Hey everyone. My last 2 weeks have been filled with Magic and travelling as I went from Lille to Atlanta to play in the GPs and the Pro Tour. Today, I’ll be going through my experience at each tournament and bringing you a small insight into how I tested for the Pro Tour.
Following GP Lille where I played Golgari Midrange to a 9-6 finish, I decided to try and explore all the other options in Standard, and with the format as healthy as it is right now, there were a lot of them. I started by trying to find which decks were good against the Golgari menace, and where better to look than the top 8 decks from both Lille and New Jersey.
The first thing I explored was the Izzet Phoenix deck that had been gaining popularity on Magic Online and looked good in action. Starting with the list piloted by Arne Huschenbeth in Lille I played 3 leagues of Standard online every night until I flew out to Atlanta, but my results with the deck were lackluster and I couldn’t find a build of the deck that I liked, which ultimately led to me putting the deck aside and exploring other options.
The next deck that I looked at was the most popular deck amongst the top 8 competitors between Lille and New Jersey – Jeskai Control. There are a handful of different ways that you can build Jeskai between Crackling Drake vs Rekindling Phoenix and Azor’s Gateway vs Chemister’s Insight, which allowed for some interesting testing with mixed results. After playing 2 leagues with each version I had only managed to work out that I preferred the Chemister’s Insight versions to their Azor’s Gateway counterparts. My results with the deck, however, were good enough that I knew that if I couldn’t find another deck I liked more then I at least had a good fallback option. By this point it was Wednesday night and I flew out to Atlanta early on Thursday morning to make it in time for the GP.
Grand Prix Atlanta
The GP in Atlanta was, for some reason, Modern, the week before a standard Pro Tour, and I had decided early on that I wouldn’t invest any time into Modern as I wanted to focus on Pro Tour preparation. I sleeved up my trusty Urza’s Towers and met up with Luke Southworth, Gary Campbell, Joao Choca, and Charles Eliatamby to start discussions on Standard and Limited.
R1 + 2 – Bye
R3 – Hardened Scales 2-0. Not much to say about this match as I did Tron things and cast Karn Liberated on turn 3 both games.
R4 – Infect 1-2. I walked over to the table to be faced by Kazu Negri who later top 8’d the GP. Infect is notoriously a bad matchup for Tron as the deck’s early interaction is limited and they present a very fast clock. Game 3 was a weird one where I mulliganed to 4 but Kazu couldn’t find an Infect creature for a long time, eventually finding a Glistener Elf while having a hand full of protection spells.
R5 – Tron 1-2. Again I was paired against a familiar face in Zac Elsik, this time in the Tron mirror. There isn’t too much play to the mirror since the player who goes first has an obvious edge of assembling Tron before their opponent.
R6 – Humans 2-0. After losing 2 in a row I felt pretty deflated but my opponent this round helped to cheer me up. They were on Humans which I think is a slightly favourable matchup for Tron as you have so many cards that they have to name with Meddling Mage.
R7 – Burn 2-1. Burn is one of Tron’s worst matchups and I had to get pretty lucky to win this one. My opponent stumbled on lands in game 1 and flooded in game 3 so that my mediocre draws could win in time.
R8 – Titanshift 0-2. After playing a turn 3 Wurmcoil Engine in game one and attacking with it three times, I felt safe, but a combination of ramp spells and a Scapeshift took the game from under me and a series of mulligans in Game 2 meant that I would not be playing any more Modern on this trip.
The GP was enjoyable even though I didn’t do too well, however it meant that I had an extra day to play in some Standard events and try to get some boosters to draft with.
A bit more Testing
I decided to give Izzet Drakes, Boros Aggro and Jeskai Control a go in one side event each. I went 2-1 with Boros, 3-0 with Jeskai, and 0-3 with Izzet Drakes. I had narrowed my choices down to Jeskai or Boros. My friend Joao Choca top 8’d the GP so we went out to an all you can eat Italian place for dinner before heading back to our hotel.
Monday involved some sightseeing and a trip to Coca-Cola World which had a tasting session that ended up leaving us all feeling sick, especially after tasting ‘Beverley’, which might be the worst thing I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.
Tuesday and Wednesday were mostly spent drafting in our rented accommodation for the week and we came to the conclusion that nobody knew how to draft a good Izzet deck that didn’t contain the Parun himself. Wednesday night was a frantic few hours of people scouring for cards and deciding on our last few sideboard cards before decklist submission at 11:59 PM. I ended up registering the same 75 cards as the Team Axion members Joao Choca, George Channing, and Francesco Giorgio.
Feeling happy with our Standard list we did a few more drafts on Thursday before getting some food and calling it a night.
The Pro Tour
I woke up the next morning like a child on Christmas, this was my second ever Pro Tour and I was excited to play and improve on my record of 3-5 at Pro Tour Kaladesh. We got to the venue with plenty of time and I found out that I was going to be in the 6 person pod on the last table of the tournament. This changed my mentality going into the draft as the power level of all the decks would be significantly lower than anything you will find in a regular 8 person draft. I already had a strong preference for Boros and went in with the mindset to force Boros if I could and was faced with a difficult first pick; I could take the more powerful card in Emmara, Soul of the Accord or the less powerful Swathcutter Giant. In our testing we found the Giant to overperform and given my preference for Boros and the dynamic of the 6 person draft pod I took it over the Selesnya rare. My deck ended up being reasonably good from there and I ended up with a deck that I wasn’t too unhappy with.
Round 1. I was paired against the Izzet deck at the table and I knew he had some powerful cards by the fact that he was sat to my left in the draft and I passed him a Ral, Izzet Viceroy and an Expansion // Explosion in pack 3. I had a good curve both games and he stumbled in game 2. 1-0
Round 2. I played against the other Boros drafter at the table and split 2 close games before a timely Cosmotronic Wave cleared my board in game 3 and I fell to a Fresh Faced Recruit with bad a case of Maniacal Rage. 1-1
Round 3. I got paired against the Dimir drafter at the table who’s deck appeared to be a lot more powerful than mine sporting two copies of Nightveil Predator. A Wave took down game 1 whilst game 2 saw a Ritual of Soot take out 5 of my creatures. Game 3 went longer with me able to get some damage in early with a Roc Charger and it’s friend before a Watcher in the Mist halted my attacks. The board stalled and I was able to add a Skyknight Legionaire to my battlefield and make an attack that, alongside my Sure Strike, was lethal… as long as they didn’t have a removal spell. A few moments later and I was 2-1 coming out of the first draft.
I grabbed some lunch and prepared myself for the Constructed portion whilst finding out that most of my friends had come out of the draft with a record of 2-1 or 3-0.
Round 4. I was paired against Magnus Lanntto who I assumed would be on a Boros Aggro deck, and he was. My 2 copies of Deafening Clarion weren’t good enough for game 1 but were good enough for game 2. Game 3 I kept a hand with 3 lands, 2 Deafening Clarion, 1 Chemister’s Insight and 1 Ionize ready to deal with anything that could threaten me. 2 quick copies of Adanto’s Vanguard later and I found myself at 2-2.
Round 5. I sat down and was excited to see my opponent lead with a tapped Overgrown Tomb. The GB matchup was one of the main draws towards Jeskai and specifically our version with Rekindling Phoenix. I lost a very close game 1 which involved a Find // Finality getting back 2 copies of Carnage Tyrant but I fought back in game 2 with a curve of Search for Azcanta, Ionize, Rekindling Phoenix, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Game 3 started with my opponent leading with Llanowar Elves into a Merfolk Branchwalker and Duress on turn 2 followed by Vraska, Golgari Queen on turn 3 to destroy my Search for Azcanta. A pair of Carnage Tyrants on turns 5 and 6 left my back up against the wall. A pair of Cleansing Novas helped me stabilise but a Vraska, Relic Seeker was too much to handle and I fell to 2-3.
Round 6 was against a Boros Mentor deck showcasing Legion Warboss and Boros Challenger. After splitting games 1 and 2 I found myself with a hand of 3 lands, Lava Coil, 2 Deafening Clarion and an Ionize. A turn 2 Adanto Vanguard was a problem again but I had a plan. My first two draw steps provided me my one copy of Lightning Strike and a copy of Expansion//Explosion. Every turn I threw a removal spell at the Vanguard hoping my opponent would decide to keep the Vanguard alive – and they did. I got to untap on turn 7 at 2 life with my opponent at 4. I showed them the Lightning Strike and the Expansion//Explosion to take the match.
Round 7 started with me losing the dice roll and facing a Mountain and a Fanatical Firebrand, and with mono-red being one of my worst matchups, I wasn’t optimistic. After dealing with an Experimental Frenzy I was able to stabilize with Teferi and eventually steal the game at 2 life with an Emblem and Explosion for 6 to exile all their lands. Game 2 I controlled the board by continuously tucking an Experimental Frenzy with all 4 copies of Teferi whilst a Rekindling Phoenix finished the job. I was 4-3 and ecstatic to be playing on day 2 of my second Pro Tour.
Round 8 was an uneventful match against Kelvin Chew, as all of his explores only ever found lands and Teferi took over.
I was 5-3 at the end of day 1 and we went off for some food and rest.
Day 2 started and I found myself drafting Boros again after taking some red and white cards out of weak packs before being passed a Dawn of Hope in pack 3.
Round 9 was against an Izzet Aggro deck where I had to take 3 mulligans across 2 games and never really recovered.
Round 10. I played against Bernardo Santos wielding a Sultai deck and managed to steal game 3 with a timely Cosmotronic Wave after stalling the game with Dawn of Hope.
Round 11 was against a Pro Tour champion in Wyatt Darby on a powerful Dimir deck featuring 2 copies of Nightveil Predator. Wyatt was a delight to play against and was gracious in defeat to my Raging Healer’s Hawk.
2-1 again in Draft left me at 7-4 going back into Standard and possibly picking up some extra Pro Points and maybe another Pro Tour invite if things went well.
I walked over to the table for Round 12 and saw Guillaume Matignon sat down in the other seat. Guillaume had defeated a teammate on Day 1 and was sporting the full 4 copies of Niv-Mizzet, Parun. After 3 close games I eventually fell to the powerful Dragon and the skillful pilot behind it.
Round 13 came and I played against another known player in Scott Lipp. Scott was a great opponent and after a weird game 1, in which neither of us could draw many spells, Scott dispatched me with the powerful Arclight Phoenix alongside the even more powerful Niv-Mizzet leaving me at 7-6 and unable to get another Pro Tour invite from the tournament.
Round 14 was a blur as I defeated Mono Red in under 15 minutes, the first time I had managed to finish a match so quickly in the pro tour.
Round 15 was against Sam Black on the ChannelFireball version of Boros and I got to show off the hidden mode on Cleansing Nova by destroying a Legion’s Landing, Experimental Frenzy, and a Conclave Tribunal that was hiding a Rekindling Phoenix. At this point I was 9-6, picking up an extra pro point with the chance for two if I could win the final round.
Round 16 I played against Jacob Nagro who was on the Hareruya North America deck of Dimir Control. After a Teferi avoided multiple copies of Vraska’s Contempt and took game 1, a turn 3 Thief of Sanity took over game 2. Game 3 was a rollercoaster where a Thief of Sanity took a Negate early to counter my removal spell but a Ral, Izzet Viceroy took out the Thief. Jacob missed his 5th land and I had an opening to take over the game. Draw, land, plus Ral, pick up a Disdainful Stroke and put a land in my graveyard, counter an Eldest Reborn. Draw, Land, plus Ral and find 2 more lands leaving me with no counterspells to protect the Ral besides a hope and a prayer. The second Eldest Reborn took out my Ral. My next draw step: Negate. A few turns passed and after reanimating my Ral, the emblem took the game for Jacob.
I battled hard and finished the Pro Tour at 9-7, good for 139th place and 4 Pro Points. My record was 4-2 in Draft and 5-5 in Constructed. I still have the drive to return to the Pro Tour again to prove that I can battle at the highest level.
The grind never stops. I will be in Warsaw this weekend to battle in Guilds of Ravnica Limited. Then it’s a Modern double of an RPTQ in Glasgow followed by a Team Unified GP in Liverpool, where I will be teaming with Tom Law and David Calf.
You can find me at almost every European GP and also on Twitter at @MattBrown_MTG.
Thanks for reading and good luck at your next event!