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Stark Reality – PT Gatecrash Report *Top 4*

My Pro Tour started 10 days or so before round 1, on a Tuesday, meeting with Team ChannelFireball in Las Vegas for playtesting. A bunch of degenerates heading to Vegas to prepare for the Pro Tour shouldn’t be a problem right? Actually, everyone other than me did just test the whole time, so it didn’t matter much that we were in Vegas.

I tried to get in as much testing as I could, but for those who don’t know me well, Vegas is my favorite place outside of South Florida. I know how to count cards (blackjack), I play infinite poker, and best of all, I’m a big fan of the high quality, super buffets (no words can really do them justice) at Caesar’s Palace and The Cosmopolitan.

Despite getting a little caught up in the action, I was still able to get some work done. I knew I wanted to try 3-color control variants, so the first two decks I made were an Esper variant and a RUG variant. These decks seemed like they would have been good before Gatecrash, but had just been missing the dual lands.

I dropped RUG pretty quickly. Without [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], it just couldn’t close games. While the white splash wasn’t that difficult, Saito’s RG beatdown deck was driving the format, so a fourth color would be tough. LSV liked Esper though, and did a lot of work tinkering with the deck while I switched into doing what I do best—buffets and blackjack.

Actually, it was mostly booster drafting that took me away from testing. I was thrilled that Gatecrash came to Magic Online a week before the Pro Tour so I could hammer out 20+ drafts very easily. I figured out that, like the last format, all 5 guilds are draftable. Some guilds are deeper than others and so support more drafters.

In Return to Ravnica, Selesnya could easily support two and even three drafters at an eight-man table, where as Golgari really only wants one. This time it’s Boros and Orzhov that are the deeper guilds that can support multiple drafters. Gruul doesn’t need you to be the only one for synergy purposes, but just isn’t that deep, while Simic and Dimir are much better with only one drafter.

Of course, it is always best to be the only drafter in a given guild, but that is different from understanding when you need to be. If you start a draft Simic, but weren’t getting any of the good Simic cards picks 5-8, you want to jump ship if you can, because other people are drafting it.

Likewise, in my first draft, I noticed I was seeing good Simic cards picks 5-8 so I moved in late. As it happened, Gaudenis was also Simic, but he was on the other end of the table and the packs happened to be pretty deep, so we both made fine decks.

On the other hand, if I start an Orzhov draft off with some good cards and then realize there is another Orzhov player or two at the table, as long as I am seeing decent cards I’ll just assume that they aren’t near me, and that I can still make a strong Orzhov deck. Of course, always keep your eyes out for whether another guild is wide open as a result.

I also determined that most of the guilds are straightforward. You just draft their keyword, and any synergies based around it. Orzhov is exactly that, but people hadn’t seemed to catch on. Everyone knew the extort cards were pretty good, but they were trying to draft Orzhov like it was a control deck.

Trading off your [card]Syndic of Tithes[/card] and [card]Kingpin’s Pet[/card], and then hoping to win with your 5- and 6-drop is not taking advantage of extort. The first person I saw drafting a lower-curve Orzhov was Ochoa. First, he drafted what seemed like a pretty good Orzhov control deck and I managed to beat him with a pretty bad Boros deck—including a game where I mulled to 4.

A few drafts later, he met me again when I had a better Boros deck and crushed me. Using mostly [card]Gutter Skulk[/card]s and [card]Daring Skyjek[/card]s to complement the obvious good cards like [card]Syndic of Tithes[/card] and [card]Kingpin’s Pet[/card]. Once I started playing on Magic Online, I realized that this type of Orzhov kept beating my very good draft decks in rounds two and three in the 8-mans, and that Orzhov was not a control deck. It wants to keep its casting cost down. This way, if you are stuck on lands you can keep playing things, if you draw a few too many, you can just extort the life out of them. Also, by having a low curve you can race them with Pet (something it does well) instead of trying to block with it (which it doesn’t do well).

We departed Paradise for The North Pole the Monday before the Pro Tour. That doesn’t sound very smart, I know. It wasn’t. We did it to meet a few foolish members of our crew who went to Grand Prix London before Montreal instead of Vegas. The silver lining was that I would be away from the action and buffets, and forced to focus on Magic for the last few days.

It seemed to me that UWR was our best deck. I still think that’s true, and that UWR is the best deck in Standard even now. I don’t know whether the list should look more like Joel’s or Gerry’s, though you do want the 1 [card]Harvest Pyre[/card] in either. That was more sick Team CFB tech, probably invented by Wrapter, since it seems he invents everything sweet we have.

Esper was a favorite against UWR though, so once we started to see them popping up all over the Magic Online Daily results and some streams, most of us decided we would rather be on the Esper side of that matchup.

The Pro Tour kicked off with draft for I believe the first time in a mixed Pro Tour. My pod was extremely tough, with Gaudenis, Chapin, Reid Duke, Andreas Nordahl, and Olivier Ruel.

Here at Channel, we have a little joke going. LSV’s past two Sealed decks have had both [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] and [card]Pack Rat[/card]s (the two best rares in the set). He does the sleep-in special at every Grand Prix, so they basically hand him his deck. Do we think wizards would rig it for him? Of course not, and I know LSV would never knowingly let them. Facts aren’t really relevant, of course, so we like to tease him about it.

After we were already sitting and had packs in front of us, they decided to shift us for a better camera view of my draft. Once we had done that, they told us we had to move the packs, as well. Moving random packs among players obviously accomplishes nothing, so this looked a little suspect. Could my packs actually be rigged? Once I got to first pick [card]Smite[/card] out of a pretty terrible pack, I realized the fix was not on.

My draft was on camera, and I started out Orzhov but switched mid-pack 1 to Simic, since Orzhov was being way over-drafted and Simic seemed pretty open. This avoided a sure train wreck, but my deck still wasn’t anything special, so I was happy to pull out a 2-1, losing to Lennart Lindeman, and beating Reid Duke and Gaudenis.

The first four rounds of Constructed couldn’t have gone better. I played against WW/u, RUW, the [card]Invisible Stalker[/card] auras deck, and Naya control. I don’t think I lost a game. I only took one or two mulligans over those 4 rounds, and just drew better than my opponents, in good matchups. I played a pretty epic game with the Naya control deck, but otherwise just rolled through these rounds.

In round 9, I faced off against Rafael Levy in a feature match. He was playing the Wolf Run Bant deck that Melissa DeTora ended up piloting to a Top 8 finish. Luis, Efro, and I played a similar design built by Efro in GP San Antonio last year, after which I started calling it Bad Bant. While [card]Centaur Healer[/card]s do give you some game against very aggressive decks, they are virtual blanks against midrange and control. Maybe the deck is better now than it was then, I don’t really know, but I recommend proceeding with caution if you want to play this deck now.

I started Day Two off at pod 1. It wasn’t the toughest pod 1 for a Pro Tour Day Two—in fact it was almost certainly less difficult than my first pod—but it did have some names I recognized. EFro is never an easy out, and a few of the other players had had some recent Grand Prix success.

As it was, Don van Ravenzwaaij drafted by far the best deck in the pod, with 3 [card]Sunhome Guildmage[/card] and at least 2 [card]Mugging[/card]s. After getting through two pretty poor RUG decks (though the second was full of rares), I would have to meet the End Boss with all the Guildmages.

In game 1, he browned me through my very fine draw. Since I didn’t think he had a way to kill it, I decided to pull out the drastic measures and board in my [card]Firemane Avenger[/card] I had decided not to splash. Though I did beat him with it in g2, he really just got screwed and flooded the next 2 games and we didn’t really get to play Magic.

I started off the next five rounds of Constructed with an in-house match against EFro’s Naya beatdown deck. G1 was incredibly close, but I had a lot of tools to work with and managed to stablize by the skin of my teeth. G2 and G3 he just crushed me with sideboard cards, though I felt like I could have probably taken some better lines in g3, as nothing I did worked out the way I wanted.

I then played eventual champion Martell playing with The Aristocrats. This had the potential to be a very good sign for me, as I had beaten Martell in the swiss of both PT Paris and GP Indy, the two previous major tournaments I had won. Although, I wasn’t too happy he had a chance to crack my perfect 5-0 record against him.

In game 1 we both had good draws, but I was on the play and won pretty easily. Game 2, he took two mulligans and missed land drops, and I won again pretty easily. G1 of this matchup seems pretty bad for the aristocracy, but they can make some gains after sideboarding.

Next, I faced Melissa. The Bant deck may have improved numbers against aggro decks with their [card]Centaur Healer[/card]s, but they definitely so at the cost of their control matchup. I had better draws than she did, and the games really weren’t close. I did mill her with a [card]Drowned Catacomb[/card] towards the end of game 1, when I had out 2 [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card]s and 12 or so lands. I was under no pressure and was going to deck her very easily whether I milled 6 or 9 cards a turn, but I just hit 12 mana and somehow in my head decided that meant 3 mills.

Fortunately, it was pretty clear that it was an accident, and the judges just shuffled in the 3 cards and gave me a warning. Sorry again, Melissa.

After some draws with Owen and Joel, I had locked up the #1 seed. That left me as the second-most invested person in the room in the tie-breaker sweat for 8th between Roberto Gonzalez and sMann. I was rooting for Gonzalez, as Jund isn’t a matchup I was especially excited for, largely because you have to play way more post-sideboard games in a PT Top 8.

In game 1 they have a bunch of fairly dead removal, but add a bunch of great sideboard cards against Esper. Gonzalez on UWR was a matchup I greatly preferred.

Magic is a game of variance and small edges, of course, so I ended up actually beating sMann’s Jund in the Top 8 before falling to Joel’s UWR in a tough 5-game set in the semis. I don’t think I played very well in game 5. There was no one obvious punt or anything, but I lost with too many cards in hand and let myself take too much damage. He [card]Boros Charm[/card]ed me early, and quickly identified the type of game we would be playing better than I did. Kudos to Joel for outplaying me to make the finals. On the one hand, the variance side of Magic doesn’t really bother me, and this loss will always sting me since it was mine to win. On the other, it always restores some of my faith in Magic when I lose a game and feel outplayed instead of just outcarded. Congrats to Joel and PT Gatecrash champion Tom Martell, alongside everyone else who put up a strong performance.

Ben Stark

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