The Pro Tour... err, the Mythic Championship, is a huge deal to me.
When I started playing Magic, it was in the ancient days where Arabian Nights was about to come out, and we were sharing Beta cards with the store owners who brought them back from somewhere. Magic quickly became a huge part of my social circle, and soon, we were all building (very bad) decks. I remember playing in my first tournament, a tiny store tournament where I got second place with what was, technically, a truly horrible deck, losing to someone who had an actual deck in a room where everyone else's deck was horrible too, just more horrible than mine.
It was thrilling to be playing in a competition with Magic. I was in high school, and I thrived on competition. I was a cross country and track star, I was in debate (policy, not Lincoln-Douglas) and forensics, I did "High Quiz Bowl" and Academic Decathalon, and then I also did traditional Korean martial arts at an incredible school in town, and intramural sports as well.
Then, I went to college at UW-Madison, and something happened.
I couldn't find a competitive outlet that felt good.
Two phenomenal runners from my high school, the Agger twins, were two years ahead of me, and easily the best runners I'd ever known. But as juniors in college, they were in the JV of their cross country team, and I was nowhere near as competitive as they were. It was disheartening to look at this competitive sphere of my life and feel like there was no way I'd be able to compete at an elite level.
I still loved Magic, but I viewed it as just a great game. I tinkered, I brewed, and I had a blast.
Then, one day, I found out about the Pro Tour. A crew of the best Madison guys were going to a Pro Tour Qualifier, and they invited me along. We drove the "long" four hour drive to Minneapolis to try to qualify for Pro Tour Atlanta.
I was so excited! I had been invited by the four best guys in town - Jim Hustad, Darrell Wyatt, Kevin Mergen, and Don Schamun - to join them to the tournament. It was a Limited PTQ, and I wasn't at all surprised that all four of them made the Top 8; Jim would win it. I was wildly disappointed in my 3-3, but excited to be in such an elite crew.
And I was hooked. This huge world of competition was available, there were goals that felt incredible difficult but also achievable. The game was so rich, and if I did well, I could have stronger and stronger competition! This was damned exciting.
Just a few months later, I made my first deck that would qualify someone else for Pro Tour Dallas, a cool Control deck in Ice Age/Alliances Constructed. For the next qualifier season after that, I was knocking on the door of Top 8s, and I'd built a local crew of people who were working together on Magic, most notably my friend of now over two decades, Brian Kowal. Later that year, I would Top 8 an important tournament to me, the Wisconsin State Championship, run by Steve Port (of Legion Supplies fame) and won by Rob Castro, our first State Champion, and the only person to beat me in that tournament that year.
Then, one year and thirteen days after my first PTQ, I would achieve my first PTQ win. Along with me were some of those friends, Brian Kowal and Jim Hustad, the event was again run by Steve Port, and I was piloting my adaptation of a deck that was really incredible - the Mono-Blue Tempo deck designed by my now friend, then friendly rival, Ronny Serio. It was an exciting tournament - I didn't lose a match, and my other deck, an adaptation of Elihu Feustel's so-called "Elipoise" deck (Sands of Time/Equipoise) also made Top 8 in the hands of a very young Dustin Stern.
I was excited to share my results with the world, but was hugely overshadowed by Brian Kibler's win with the same deck - including my hot tech, Serrated Biskellion! - at one of the first Grand Prix, Grand Prix Toronto.
From there, the Pro Tour opened up. I did horribly at my first Pro Tour, the Pro Tour Chicago that another rookie, Randy Buehler, would win. But I met a huge number of people. Pro Tour villain, Mike Long, took a donut without asking when I offered some to my friend Bob Maher. I met Gab Tsang when we shared a crash pad with a mutual friend, Andrew. I played people from all over the world. And mostly lost.
It was incredible.
I would miss out on the next Pro Tour, in Germany, but I would make it back the Pro Tour after that, designing my classic deck, Baron Harkonnen ("The Baron"), and then getting the inspiration to form Magic's first think tank, Cabal Rogue, a non-team of awesome thinkers who came up with some incredible decks you may have heard of like Stompy, The Rock, Junk, Secret Force (the first competitive Natural Order deck), Curiosity Blue, Five-Color Blue, and many, many more.
Many of us weren't the greatest players - I certainly wasn't - but we had great ideas, and we banded together to help each other succeed, and we made a huge impact on the game that I'm very proud of. If you know names like Mike Flores, Jamie Wakefield, Brian Kowal, Mike Donais, and Sol Malka, you might remember some of the original members I brought together for Cabal Rogue.
I've been on the Pro Tour not generally because of excellent play, but because of my ideas. I've been off the Pro Tour generally because of not excellent play. To steal from an ancient St. Louis player, I would phase on and off the Pro Tour.
So, here we are. The "Pro Tour" is over. Now we have Mythic Championships replacing them.
This first one is in Cleveland.
Here are the decks I've considered playing enough that I got the cards for them; I am not going to share the exact 75, but I do want to share the stock lists, and why I considered them. As I write this, I need to submit my exact 75 cards by tonight, and it will definitely be one of these decks.
Jeskai Hybrid Control | Guilds Standard | Adrian Sullivan, 1st Place, Grand Prix Milwaukee
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- Instants (16)
- 1 Settle the Wreckage
- 1 Shock
- 1 Spell Pierce
- 2 Dive Down
- 2 Ionize
- 2 Syncopate
- 3 Expansion // Explosion
- 4 Opt
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Treasure Map
This deck is great.
Or rather, it was great.
Niv-Mizzet, Parun is a monster. When you're playing this card, it feels entirely unfair. There are many decks that simply cannot win if you have this card in play, including decks that might otherwise be able to push over nearly any other position. It feels gross to have this card and untapped mana, and typically an opponent loses the turn you attack with it.
The mana got a huge boost with Hallowed Fountain in Ravnica Allegiance. The worst part about this deck in Milwaukee was that the mana was fairly bad because you needed all of the White-producing lands you could muster even though you didn't want the Blue-Red mix that that created. Hallowed Fountain entirely fixes this problem, and solves the most unsettled part of the deck.
Frankly, I know the deck really well.
The metagame has not been kind to this deck. Esper Control is far better at fighting this deck than the older control decks in the Guilds of Ravnica Standard could. Red, already a tough matchup, is stronger than ever, and White also got a huge boost. Blue decks like the Curious Obsession craze, have gotten one of the hugest boosts of them all, with Pteramander created a faster end game position with yet another huge creature that is hard to handle.
It has a lot to overcome.
The next deck I came to I came to because of Magic Arena.
I started streaming, and early on when I had actual Constructed cards, my pool of cards was quite limited. Red was one of the first decks I could build.
Frankly, it was great to play with aggressive Red. I haven't done it as much as I used to, and it was just a joy to light people up.
Mono-Red Aggro | Allegiance Standard | VitorBessa, 5-0 Competitive Standard League
- Creatures (18)
- 2 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 4 Viashino Pyromancer
- Enchantments (2)
- 2 Experimental Frenzy
- Lands (20)
- 20 Mountain
The deck just packs a wallop and is fantastically positioned against a deck like Mono-Blue with Curious Obsession. Fast, surprisingly large creatures can get out of hand and the massive amounts of burn spells make for a naturally powerful fight against small dudes. In other matchups, they just amount to a quickly finished game.
In addition, the deck has a surprising long game. Light Up the Stage does wonders for the longevity of the deck's play, and Experimental Frenzy can easily run away with games without much difficulty. The interplay of the two is especially powerful in a way that doesn't include the 'nombo' that was presented when Risk Factor was in the mix.
Even these days, it seems like the very first deck people test against is often Red. While still less true than it used to be, it does mean that people generally know exactly what they need to do to win the matchup without anything that can truly be done to surprise them. This means that you will often automatically lose to a player that cares to beat you unless you successfully curse them with bad luck.
One of the natural ways to do this is to put the deck on the defensive, a position that Red is typically bad at winning from. Another way is to have powerful, incidental lifegain. With Sultai and Golgari in the mix, Wildgrowth Walker is the nightmare card that can just make you feel like burying yourself in pillows and blankets until you wake up.
The first deck that I got serious about was definitely Mono-Blue Curious Obsession.
I've always loved this as an archetype, and basically anytime a Curiosity-variant is legal, I work on this deck. It has definitely been a front-runner the moment it became clear that combo-oriented decks were going to be in the world of Ravnica Allegiance Standard.
Mono-Blue Aggro ("George") | Standard | Robert Wagner-Krankel, 1st SCG Open Dallas
- Creatures (19)
- 3 Mist-Cloaked Herald
- 4 Merfolk Trickster
- 4 Pteramander
- 4 Siren Stormtamer
- 4 Tempest Djinn
- Sorceries (3)
- 3 Chart a Course
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Curious Obsession
- Lands (19)
- 19 Island
This is a hell of a deck, copying entirely the list that Alexander Hayne published on Twitter after he smashed everyone on Magic Arena with it.
Everyone has come to learn one major strength: in over a quarter of games, the deck can present an "I win" scenario on turn two by attacking with a creature wearing a Curious Obsession. While it isn't unbeatable, it usually feels pretty horrifying to be on the receiving end of this opening.
In addition, the deck is remarkably resilient, despite having so many tiny creatures. It is like an incredible jiu-jitsu expert, able to adapt to a widely diverse set of situations and turn from defensive to aggressive and back again in an impressive display of versatility. Games can end early, but they can also end on incredibly late turns even against strong controlling opponents.
The deck is excellent at beating up on slow decks; if you are a deck that doesn't like Negate, I have bad news for you when it comes to "George" - he's going to get curious all over you.
This deck still relies on an awful lot of small creatures. Against a deck that is dedicated to fighting on this axis, it can be pushed to submission and need to string together an impressive array of cards to deal.
In addition, with such a low land count, the deck relies on the Alan Comer-like "Turbo Xerox" effect to get to play its cards; if you are unlucky with your draws, Opts, and Chart a Course results, you can sometimes choke on your low mana count.
Despite its inherent weaknesses to Blue, I found myself also exploring various Wilderness Reclamation decks that would top out with Explosion (of Expansion // Explosion fame) to win the game. The first time you cast Explosion for 10 mana on turn four, the world just looks a bit wild.
When I saw that FixEx on Magic Online had gone 5-0 three times in a row in Standard Leagues, I had to give this a spin.
Temur Reclamation | Allegiance Standard | FixEx, 5-0 Standard Competitive League
- Instants (14)
- 1 Blink of an Eye
- 2 Chemister's Insight
- 3 Spell Pierce
- 4 Expansion // Explosion
- 4 Growth Spiral
- Lands (26)
- 2 Forest
- 2 Island
- 3 Steam Vents
- 3 Stomping Ground
- 4 Breeding Pool
- 4 Hinterland Harbor
- 4 Rootbound Crag
- 4 Sulfur Falls
This deck played out so much like my old Con-Troll deck from Grand Prix Memphis 1999; you could present threats to the table, or take over the game with massive card advantage. The versatility to the deck was certainly appealing.
There was also some real raw power that felt more than a little mind-blowing. Some games would feel like an opponent was never in it at all because you were not only meeting them where they lived, but also going over the top of them in a huge way.
Sometimes it would feel like you just had too many moving parts. You'd have a ton of mana but nothing to do with it. You'd have the more expensive elements of the deck, but not enough time to do it. You'd draw the various cards you were interested in playing with, but they'd be in an awkward order.
Frankly, despite toying with it for quite a while, it was easily the deck that I had the least confidence in, entirely because I can feel like there is something powerful hear, but the specific card choices are hard to pin down so that it feels "right", in my head and in my gut.
My boy Jody Keith was crushing it with this deck,
Big Rakdos | Allegiance Standard | Jody Keith, 1st Grand Prix Memphis
- Creatures (19)
- 3 Siege-Gang Commander
- 4 Dire Fleet Daredevil
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Rix Maadi Reveler
- Planeswalkers (1)
- 1 Karn, Scion of Urza
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Lava Coil
- Enchantments (2)
- 2 The Eldest Reborn
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Treasure Map
This is a hell of a deck, and, damn, isn't it great to see someone win and have them express this kind of joy?
Jody, my brother, so glad you crushed it. I get it. You know it.
I love me a Big Red deck, and despite being called Rakdos Midrange by everyone (and to be fair, it is a midrange deck, and it is techincally Rakdos), this deck just feels like a classic Big Red deck to me. The kind of grind that this deck is able to fight is really impressive.
I talked to Jody several times in between his SCG Top 8 and his Memphis win, and the more I talked to him, the more I was sure that he was right, that this deck was, "The Real Deal".
This deck is really good at eating up creature decks. While a sluggish draw can mean it will lose to a good creature deck, overall, it is just well positioned to take them down in most games. Even Sultai can get taken down if you know how to pilot the deck in that slog-fest.
In addition, the deck is just very consistent. Rix Maadi Reveler and Treasure Map make for a ton of homogeneity in your draws, and they also help you sculpt your deck to your opponent. It feels really great to have that kind of consistency.
These are all massive, massive problems.
Regardless, I'm still ecstatic Jody overcame them.
I have a few hours to give my final 75. It will be based on one of these, and every one of these represents the decks that I considered for this event.
Today, I'm wrapping up the final choices for my sideboarding for the very first Mythic Championship in Cleveland - whether they call it the "Pro Tour" or something else, this is the kind of incredible level of competition I love. I've been so hungry to be back on "the Tour", and I plan on doing my very best to both crush it and give you all a good show.
I'll see you in Cleveland - wish me luck!
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P.S. - Is this a deck dump, Tim Aten?