found the matchup versus aggro to be too dicey to justify.
In the end we all just went with Temur. We specifically spent a lot of time tuning our deck for the mirror match. It was basically the only matchup we tested in real life, so I was pretty confident in it for the tournament.
This is the list I played, which is 74/75 of what Gerry and Cho registered. I chose to run 1 Sheltered Thicket over the 4th Rootbound Crag. Gerry wasn’t a huge fan of the Temple of Tilt, as we nicknamed the tap-land that would always punish you when you needed to play your 5-drop. On the other hand, I felt like I wanted some insurance against flooding out and was happy with the single copy.
Steve did his Steve thing and played his own deck list that was a bit different, including a Commit // Memory and Torrential Gearhulk package in the sideboard. This came down to him not playing with Nissa that much, but both Gerry and I liked Nissa quite a bit so we ran with it.
Our deck was nothing special, but I thought our sideboard plans were strong and that I had a good understanding of how the important matchups play out. As for the question of black or no black, I’m still not sure what the correct answer is. It honestly feels like no one really knows, but I did like the more straightforward, more stable tri-color version.
The PT started well. I drafted this weird G/B deck that included a bunch of good cards but almost no tribal synergies. I never found out if the deck was good or bad. I won all of the games, but in five of them my opponent was either mana screwed or color screwed. The sixth game was epic. My opponent played Burning Sun’s Avatar, and I managed to trade for it and then played Boneyard Parley, stealing the Dinosaur and killing my opponent with it.
There was a long break between Draft and Standard. I remember talking to Steve outside of the venue and saying that I’m confident in the Temur mirrors, but I still hoped to avoid great players like Huey or Reid. Obviously, I get instantly paired against Reid. Luckily, my streak from Draft continued and Reid stumbled on lands while I had the best draw possible two games in a row.
Being 4-0 and beating the number 1 ranked player in the world felt pretty good. Unfortunately, I lost the next two, first to Mono-Red because of a die roll and secondly to Pierre Dagen on Sultai Energy Aggro. I made a mistake against Pierre. I hadn’t seen either a Winding Constrictor or Blossoming Defense in the first two games, so I thought he was on the control version of the deck. Therefore, I decided to let his Cub live on turn 2, instead of developing my own 2-drop. I get promptly punished by Winding Constrictor and because he already had some energy, the game slipped away after he had Blossoming Defense to protect his Cub.
I redeemed myself next round, beating Joel Larsson on the same deck and then managed to beat the Pro Tour Hour of Devastation Top 8 competitor Felix Leong. Felix gave me a bit of a scare as I was a game up, at 5 life, and had him dead on board next turn. At the end of my turn he plays Shock—his last card in hand—to put me down to 3 and then proceeded to topdeck his only out in Lightning Strike to force game 3. Luckily, I managed to put that one away and end Day 1 with a decent record of 6-2.
The next day, everything fell apart. I made a mistake in the Draft portion, ending up with an all-in Merfolk deck—lots of 1-drops and 3 River Heralds’ Boon. I went 1-2 after losing a heartbreaking game 3 in the final round. Standard went even worse. I had a bunch of games where I mulliganed and didn’t play anything. I also had one funny game where I tapped out on turn 5 against my opponent who had Bristling Hydra and 6 energy in play. I was at 20, which was not enough as he went Invigorated Rampage, use energy to pump Hydra, attack for 10, Fling. I was sitting at the table for a good 10 minutes wondering what happened. I went 1-4 in the second Standard portion, finishing with a clean 8-8 record for exactly zero extra Pro Points.
Luckily, there are always more tournaments and more chances to redeem myself. The next one I’ll be playing is the Team GP in Lyon where I managed to convince the two Brazilian superstars, PV and Carlos Romao, to team up with me. I have high hopes for that tournament. Overall, I had a lot of fun at PT Ixalan. It’s nice to have such incredible friends like Steve Rubin who make the tournament a success even if you don’t do well. Also, huge congrats to Mike Sigrist for securing his third PT Top 8 and getting one step closer to the Hall of Fame we all know he deserves. Last season, Siggy Top 8’d a PT I did as well, so look out for me in Bilbao!