My Pro Tour Experience: The Well-Deserved 21st!
I’ve played a lot of Magic, and I have a reputation of being one of the more happy-go-lucky/crazy players in town. I’ve been playing for almost 10 years now, with more time spent in the competitive arena since I’ve moved to Portland. Within this last year, Inked Playmats has been nice enough to sponsor me! I’ve cashed a lot of Grand Prix within this last year and even have some very decent finishes, however I had never quite been able to grasp the top 8 of a Grand Prix or a qualification for the pro tour. I top 8’ed a lot of PTQ’s and have tons of wins for states and things that don’t really matter as much. I’m a blue mage at heart, I like drawing cards and being able to edge out a very long game. This past January, in one of the last Pro Tour qualifiers, I ended up winning the tournament playing Abzan for the first time. As luck would have it, the win meant I secured my first Pro Tour invite to Brussels! I owe it to my friends the most. I have both skill and luck, but without them I would never have made it to the Pro Tour: Shaun Martin and his birthday wish for me not to play a UW control deck, Jason for having cards readily available (less than 8 hours before), Sheldon for being the convincing voice of reason (you still draw a lot of cards and cast lots of threats) and having a good list. I was also happy to have two other Portlanders qualify, as well (Edward Nguyen and Gabe Carlton Barnes).
Getting ready was the next step, even though all you need was a 4-4 record to make the second day, four losses going into day 2 means that you’re going to have to win all your rounds to make it to the Top 8. Sheldon, Casey, Jason and I talked a lot about the new format and how strong a control deck could be, but never found a list we felt was good enough. The Draft PDX group had drafts firing twice a week and a standard mock tournament, which was excellent practice. I wasn’t as worried about limited as I was about standard. Luckily, I had a PPTQ before we flew out in which I made some changes to Abzan Control with Dragons of Tarkir being released and ended up winning that, too. Throughout the tournament the deck still felt amazing. Some hands had nothing but gas and others felt like no matter how bad it was you could climb back into the game. It also didn’t help that I’m a fairly stubborn person, and so when I like a deck and it does well I keep playing it until it treats me poorly. So I knew going to Brussels that I was on Abzan Control—unless I heard that it was very poorly placed, in which case I had a U/W/B control deck as back up. I landed in Brussels on Monday morning four days before the Pro Tour. I brought my mom and my girlfriend along on the trip to have a nice two week vacation. I knew going into the week before the Pro Tour that the new decks to playtest against were both GR Dragons and Atarka Red. After abysmal testing against the Atarka Red and solid testing against the GR Dragons deck, I decided that Abzan Control was the choice. Thursday brought some late night help from Jason, Casey and Sheldon. After discussing it with them, I decided to settle on the following list. I liked my deck, and that is probably one of the most important things for me.
Here is my list:
4 Abzan Charms
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Siege Rhino
4 Courser of Kruphix
1 Read the Bones
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Dromoka’s Command
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
2 Bile Blight
1 Ultimate Price
1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
4 Temple of Malady
4 Temple of Silence
4 Windswept Heath
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Llanowar Waste
2 Caves of Koilos
3 Sandsteppe Citadel
3 Drown in Sorro
3 Read the Bones
2 Dromoka’s Command
2 Dragonlord Dromoka
1 Bile Blight
1 Ultimate Price
1 Back to Nature
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
1 Garruk, Apex Predator
Day one, Draft one:
I had done approximately 8-10 drafts with Dragons and it seemed like the mana got a lot worse. I knew from previous attempts that you couldn’t force an archetype. The first pod had two real notable players: Owen Turtenwald and Sung Wak Sung. One notable thing about the pod is that it was changed to a 7 man at the last second. I opened a mediocre pack that had Stratus Dancer and an Enduring Victory (I took the Victory) only to be passed a 4th pick Dragonlord’s Prerogative and then opened a Sunscorch Regent and passed a Dromoka’s. My deck was a very mediocre UW Control-ish deck, splashing Green for Dromoka, the Eternal. My deck was very creature light. However, if I made it to the late game, my deck was positioned well.
Round 1 - Bye
WOOT! Just the way to start things off!
Round 2 - Owen Turtenwald
Game 1: I take a quick loss due to keeping a 2 lander on the draw and never finding a third.
Game 2: I hit my lands on time and my dragons plus raw card advantage end up beating him down.
Game 3: I was able to cast my Sunscorch Regent and my Dragonlord’s Prerogative to bury him with card advantage as he flooded out.
Round 3 - Sung Wak Sung
Game 1: I steal this game because he stalls on two lands and my two 3/1s deal enough to kill him.
Game 2: He finds lands and I mulligan and never hit my 3 land.
Game 3: I never find my 4th land.
Finishing 2-1 in draft with a bye with a mediocre UW deck felt great. Now on to standard!
Day One: Standard
Round 4 Gmo GW Devotion 2-0 (terrible match up for me)
Gmo wins the roll, keeps his 7 while I mulligan to 6. He ended up keeping a one lander plus two Elvish Mystic hand and my turn 2 Bile Blight makes his awkward draw even worse. He didn’t end up finding a second land until turn 5, and by then my two Rhinos packed it in for me. Game two he keeps his 7 and I mulliganed to 6 keeping a two land, Caryatid, Drown in Sorrow and Thoughseize. He plays turn one Mystic, I play Urborg and Thoughtseize, seeing two Polukranos, Nissa and Elvish Mystic. My hand is Drown, Caryatid, Read the Bones, Windswept Heath, Temple of Malady and Abzan Charm. I take a Mystic and pass. He draws sighs attacks and play Mystic pass. I draw Rhino play Caryatid pass. He sighs and attacks with both and passes. I untap, play Drown, and scry a Sorin to the top. He draws plays his second land and passes. I untap, play Sorin minus, and play Temple of Malady and pass. He draws land plays it and passes. I draw a Rhino plus Sorin attack Rhino and pass he draws and concedes.
Round 5 Esper Dragons 2-0
In my first game, my turn one Thoughtseize got his only card advantage (Dig) and gave me the heads-up about his Scorn. So I just played my spells a turn later always with one up, and he failed to find any more card advantage or a dragon to turn on his scorns and I was able to get him with Rhinos.
Game 2 was a closer game. I had gone through four Abzan Charms and two Read the Bones. I was finally able to one-for-one him while my tokens from an earlier activation of Elsepth were able to apply pressure. He was forced to finally tap some mana to cast Silumgar, the Drifting Death to steal a Vampire token, leaving me three 1/1’s and him at 1 with two blockers. I drew a Thoughtseize, cast it, he counters and I attack and he just concedes showing my 2 more counters in his hand. He mentioned that he felt like he needed to counter one of my draw spells earlier, instead of just waiting for the later game.
Round 6 Maxmillen RG Dragons 2-1
Game 3 was an insane game involving a Chandra (that’s been around too long), three Thunderbreaks and one Stormbreath. The game goes long and it gets to a crucial point where he’s at seven with three cards in his hand and is attacking me with a Stormbreath. I’m also at seven with a Vampire token tapped, Abzan Charm, Ugin (in my hand with a Hero’s Downfall) with three open mana and seven mana on the table plus a Caryatid. So I let the Stormbreath hit, go to three, Charm my Vampire with two counters, attack him and Ugin bolts him for the win!
Round 7 Roberto Sidisi Whip 2-0
These games were probably the easiest I had all day, as he missed on his wayfinder and couldn’t deal with my Elspeth game one. Game two, my Dromoka’s Command blew him out catching a whip both times.
Round 8 Will Abzhan Control 1-2
I played game one as though it was a mirror. Will let me get ahead on board and then End Hostilities closed it up for him. In game two my raw card advantage buried him. Game 3 was a real back and forth kind of game, as the mirrors tend to go. I started to flood out with lands and his Elsepth help him secure the deal.
6-2 on my first pro tour felt really good but I was more excited to go out and get some food and rest. I didn’t check my pod until the next morning when I got on site. Gabe made it at 5-3 and Ed missed on his win-and-in, finishing 3-5. I ran into Gabe the next morning who gave me a heads-up that there are some solid magic players in my pod. Unbeknown to me, I go to sit down only to find myself in the feature match area. My pod was stacked!
Day 2 Draft 2
The draft started off very well, with me opening a Rakshasa Gravecaller, but I also opened Death Wind which means I’m signaling black to Shahar. I ended up drafting WB splashing Green for Dromoka’s Command. I knew I was cutting Shahar from black really hard, but I found out later he also was on BW (his deck didn’t seem that good).
Round 9 Sung Wook 2-0 UW Featuring Dragonlord Slimgur and Ojutai
Round 10 Dan 0-2 UB Exploit
This match felt impossible, he buried me in pure card advantage and exploit value, I never stood a chance.
Round 11 Tom Martell 2-1
This match was by far the most interesting. Game 3 he’s at seven with a Summit Prowler and I have a Dromoka’s Warrior and a Reckless Imp. He also has two tapped creatures and a dash creature in his hand. I attack with both and after a lot of thinking he goes to two and I Harsh Sustenance him for the win. He told me he had a lethal swing back and I had played one Harsh Sustenance already which is why he choose not to block.
Round 12 Ken Jeskai 2-1
Game one I steal because Ken can’t keep up with my Rhino and my Dromoka’s command catch his first ascendancy. Game 2 he had morphed into the Outjai control deck and was able to dispatch me very quickly on the back of the Dragonlord. Game 3 is really back and forth with him having ascendancy in play with 3 goblin tokens and one card in hand. I deduced that he has to hit Cruise to kill me so I Thoughtseize him and his one card snagging an Outaji. I followed it up with a Drown a turn later and he never caught back up.
Round 13 Eric Froehlich 1-2
Eric has main deck Strokes which catch my first Rhino in Game 1 but can’t stop the next two which means I’m up a game! Game 2 he cast two Ascendancy and one sticks and I die shortly thereafter. We play a very intense Game 3 with me trying my hardest to play around his Stroke and I’m able to get him to one but after him playing all four Ascendancy throughout the game (me only dealing with one) I die after a Secure the Waste for three and an attack for 16 in a single turn. I went over all my notes and felt like at no point were any mistakes made on my part or possible better lines could have been found. He was a heck of an opponent and one great match.
Round 14 Ryan GW Devotion 1-2 (the way it should go)
Well game one looks like this (me losing after casting all 4 rhinos).
Game 2 I’m able to steal quickly with a turn three Rhino followed by a Drown and a Sorin. Unfortunately in Game 3 I have to mulligan to five and he makes quick work of me.
At this point I was a little defeated. Rattling off 2 losses was extremely rough especially with how day one had gone. Sheldon, Casey, Jason, Gabe and Ed did a great job of cheering me up and reminded me that two more wins is another qualification so I refocused and got ready.
Round 15 Zvi Mowshowitz Chromanticore 2-0
He was by far the funniest opponent I’ve had all weekend, game one was a lot of Mana Confluence on his side which ended up killing him and my main deck Drokoma’s Command to deal with him bestowing Chromaticore on his Silumgar, the Drifting Death. He mulliganed in Game 2 and kept a one lander with two way finders on the play and he hit his second land on turn 4, but was way too far behind to catch up.
Round 16 Bobby RG Dragons 2-0
I felt a little bad for Bobby because he seemed very defeated by the time we sat down. He just didn’t have a very positive vibe and seemed to be either unhappy with his performance or his deck. I was able to get him in two very quick games.
And that’s it! I’m qualified yet again for the Pro Tour and I even picked up 10 Pro Points. I will share something I realized throughout the Pro Tour event: Magic players are Magic players, some are better than others, but Magic isn’t totally a skill based game. Luck is a constant factor. I know a lot of people who get defeated just because they are playing a big named person or someone they view as a better player. Honestly, I just took each match one step at a time, and focused solely on winning and not on anything else. Gabe, Ed and my friends back home were probably more excited for my results after each round then I was (at the time). I tried not to get overly excited just so I could keep focused. Not that I’m saying that I was disappointed, I was just trying to stay as focused as I could. I tried my best and I made mistakes in limited, but luckily nothing that cost me any games. I owe it to my friends; Sheldon Freeksen, Casey Pordes, Jason Hillerich, Edward Nguyen, Shaun Martin and my sponsor Inked Playmats. Without them I doubt I’d even be here. THANK YOU!