It feels weird to say that Pro Tour Amonkhet was disappointing despite my Top 8 finish, but that’s how I feel. Not winning when you’re so close is tough, true, but the real reason I feel that way is because our team didn’t perform well as a whole. CFB Ice is now on the brink of elimination despite finishing in the Top 2 during the Team Series soft launch, and Face to Face also had a relatively weak Pro Tour. So where did it all go wrong?
PV released a video right after the Pro Tour on Sunday afternoon and Mike Sigrist wrote an article discussing where we went wrong. With such a talented team, it’s hard to give up and admit defeat when it comes to breaking a new format—these are the same people who designed Caw-Blade, Modern Eldrazi, G/W Tokens, and U/R Ensoul. They have a rich history of playing incredible PT decks that few, if any, other teams were able to find.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case the last couple of Pro Tours. Gideon and Saheeli were too strong, and now Gideon and Marvel are in the same boat. Sure, you could play Torrential Gearhulks or the Zombie hordes, but there wasn’t room to “break it.” This is a large part of the reason several team members ended up playing G/B Rites.
This deck did some cool things, and it did many of them well. Bontu was a great card against Gideon, and Yahenni could completely stop you from being attacked on the ground. Being able to “combo off” with a Zulaport Cutthroat or flip a Westvale Abbey that few players had answers to was also appealing.
The G/B Rites deck had a reasonable matchup against Mardu, and could certainly beat control decks, but the results weren’t outstanding in either case. Coupled with a perceived poor Zombies matchup and a weak matchup against Marvel, I didn't like the idea of playing the deck. That said, I was really close to registering it anyway just because there was so much time invested in it, others were higher on it than I was, and it had a fully fleshed out game plan and sideboard plan.
Luckily for me, I wasn’t the only one who was pessimistic about the Rites deck, and I got to brainstorm alongside two Magic players for whom I have tremendous respect in PV and Siggy. They were both interested in Marvel, specifically a list similar to the one I favored. The Temur Marvel deck Kentaro Yamamoto had done well with and that had won an MTGO PTQ looked exactly like what I wanted to be doing. I was down on Servant of the Conduit already due to the prevalence of Fatal Push, and adding Censor and Glimmer of Genius gave the deck interaction, flexibility, and ways to find key pieces.
It was after 11 p.m. on Thursday and the three of us still weren’t fully locked on Marvel. Scouring MTGO lists to try to improve a stock sideboard is a pretty daunting task, and we made sure not to deviate too far from the original list as we hadn’t had much testing with the sideboard. We did make sure to add a 4th Ulamog, a cycling land (since we were already playing 22 lands plus 4 Attune), and some strong anti-Zombie sideboard cards in the form of Radiant Flames and Chandra, Flamecaller.
In the end, this is the list we registered for the Pro Tour:
Eric Froehlich, Top 8 - Pro Tour Amonkhet
I’ve been asked many times what changes I would make going forward, and that’s never been a more difficult question for me to answer. I played more games of Magic with decks I didn't play in the tournament than I did with this one. It’s only a few cards different from lists that performed very well, and we did enjoy some success with it, so I think it’s a good starting point. There was no card that underperformed greatly for me, but for the first time I can remember after having success in a tournament, I think I would start with someone else’s list before my own:
Yuuya Watanabe, 2nd - Pro Tour Amonkhet
I love many things about this list, but I have some concerns. Going down to 2 Whirlers seems right to me, as I often boarded it out. I really wanted a main-deck Negate, and I think it would have performed well. With the rise of Zombies, however, the choice of Dissenter’s Deliverances over Magma Sprays looks like it wouldn't work out. I absolutely love the Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and wish I'd had that card in my deck during the tournament.
As for the sideboard, I really dislike Bristling Hydra in this type of deck and I’m surprised to see them included over the usual Torrential Gearhulks. I would rather increase my number of Chandra, Flamecaller than cut her entirely, but it appears Watanabe's team may have missed that card in testing. Going up to 4 Tireless Trackers is fantastic against many anti-Marvel sideboard plans. Shielded Aether Thief is interesting if it can perform against Zombies, and could swing that matchup toward Marvel in the sideboarded games.
Ceremonious Rejection was another late addition we made to the sideboard for the mirror and it was amazing. The matchup plays out in a weird way, as you don’t want to cast your Rogue Refiners and Tireless Trackers on time when you’re on the draw or stalled on mana, since your opponent could just play Marvel. Deliverance mitigates this, so that could still work out well for Yuuya’s version, but I did Reject some Ulamogs as well in the tournament. Tapping down to 1 mana and having Rejection when they think the coast is clear can be blowout, and you should consider it for your sideboard to beat Marvel.
The Draft portion started well. I first-picked a Merciless Javelineer, one of the best uncommons in the set, and was mono-black with 2 Gravediggers and some solid cards after pack 1. I continued to get solid cards pack 2, but they were a little slow. In pack 3, I saw many early packs with 4-5 black and red 2- or 3-drops, as well as an extremely powerful card. These cards included Merciless Javelineers #2 and #3, as well as a Deem Worthy. I ended up wheeling none of these low-drop cards, and wound up with a high power level deck with a terrible curve.
I managed to use my powerful cards to win the first game of the tournament, but my opponent curved 1-drop into Bloodrage Brawler into Rhonas on the play game 2, so that wasn’t very close. Game 3 was a weird one, as I played Dune Beetle into Cursed Minotaur, while he attacked with his turn-2 Bloodrage Brawler. I blocked with my menace creature, binned it, and he went to his main phase to play a land before realizing his attacker had actually taken lethal damage. His hand turned out to be a bunch of pump spells and no other creatures, so while I played around the Heaven // Earth I saw in the Draft, my Dune Beetle army eventually took down the game.
The next 2 rounds were also victories—I never faced a fast start and my powerful cards had time to do their work. My third match was particularly close as a Drake Haven nearly took me down, but going all-in on one of my Merciless Javelineers ended up being lethal.
3-0'ing the Draft is an amazing feeling, but it’s also uncomfortable when you know you’re going into a format without many reps with your deck. It didn’t feel any better after I lost a super tight 3-game Temur Marvel mirror match to Michael Majors in the first round of Standard. I didn’t feel especially strong navigating the matchup, and I’m sure I made some mistakes. The game boiled down to me having a Marvel with 5 energy for multiple turns, but being completely unable to find another energy or a Negate before his Confiscation Coup stole my Marvel. With so many energy cards boarded out, this wasn’t unexpected, and the Coup was incredible. I built up to 9 lands with Ulamog in hand, but came up short on a couple critical turns before he put me away.
The rest of the rounds went better than could ever be expected, as I beat Temur Marvel-less Energy and G/B Delirium before facing a pair of near 60-card mirrors against Yuuya Watanabe and Jacob Wilson. Both of them ended up mulliganing a ton as my luck continued to 7-1 the day. Interestingly enough, my round 7 match against Yuuya was not featured, and we were seated directly next to Yamamoto and Shota who were also not featured. All 4 of us were playing nearly identical decks, and I used my free time while Yuuya mulliganed or thought about his plays to check in on their match and try to learn as much as I could! Nothing like getting to watch the best to learn all you can for the Pro Tour.
At 7-1, I was drafting in pod 1 in the featured Draft for the 2nd time in 3 PTs. The last time, I was 8-0 in Kaladesh before rolling off a quick 0-3 to spiral my PT away. In many ways, this felt like it would be similar.
I started with a Scaled Behemoth into a Champion of Rhonas. My 3rd pick gave me the choice between Hooded Brawler and Nissa. I firmly believe that Hooded Brawler is the better card and Nissa really isn’t even good. I would certainly play her in a G/U deck, but she's not a bomb and I didn’t have much interest in deciding my second color based on such a mediocre card. Brawler, on the other hand, is fantastic in any green deck. Unfortunately, this could solidify someone on my left into my colors if they considered Nissa a bomb, but there wasn't much I could do about that.
I picked up a Decimator Beetle, but was floundering finding my second color. I hoped to be black, pick up on some of the G/B synergies, and be rewarded with how open black appeared to be in pack 1. It didn’t really come together, and I had some tough picks, including passing a Prepare // Fight and Insult // Injury in pack 3. I didn’t prioritize fixing at all, and ended up being punished. My G/B deck was mediocre, featuring some Watchful Nagas and a couple Synchronized Strikes but again lacking a solid curve. Luckily, my late game of Behemoth and 2 Greater Sandwurms, especially with the Champion of Rhonas, was more than capable of winning games.
I managed to defeat Oliver Oks in the first round thanks solely to Shed Weakness doing work. In game 1, I had one card in hand and just a Forest untapped. My Ornery Kudu had a single counter on it, and I also had an Initiate’s Companion and Oashra Cultivator untapped (along with a tapped Champion of Rhonas). Oliver had several cards in hand, 5 mana, and a Merciless Javelineer and Minotaur Sureshot ready to attack.
Oliver cast Splendid Agony to kill my Companion and shrink my Kudu before attacking with both his creatures, leaving 2 mana open. I blocked Kudu on Javelineer and Cultivator on Sureshot, hoping for a pump in combat. I got him to commit and the Shed Weakness both saved my Kudu and ate his Javelineer, putting me back into the game.
In game 3, I exerted a Champion of Rhonas to put Decimator Beetle into play, despite having 5 lands to cast it and no other creatures in hand. Instead, I used my mana to put Cartouche of Ambition on my Beetle and shrink his Javelineer (he actually had the exact same board with Javelineer, Sureshot, and 5 mana). On his turn, he activated Javelineer on my Beetle, giving it a second counter to shrink it to 3/4, put Consuming Fervor on it, and attacked me for 8 damage, putting me 10 life. He then cast Fling, throwing Javelineer into my Beetle before it could grow itself, shrink his team, and gain me a ton of life. My Shed Weakness then saved the giant lifelinker, and the match was mine.
Because we were the featured Draft, we had the option to exchange deck lists before each round. We declined to do so in the first round since we had no idea what anyone could be playing, but I had access to the lists the next 2 rounds. Pierre Dagen’s deck didn’t come together, and he mentioned he was worried about following my trajectory from Kaladesh after starting 8-0. I knew exactly what tricks I needed to play around, and I was able to set up great opportunities for my Cartouche to be effective. My Greater Sandwurms were too much for his deck full of 2-power creatures to handle, and I moved to 9-1.
Fennell had only lost a single game in the tournament to this point, sitting at 10-0, and his Bant list looked nearly impossible for me to beat: Glyph Keeper, Angler Drake, 2 Prepare // Fights, 3 Cartouche of Strength, some bounce spells, good mana ramp, and Pull from Tomorrow plus 2 Spring // Mind for the late game. It was a nightmare for my sluggish G/B deck with a few combat tricks, although I could hope to steal games on the back of Scaled Behemoth or the Sandwurms.
Game 1 I already looked to be in trouble as he didn’t block either of my 4-power creatures with his 5/5 when I attacked turn 5. This strongly signaled Prepare // Fight, and I ended up not playing another creature post-combat to leave up Synchronized Strike and Shed Weakness (since even with the pump spells I could only get him to 2 life that turn, and he would be able to kill my guy and gain 14 life on his turn). He ended up having the Prepare // Fight and all 3 colors of mana, so the game was never really winnable. The most interesting thing to happen was when I cast a pump spell in response to Cartouche of Strength targeting my guy and he ended up binning his creature—he clearly didn’t know that the fight trigger is may ability, and with 3 of the powerful commons in his deck (as well as 2 Prepare // Fight), I figured my best chance was to board in 3 additional pump spells, so that’s what I did.
The interaction came up again, and it gave me a pretty big advantage going forward. In game 3, he ended up targeting his own Glyph Keeper so he could Cartouche it, and a pump spell from me sent it to the graveyard. Decimator Beetle ended up doing massive work, especially with pump spells to make sure it couldn’t get eaten by fight spells, and I managed to win a tight match.
Back to Standard, and I'm feeling incredible as I’ve never been 10-1 in a Pro Tour before. At this point I knew I'd have a reasonable chance to Top 8 with just a 2-3 record, and 3-2 would all but lock it up. That was going to be easier said than done, though. In both rounds 12 and 13, I managed to win game 1 before losing the match. One of these involved an Ulamog being the 7th card on a Marvel spin that would have ended things in my favor, and a series of unfortunate and close events. Back down to 10-3—a great record, but tough to stomach after losing two close matches.
I managed to defeat Ray Perez in the mirror before being paired against Ken Yukuhiro. I had no idea what he was playing, but it turned out to be G/B Energy, perhaps my best matchup in the entire field. It was a feature match, but off camera, and game 1 was probably the best game of Magic I’ve ever played. He curved out to an early lead, and I had to play the game in such a way that I went down to 1 life and used all of my mana and energy every turn just to try to claw back into it. It ended up working out, and I took game 1.
Games 2 and 3 were a different story. I stumbled on mana, didn’t find the cards I needed, and fell behind to his Walking Ballistas, Snakes, and Rishkars. A key Blossoming Defense for my removal spell put him further ahead, and I had to hit Ulamog on my Marvel to take the match. I found it... but only as the 7th card down when I checked the top of my library after extending the hand in defeat.
At 11-4 I was in 7th place, so my match against Seth Manfield would be huge. He was playing the Temur Marvel deck that defeated me earlier in the hands of Michael Majors, but I had a bit more experience with my deck at this point and felt like the matchup was slanted in my favor for a mirror. I was playing against a world champion, though, and he played like one.
In game 1, I was able to spin a Marvel and find Ulamog while he had a Chandra ready to ultimate and a Marvel of his own. He spun and tanked for a long time, which is usually good news. In this case, he was debating between choosing his own Ulamog or a replacement Marvel, going back up to 6 energy, and spinning again once my Ulamog actually resolved. He chose the Marvel line, spun again, found another Ulamog, and exiled my Ulamog, my Marvel, and my chances of winning the game.
Game 2, things looked grim the entire way. I mulliganed and kept a speculative hand that never really developed. I could only find 4 spells in my top 14 cards, but I did draw my Ceremonious Rejection on turn 8. He had a Marvel in play, but wasn’t able to find all the energy needed to finish me off. He ended up casting a second Marvel to increase his energy count, and Rejection put a stop to that. This somehow gave me enough time to play land 10, cast my Ulamog, and steal a game that I never felt I had a chance in.
Everything worked out for me in game 3, and I found myself in the Top 8 for the 5th time in my career. I felt I had more work to do as I’ve never even made it into the finals of a PT, and still needed a win in the quarterfinals to lock up Platinum and a great shot at Worlds.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I was lucky to have teammates Sam Pardee and Ben Stark do all they could as far as sideboarding advice, but I had to mulligan every hand and just fell too far behind. I made a number of bad judgment calls and was frustrated with my play. I think that was a great matchup for me, but I didn’t get the job done.
It was tough to figure out what he might have in his deck as my conversation with Ben went as follows:
Ben: “Literal no idea then.”
These cards were still in his deck in the Top 8, and they defeated me again! They definitely knew something we did not.
In the end, it was a great tournament for me, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have had another opportunity to play on the big stage. All the love and support was amazing, and it’s a true pleasure to be on such an incredible team. We have some things to work out as far as testing is concerned, but with the caliber of player and people we have, I have the highest of hopes for CFB Ice and Face to Face going forward!