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Pro Tour Journal

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Hey everyone!

Today I’m going to try something different. Rather than just document the results of my pro tour experience I will also add my thoughts and testing process leading up to the tournament. When I prepare for a Pro Tour I view it like studying for a test. Regardless of how many hours I dedicate there was always something I could have done better. Coming into the Pro Tour is always an uneasy feeling since I don’t know what the other players are bringing to the Standard portion. Afterward, I will talk about how my tournament went; what I did right and what could have been better.

Standard Preparation

Smuggler's Copter
I’m writing this on the Sunday before the Pro Tour. SCG Indianapolis has come and gone; there are no other large Standard events which means this is what the super teams will be working with the following information: Red Aggro is clearly the deck to beat coming out of SCG Indy, but is it here to stay? There are also some graveyard-based decks doing well on Magic Online.

When I choose my deck for the Pro Tour I will assume that Red is beatable. The teams that break the format will come with an under-the-radar strategy that is inherently good against Red aggro. Don’t get me wrong, Smuggler's Copter is great, but it’s no Collected Company. I’ve already built many decks with inherent strengths against Red aggro. It’s a litmus test, not the fun police.

Even though I think the talented teams will come well prepared, Red aggro will show up in droves. This is because many players deferred their Pro Tour invite from Sydney last season and Silver invites reset. I qualified for this tournament by deferring my invite from Sydney, but I also had a silver invite. My prediction is that there will be close to 500 players and not all of these are pros. Most players pick a deck based on what does the best in prior events which makes Red aggro a great choice. Some players always pick Red decks because they’re comfortable with being the aggressor. The conventional wisdom is that playing proactive strategies in an unknown metagame is a good choice which makes Red solid. If you want to come to Hawaii for a vacation, but also qualified for the Pro Tour, Red is a good choice in that case, too. If you qualified for one of your first Pro Tours and feel you need some luck to beat the world’s finest then playing Red aggro can give you the needed luck to pull out some wins. What I’m trying to say is that I expect a lot of Red for many reasons.

Here are the factors that will go into my deck selection:

  1. I’ve never been to Hawaii, but I’m only staying for five days because of work commitments. This is not a vacation for me; I want to do well in the tournament. I’m putting the work in to understand the format.
  2. Since the Red decks are very beatable, teams will come will all sorts of different decks. I think the format will be diverse so being proactive is important. How can you control what you don’t know?
  3. I like to play good cards that stand up on their own. Synergy decks aren’t my style.
  4. Interaction spells should be able to answer a wide range of threats in case a surprise deck shows up.

My ideal deck is a Jeskai Flash deck I made:


Torrential Gearhulk
It’s no secret that I love a good Jeskai Flash deck. When I play Magic I’m the most comfortable with heavy-instant decks. Torrential Gearhulk is very scary and underrated at the moment. Since Smuggler's Copter is so popular sorcery-speed removal is weak. Archangel Avacyn can flash in to block vehicles.

I went for a small Red splash with Harnessed Lightning. There are two different fast-lands in the form of Spirebluff Canal and Inspiring Vantage; it’s important my Red lands enter the battlefield untapped when I’m splashing 2-drops. There’s even more fast Red mana with Aether Hub.

There are 61 cards because Anticipate helps me hit land drops early. I only have seven cards that cost more than 4 mana so it’s all right to get mana screwed in the mid-game and just play interaction spells. The ideal end-game is to scry lands to the bottom with various spells and have Torrential Gearhulks chain into more flash bombs.

This deck is very fun to play so I would do well in Standard if it’s good against the field. I loaned the physical 75 in a local Standard event to see how it would fare. What I learned from that is it’s weak to B/G Delirium. I think B/G is going to be a popular deck because it’s powerful and many of the top-end threats are currently well-positioned. Many Standard articles are saying Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and Mindwrack Demon naturally beat Smuggler's Copter and that’s a good place to be.

Even though I try and play decks that are fun for me to play it’s also important to be realistic. This is currently the deck I would register if the Pro Tour was tomorrow:


Mindwrack Demon
That’s right. Good ole’ B/G Delirium.

I saw Ben Wienberg’s 12th place list from SCG Indianapolis and was instantly hooked. I made some changes over the last couple weeks as the metagame is developing, but the core idea remains intact.

Mindwrack Demon gets delirium quickly to make the primary 2-drop, Grim Flayer, a 4/4 that sets up future draws. This suits my play style of a controlling deck with the ability to kill quickly. There are artifacts and enchantments to make Emrakul, the Promised End cost as little as 6 mana to cast.

When I prepare for a Pro Tour I’m a fan of making my latest lists public to get as much feedback as possible. I think this is a better approach than secrecy because I work with small groups. Secrecy becomes important when teams get as large as 15.

I also like to play in local events to force myself to go over sideboard choices to make the deck more tuned. Winning or losing is less important than the overall feel of the deck. I often play practice games before an event and get crushed, but feel confident due to the fluidity of the draws. It’s important to be honest with yourself about how well the decks actually perform with wins or losses. In most cases I will beat someone in a local Standard tournament because I’ve been practicing so much. I know that my Pro Tour opponents will be well-prepared so my deck needs to be a well-oiled machine.

Limited

Aether Tradewinds
I try and read multiple articles about Standard each day to get a sense for what people are learning about the format. Limited is less explored so I need to do more practice drafts to gain experience.

My Limited testing began at the prerelease. Although the sealed format with the additional promo rare isn’t the same format as the Pro Tour I still get a feel for what the cards do in a general sense. It’s also a way to win packs to draft with local players. I think having a strong testing team of local players to provide different perspectives on new cards is extremely important.

Setting up a draft of eight people can be like herding cats, but I need as many games in as possible so it’s worth the effort. Once Magic Online releases the set it’s much easier to practice Limited.

I started with draft leagues, but quickly realized that hate drafting is a waste of time. Since you’re drafting with 8 players, but can get paired against thousands of opponents it’s better value to take cards for sideboard. This is going to be different at the Pro Tour and taking note of powerful cards being passed is key. Since this is still the Magic Online prerelease, the other players at the pod aren’t making the optimal picks all of the time.

The most important difference between Pro Tour drafts and practice beforehand is that everyone will be taking the best card nearly all of the time. More casual drafts let you end up with 26-28 playables for your deck. It’s not uncommon to cut good cards from your deck. When I have an average FNM draft deck at the Pro Tour it’s actually quite good. This is because the powerful cards get picked quickly and I need to make do with less optimal cards. Each Pro Tour specific second-rank combat tricks see play because removal is taken so highly. A couple examples of this are Jace's Scrutiny in Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad and Roilmage's Trick in Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. My pick for surprise trick that sees a large amount of play is Aether Tradewinds.

Pro Tour Retrospective

There were a few surprises in the Standard portion of the event:

  1. B/G Delirium was underrepresented. I thought this deck was great and many teams would arrive at the same conclusion.
  2. Aetherworks Marvel was everywhere. This felt like an inconsistent combo deck at best. I was surprised that so many pros would leave their fate in the top 6 cards of the deck.
  3. B/R/u madness wasn’t very popular. It looked like one of the top decks to come from Magic Online Leagues in the days leading up to the Pro Tour.
  4. The top teams didn’t come up with a surprise deck that dominated the tournament. I was aware of stock Aetherworks Marvel lists thanks to 5-0 League lists from Magic Online.

I still hit the nail on the head for some other aspects of the tournament:

  1. Red aggressive decks showed up in large numbers. It wasn’t one particular version, but I saw plenty of R/W Vehicles and R/b.
  2. Torrential Gearhulk sat at the top of the standings. Instant-speed interaction is great against Smuggler's Copter and Blue decks happened to crush Aetherworks Marvel.

I worked with Brian Demars, Max McVety, and Tyler Hill the day before the Pro Tour to arrive at this list:


All four of us played the exact 75 cards which has never happened in my entire tournament history.

There wasn’t much difference between the deck I brought and the one I registered for the event. I managed to go 8-2 with the deck — my best constructed record at a Pro Tour. This deck was very solid against everything without Aetherworks Marvel which were my two losses.

I think this deck is a great call for Standard events this weekend because more Blue decks means less Aetherworks Marvel. Most players I talked to that chose Marvel didn’t feel great about their choice. Matt Nass was the only one to top 8 and he did it off of a 6-0 limited performance. The 8-2 and better deck lists had very few Marvel lists as well.

If I were to play Delirium at Grand Prix Providence this weekend I would register this list:


Limited

This was easily the most frustrating part of the event. I did plenty of practice drafts and read the Grand Prix Atlanta coverage to see where everyone else was with the format. My first and second deck didn’t work out I got muscled into U/B Control in Draft 1 which happened to be a weak color combination. Starting out 1-2 can be disheartening, but I learned you can lose a lot of Magic and still come out with extra pro points at a Pro Tour.

The second draft was also a 1-2 deck: G/W Cards. My pods were difficult and my two wins were against people playing in their first Pro Tour. I lost four draft rounds to players I knew coming into the event.

It didn’t seem like there was a surprise breakout trick in this format and I had experience playing against all of the decks I faced in prior drafts. My main take-away from the Limited portion was that I overcame a large amount of losses to start the day and rallied to 4-1 finishes in Standard. It wasn’t easy because playing tight after getting bashed with mediocre decks is disheartening. Since the odds were against me to do well it motivated me even more. I had the chance to right the ship and I did.

I was one match away from winning a flight to Dublin which was closer than I expected throughout the tournament. I look forward to playing another Pro Tour because preparing for an unknown metagame against the best players in the world is why I still play this game.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle


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