Last weekend marked the return of the paper Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour, the first big paper event to bear the name since 2019. It's been a rocky road for competitive Magic in the last few years, with Covid causing issues, as well as a failed reorganization into the Magic Pro League and foray into MTG Arena as an esport.
However, things returned to a semblance of normalcy at 9am EST last Friday as they called us to our draft tables for the player's meeting of Pro Tour Phyrexia, which felt like coming home after a long and difficult journey. Make no mistake, this felt exactly like a Pro Tour of old, albeit with a smaller than average field and better than average coverage, featuring all the high level professionalism and competition one would expect from a Pro level Magic event full of the best players from all over the globe.
I won't bury the lede here... the good guys won!
My teammate Reid Duke took down the whole event, which almost feels like a scripted "too perfect" result for the Pro Tour's return, playing Izzet Creativity, the deck that 11 of the 15 members of our team played. But we'll get to that in a moment, first we need to check back on my predictions from last week!
Prediction One: Over Half Of The 6-0 Drafters Will Make Top 8
Result - False
Seeing what felt like relative parity in the Pioneer format, I surmised that despite being only 6 of the 16 rounds, draft would be an extremely important part of this event if you wanted to make the Top 8.
These three players were the only ones with perfect records in the draft portion:
- Michael Belfatto
- Riki Kamo
- Shota Yasooka
However, while Shota would make the Top 8, Michael and Riki would fall short, leaving the final result at one of the three 6-0 drafters making the cut. Close, but no cigar.
Prediction Two: Mono-Green Devotion Will Have A Sub-50% Win Rate
Result - True
Mono-Green Devotion has been the boogeyman of Pioneer for a long time now, with many folks calling for a ban as the deck does some absurdly powerful things. However, those who actually play Pioneer often know that while Mono-Green is an excellent deck, it is beatable if you are prepared.
Understandably, the field at the Pro Tour was prepared.
As per Frank Karsten's always wonderful stats article from the event, we can see that the deck had a 46.6% win rate over a large, almost 200 match sample size. In fact, the three most played decks in Rakdos Midrange, Gruul, and Mono-Green Devotion all actually had sub-50% win rates, which is a good sign for the format.
Prediction Three: There Will Be Zero Izzet Phoenix In Top 8
Result - True
Interestingly, while this prediction was true, Izzet Phoenix did have a surprisingly high 55.6% win rate across the event. Still, no player did better than 7-3 with the deck, despite being played by a number of very high-level players.
Izzet Phoenix remains as it ever was, a medium deck favored by high level players.
Prediction Four: There Will Be An Abnormally High Amount Of Draws
Result - True
When I made this prediction, I didn't really consider how difficult it would be to quantify.
Thankfully, mtgeloproject.com Pro Tour data master ajlvi came to the rescue!
The average draw percent in Pro Tours and Mythic Championships since Pro Tour Return to Ravnica is .84%, and the percent of draws at Pro Tour Phyrexia was 1.01%. The numbers don't lie!
Prediction Five: A Member Of My Team Will Make Top 8
Result - Double True!
Hail to the champ!
the team is 10% of the field with that roster and you predict one person will finish top 8? I hope you didn't lean too far out of the window there, Jim ... :)— Kai Budde (@kaibudde) February 17, 2023
When I made this prediction, all time Magic great Kai Budde chimed in that I was probably underselling my team, as it was so packed with star power that predicting only one to make Top 8 was definitely lowballing.
As usual, one of the best to ever do it was correct.
Both Reid Duke and Gabriel Nassif would make Top 8 with our team's Izzet Creativity deck, with Reid taking down the whole event in stunning fashion. As a team we had a 58% win rate with the deck, Jakub Toth and Brent Vos were both in Top 8 contention until the very last rounds, and many of us got the required 9 wins necessary to requalify.
Not too bad!
So, all and all, four out of five ain't bad!
While you always want to win any tournament you play, seeing teammates do well is the next best thing. Seeing Eli Kassis and Jakub Toth come in 2nd and 3rd at Worlds made my 5th place on tiebreakers not sting nearly as bad, as did watching Reid hoist the Trophy last Sunday.
However, my own event wasn't half bad either.
It all started about one week prior to the Pro Tour itself, when I joined my Worlds Team and the CFB team in an apartment about two miles outside of Philadelphia for the Pro Tour testing house.
It's hard to overstate my gratitude for the chance to work with such a decorated and talented group of Magic players, and what would follow would be a week of non-stop Constructed practice, practice drafts, and team meetings going over spreadsheets and data. It was a crazy week completely divorced from reality and the rest of the world, and an intense but ultimately awesome experience.
This of course led up to the Pro Tour itself, which started off with a near disaster in draft pod one. Some awkward signals and weak packs left me with one of the worst decks I have ever drafted in this format, just a pile of Red and Blue cards with no real cohesion or upside.
Draft One | Pro Tour Phyrexia | Jim Davis, 2-1
- Creatures (14)
- 1 Bladegraft Aspirant
- 1 Cacophony Scamp
- 1 Exuberant Fuseling
- 1 Forgehammer Centurion
- 1 Furnace Punisher
- 1 Furnace Strider
- 1 Gitaxian Raptor
- 1 Glistener Seer
- 1 Ichor Synthesizer
- 1 Meldweb Curator
- 1 Meldweb Strider
- 1 Quicksilver Fisher
- 1 Shrapnel Slinger
- 1 Vulshok Splitter
- Enchantments (1)
- 1 Mesmerizing Dose
- Artifacts (1)
- 1 Hexgold Halberd
There's a certain level of tension when it comes to drafts at the Pro Tour. You can prepare all you want, but you know going in that there are always a wide array of potential outcomes, some good, some bad. When this draft concluded I was left with the sinking feeling in my stomach that, after a literal week of putting my life on hold and doing non-stop preparation, I had just tanked my Pro Tour.
I finished filling out my deck sheet, got my lands, and as I sat there sleeving my deck I had a bit of an internal pep talk with myself:
"I'm just going to 2-1 this draft. I'm going to play well, hit my spots, get lucky when I need to, and put this draft behind me."
And that's exactly what I was fortunate enough to be able to do.
Moving on to Constructed, I'd have a smooth run with our Izzet Creativity deck, losing only one round to finish the day an excellent 6-2.
Izzet Creativity | Pioneer | Pro Tour Phyrexia 46th Place | Jim Davis
- Instants (25)
- 1 Dig Through Time
- 1 Secrets of the Key
- 1 Spell Pierce
- 1 Valakut Awakening // Valakut Stoneforge
- 2 Spikefield Hazard // Spikefield Cave
- 3 Make Disappear
- 4 Big Score
- 4 Fiery Impulse
- 4 Fire Prophecy
- 4 Impulse
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Indomitable Creativity
- Enchantments (5)
- 1 Shark Typhoon
- 4 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki
- Lands (24)
- 2 Mountain
- 1 Hall of Storm Giants
- 1 Otawara, Soaring City
- 2 Shivan Reef
- 2 Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
- 3 Mutavault
- 3 Riverglide Pathway
- 3 Spirebluff Canal
- 3 Stormcarved Coast
- 4 Steam Vents
While not exactly reinventing the wheel or anything, our Izzet Creativity deck was an excellent mix of surprise value as well as being well-positioned for the field we expected at the event. It had an excellent matchup against Gruul, as well as fine matchups against many of the other top decks. We all disagreed slightly on the number of Mutavault as well as a sideboard slot or two, but for the most part all were on the exact same deck.
Day two would start with another draft, and there was comfort in knowing it couldn't possibly go worse than the first!
While I'd start with Bladehold War-Whip, I'd end up second picking a Cinderslash Ravager, moving into Green, and picking up a bunch of late Blue cards. The final deck was full of uncommons, a nice bomb rare in Argentum Masticore, good mana, and more removal than your average Blue/Green deck.
Draft Two | Pro Tour Phyrexia | Jim Davis, 2-1
- Creatures (15)
- 1 Argentum Masticore
- 1 Cinderslash Ravager
- 1 Copper Longlegs
- 1 Dune Mover
- 1 Gitaxian Raptor
- 1 Ichorspit Basilisk
- 1 Predation Steward
- 1 Thrummingbird
- 1 Urabrask's Anointer
- 2 Rustvine Cultivator
- 2 Tainted Observer
- 2 Trawler Drake
- Sorceries (1)
- 1 Thirsting Roots
- Enchantments (3)
- 3 Mesmerizing Dose
- Artifacts (1)
- 1 Furnace Skullbomb
Three rounds later I had myself another 2-1 and was sitting pretty at 9-3 with five rounds of Pioneer to go and the Top 8 in striking distance.
Unfortunately, the last set of Pioneer rounds did not go so well. I lost some die rolls, missed some spots, and could have certainly played better; the Pro Tour ain't easy! However, the good news is that I got the 9 wins required to requalify for the next Pro Tour, as well as finish in 46th place which was also good for a nice $2,000 consolation prize.
If you'd like to hear more about my Pro Tour experience, check out these three videos from this week, the first of which goes over the PT Testing House and Pro Tour as a whole with lots of fun pictures, the second looking deeper into my drafts, and the third a fun short Q&A with my teammates:
Back On The Train
It's not lost on me that having the best success of my Professional Magic career now, as a semi-washed up and retired Pro Magic player turned full-time content creator for the last 5+ years, is quite amusing. Back when I was full-time, all-in on Pro Magic and playing tons of Pro Tours in the late 2000s, I would have killed for results like these. Now? They're just a nice bonus on top of the fact that I have the best job one could imagine.
I'm also super thankful and humbled to have the opportunity to work with this ridiculously talented lineup of all time greats of the game. I'm looking forward to seeing how we can do at Pro Tour March of the Machine, though it will be hard to top this one!