What a long, strange trip it's been.
I remember going to my first Pro Tour in 2000, not realizing exactly how far in over my head I was. It was my fifth or sixth sanctioned Magic tournament ever, and I was playing a home brew U/W Control deck featuring Howling Mine as the card draw engine of choice (in a format where Fact or Fiction was legal). I got a bit unlucky in round 1 to unintentionally draw with a Nether-Go player who killed me in extra turns of game 2 with one card in his library, and then I proceeded to run at expectation and go 0-6 before getting the mercy bye in round 8. It is safe to say I've come a long way since then.
Now that a little over a week has passed and I had the pleasure of scrubbing out of GP Charlotte, it has finally sunk in, but it is still hard to put the feeling of lifting that trophy into words. I'd flirted with making a second Top 8 several times since Pro Tour Paris in 2011, coming up one round short three times in my last five PTs. Just breaking through that barrier and shaking Melissa's hand as we drew in round 16 took such a huge weight off my shoulders. As we tested the matchup that night and I realized how bleak things looked, all of the pressure evaporated. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself now.
Our preparation for Pro Tour Gatecrash started as soon as the spoiler was complete. Ignoring a few earlier housekeeping emails, testing kicked off on January 18th as Zvi Mowshowitz sent an email to the list looking for an opponent. Decklists began flying around, and our theory captains—Sam Black, Patrick Chapin, and Zvi—started fleshing out a metagame.
This early phase was very helpful for getting a feel for the possibilities in the format; many off-the-wall creations were thrown together and quickly discarded as we looked for powerful interactions and subtle combos. Patrick sent an email on January 21st pointing out the Boros Reckoner combo that would end up serving me well in my semifinal match. As appropriate for that stage in testing, he wanted to see how far he could push things.
This was obviously not a tuned list, but it did help us recognize how far the Boros Reckoner synergies could stretch. It set the groundwork for the Blasphemous Acts in our Aristocrats sideboard, as well as the Harvest Pyre that Matt Costa played in our U/W/R Flash deck.
Fast-forwarding ahead a week, the majority of our team descended on NYC to begin testing in earnest. In addition to the usual suspects, for PT Gatecrash we added Sam's best friend from childhood, David Heineman. This was one of the best decisions we made, as David arrived with 25+ drafts under his belt and a tremendous understanding of the format.
In one of our early drafts, he picked Shadow Slice over Soul Ransom for his aggressive Dimir deck, and several of us (myself included) couldn't believe the pick. After losing to David's decks in draft after draft, I had to admit that perhaps he was on to something, and I threw my preconceptions of the format out the window. Largely thanks to David's insights and an excellent Boros primer circulated by Paul Rietzl, I was able to overcome my historical hurdle and actually 6-0 Draft.
Constructed testing followed our usual pattern: we battled a bunch of decks against each other while waiting for Sam's inevitable Wednesday decklist. Coming into testing, I really wanted to play Esper Control; I'd spent the last two months playing it in the previous Standard format and felt very comfortable with the deck. Patrick and I went back and forth on a list, mostly consisting of me making small tweaks to his shell.
I was pretty happy with the deck, but when I finally got around to playing games, I lost something like twelve out of thirteen matches to red aggressive decks despite having a very anti-aggro sideboard. My confidence was shaken, and I couldn't see myself trying to play from behind when we were expecting a huge turnout from aggressive decks.
I then dedicated most of my time playing with the U/W/R Flash list that both Matt Costa and Andrew Cuneo were working on. It seemed to have a solid game plan and reasonable play to it.Costa is a master of the archetype so I had a lot of faith in his list. The list I primarily tested was:
I liked the deck, but I was worried it wouldn't be well positioned. Boros Reckoner is a beating against aggro decks but can give you some clunky draws; Matt was pretty sure we only wanted three. The one-of Harvest Pyre was a great find and gave us the ability to just one-shot our opponents in the late game, but we still played the Runechanter's Pike, which was pretty bad in a lot of matchups. I like Gerry Thompson's conclusion that Pyre should replace Pike instead of supplement it quite a bit. I remained on the fence with U/W/R until Cuneo defected to The Aristocrats; if he was convinced, I wasn't going to waste more time trying to decide for myself.
I also flirted with the Jund list that Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald, and Ben Seck ended up playing. The deck seemed very good, but Jund has never really been my style, so it was hard to commit to it. I audibled at the last second to playing Jund in Legacy at GP Denver, and perhaps that gave me a bias against doing so again. It is obviously a very different deck between the two formats, but the subconscious works in mysterious ways.
My indecisiveness was at its usual extreme level when Sam sent out his first list of The Aristocrats at 2 PM on Wednesday, a full seven hours earlier than usual. I quickly threw the deck together on Magic Online and started crushing two-man queues. Sam has already gone into some detail on the process behind the deck, so I will refer you to his article for more detail; my own involvement was 20 games on Magic Online followed by 20-30 sideboarded games against our Jund deck, playing from the Jund side. As we left for Montreal on Thursday morning, I decided to take the plunge and play the deck.
This was pretty unusual for me because my inability to commit to a deck borders on pathological at times. At PT Return to Ravnica, I actually brought two filled-out decklists (for Storm and Jund) and two complete decks to the site the morning of the Pro Tour and did not make my decision until the judge was standing over me asking for my list. This was not the first (or last) time I've done this, but it was extremely calming to have settled on a deck a whole eighteen+ hours ahead of time.
The morning of the PT, we assembled the crew to hammer out the last few details of the deck. I don't remember the exact back and forth on the numbers, but I advocated for only two High Priest in the maindeck, Knights of Infamy over Gather the Townsfolk, a Tragic Slip main, and either Duress or Appetite for Brains in the sideboard along with a second Obzedat and a Mentor of the Meek. I initially had zero Blasphemous Acts, and I am still not quite sure how I ended up with two; I suspect I defaulted to compromising my sideboard slots to sync up with Jon Finkel's, but I am not actually sure.
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 3 Knight of Infamy
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 2 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Skirsdag High Priest
- 2 Zealous Conscripts
Our last minute planning was eventually cut short when they posted our seating assignments for the first draft. This was the first PT that started off with Draft, and this introduced a strange phenomenon: the seven-man pods went to players who were at the "top" of the standings. Normally, the players who are doing the worst in the tournament get put into these pods, limiting the impact of the byes. Now, up to seven people would start off the tournament at 1-0 with a round 1 bye.
I was lucky enough to get into a seven-man pod, meaning I now had a safety net (as no one could 0-3) and a shot to spike the bye.
My game plan for the draft was simple: stay away from blue. I really wanted to be Orzhov or Gruul, which is a little awkward since they don't overlap in colors so it can be hard to audible between them.
I kicked off the draft with a Syndic of Tithes, one of my favorite first picks in the format. As a bonus, the pack I passed had three or four good Simic cards as well as some Dimir options. I hoped that would clear the path for me in pack 2 and keep everyone to my immediate left out of white.
I second picked a Pit Fight out of a weak pack, leaving me with the option of getting out of the way if white was cut. I followed it up with a Warmind Infantry and Skinbrand Goblin before getting a fifth pick Wojek Halberdiers that put me into Boros. I rounded out the pack with a few more playables but nothing too exciting.
Pack 2 was largely uneventful, starting off with a Mugging before picking a Rubblebelt Raiders second. The Raiders is a powerful card, but it can be awkward in Boros since it isn't easy to cast. At that point, my only white cards were Syndic and Halberdiers, so I decided to bias myself as strongly towards red as I could while also keeping my eyes out for opportunities to switch to Gruul. I actually third picked a Zhur-Taa Swine, one of my favorite Gruul commons, over a marginal white playable to keep that option open before a fourth pick Skyknight Legionnaire disabused me of that notion. From that point on, I took the cheapest Boros card out of each pack, adding a Martial Glory and Massive Raid to some red two-drops.
Pack 3 went well, giving me a first pick Mugging followed up by a Sunhome Guildmage second and a Five Alarm Fire third. I was very unsure about the Fire pick since I had never played with it myself and I remembered several people telling me it was mediocre, but thankfully I also remembered Paul rating it very highly and telling me it was awesome. It ended up singlehandedly winning me several games and was insane every time I drew it. The only unusual things from there were adding two Burning-Tree Emissary to my deck. This guy is usually quite poor in Boros because he is hard to cast and doesn't chain into any of the white two-drops, but given my heavy red skew he fit perfectly in my deck.
After the draft, I thought my deck was ok but nothing special. I sought out Paul and was very reassured when he told me the deck was quite good. It was certainly not my style for this format, but that wasn't going to stop me.
- 3 Bomber Corps
- 2 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 1 Fortress Cyclops
- 2 Foundry Street Denizen
- 1 Rubblebelt Raiders
- 2 Scorchwalker
- 1 Skinbrand Goblin
- 1 Skyknight Legionnaire
- 1 Sunhome Guildmage
- 1 Syndic of Tithes
- 1 Warmind Infantry
- 1 Wojek Halberdiers
Part of my discomfort with the deck was the three Bomber Corps—these guys had always seemed very poor to me, but I knew I had to play them to combo with my two Emissary and my Five-Alarm Fire. They ended up being serviceable, getting in for a few points and occasionally producing real value with their ping ability.
The mana was the hardest part of building the deck; I really wanted another white source, but with the two Denizen and the two Emissary, I didn't feel comfortable going to ten red sources since it could really hurt my more aggressive draws. It ended up being fine, but I frequently boarded in a Plains for a Mountain when bringing in my Court Street Denizen and Nav Squad Commandos in matchups where the Denizens weren't going to do much.
A final plug for the two Scorchwalkers: these guys overperformed almost every round. With so many cheap guys, I could frequently get ahead on board and do lots of damage early while staying ahead on creatures. This let me sneak through the final points via bloodrush in several games, including once against a Simic opponent who decided to leave up Mystic Genesis.
Coming out of the first draft at 3-0 was extremely exciting given my recent Top 8 misses all coming at the hands of subpar Draft performances. I was very excited to start playing Constructed.
I started off with a pretty easy win against Naya Humans before losing a heartbreakingly close game 3 against Naya Midrange where I ended up one point short of killing him for several turns before dying to a Hellkite. Round 6 was a camera feature match versus Brian Kibler where I demolished his very poor draws.
Round 7 was my closest match of the day as I played against my teammate Owen Turtenwald. This was somewhat unlucky since Owen had played at least 20 games in testing at the house against my list so I would not have the usual advantage of surprise against him. This ended up being decisive as he sideboarded in his two Staff of Nin, which was able to take over a very close game 2. Game 3 I lost to an unanswered Olivia, stalling on four mana with a Zealous Conscripts in hand for too long and without seeing an Orzhov charm. It was a disappointing loss, but thankfully I bounced back in round 8 and defeated U/W/R Flash.
We went out to enjoy a "quick" three-hour Indian meal at one of the slowest and most overpriced restaurants I can remember. The night was capped off by losing not one but two immediately back-to-back eight-person credit card games (both times to Kibler heads up in the finals) for $350 each. I was pretty tilted by my misfortune, but Reid "The Duke" Duke assured me that I was now a lock to make Top 8. Sam tried to help out by reminding me that at PT Paris I lost the game on Friday night for 900 euros. At the time, it was not much consolation, but in retrospect, I have a hard time getting too upset about my bad luck and almost hope I lose a big game in San Diego.
Day 2 came bright and early; I would no longer have the benefit of a seven-man pod. I narrowly missed having both Andrew Cuneo and Owen Turtenwald in my pod (missing each by one seat in either direction), leaving me with a group where I only recognized Makihito Mihara and Jon Stern.
I kicked off the draft with a Blind Obedience, a card that has always dramatically overperformed for me, over a Wojek Halberdiers and a Daring Skyjek. I think Skyjek versus Obedience is quite close and I suspect many people would disagree with me, but I went with my instincts and picked up the enchantment. Second pick I took a Killing Glare over another Wojek Halberdiers given my preference for Orzhov over Boros.
My third pick was very close, and as time was called I took a Court Street Denizen over an Undercity Informer. In retrospect, I really dislike this pick because the power level differential of the two cards is just too wide to justify hedging on my colors (I was willing to get pushed into Boros and wasn't willing to get pushed into Dimir, giving white cards a small premium), but I caved to the pressure.
Fourth pick I got a Skyjek before picking up a pretty late Skyknight Legionnaire fifth. As I made the pick, I thought to myself that I was just going to move in on Boros and hope it worked out, but this plan was short lived as pick 6 dropped a One Thousand Lashes in my lap. I slammed it and never looked back. I added a Devour Flesh seventh before rounding out the pack with a Death's Approach, a Prophetic Prism, and two Dimir Guildgates, giving me great opportunities to morph into an Esper Control deck and splash any sweet Dimir cards I saw later.
Pack 2 started off well with a first pick Ogre Slumlord and a second pick Wight of Precinct Six. My third pick was one of the hardest of the draft, and I ultimately decided to take a second Wight over a Basilica Screecher. This is not a pick I would normally make, but as I already had one Wight and a Death's Approach, not to mention the free Dimir splash waiting for me, I decided I wanted to really push the synergy and skew my later picks towards stocking my opponent's graveyard.
After the second Wight, the pack dried up quickly, and I got the impression I was being cut in Orzhov, which was disappointing. I added a Deathcult Rogue and Dutiful Thrull before being left with the scraps of a second Court Street Denizen and a Slate Street Ruffian. I did get some small gifts in two late Shadow Slices and a very late Orzhov Guildgate, but given my complete lack of evasion, I wasn't too keen on the Slices.
While pack 2 left me worried, pack 3 could not have gone better. I started off with a Knight of Obligation and then picked up a much-needed Syndic of Tithes. I was rewarded for being in the open color with a third pick Killing Glare, fourth and fifth pick Grisly Spectacles, and the icing on the cake in a sixth pick Merciless Eviction. I rounded out the pack with two Smog Elementals, a card I normally dislike but one which could end games quickly while my removal held my opponent at bay, a Syndicate Enforcer, a Psychic Strike for my possible Dimir splash, and a Knight Watch to combo with my two Court Street Denizens.
I was extremely happy with my deck despite how mediocrely pack 2 went. I later learned that my neighbor to the left opened Angelic Skirmisher in pack 1 and then took the Daring Skyjeks over the Wojek Halberdiers, staying primarily mono-white through pack 1. In pack 2, he was passed a second pick Sepulchral Primordial that he took as a signal to move into black, selecting it over Basilica Screecher and Wight of Precinct Six. As Jon Stern to his left was busy drafting an insane Dimir deck, there was not much left that could sneak through for the rest of pack 2. Thankfully, I had pack 3 to bail me out. I felt very confident that I could 3-0 with the following:
- 2 Court Street Denizen
- 1 Daring Skyjek
- 1 Deathcult Rogue
- 1 Dutiful Thrull
- 1 Knight of Obligation
- 1 Ogre Slumlord
- 2 Smog Elemental
- 1 Syndic of Tithes
- 1 Syndicate Enforcer
- 2 Wight of Precinct Six
I was a little concerned with the Gruul deck that I shipped to the left, having passed several Ground Assaults, a Skarrg Guildmage, and a Hellkite Tyrant, but I expected my matchup to be solid given all of my removal. I also passed two Nightveil Specters that could potentially give me trouble if they got going, taking easier to cast cards over each.
For the most part, my matches went smoothly. In the first round, I played my neighbor to the left who was stuck drafting Orzhov between myself and Jon Stern's Dimir deck. I was particularly well setup for the mirror with all of my removal, and I was able to board into an even more controlling deck, bringing in two Dimir Guildgates, a Prophetic Prism, and a Psychic Strike. I was able to take down both games without too much trouble.
In round 2, I played against Jon and his Dimir deck. I thought things were going quite well game 1 when I was able to Killing Glare his turn 2 Guildmage and Devour Flesh his turn 4 Lazav after getting out to an aggressive start. Unfortunately, Jon's turn 5 Consuming Aberration had other plans. I was doing a lot of work with my Deathcult Rogue and some incidental extort triggers, pressuring his life total.
Jon had other ideas as his turn 6 Nightveil Specter triggered his Aberration, milling both of my Grisly Spectacles, my Death's Approach, and a Killing Glare. This left me with no real way to kill the now 7/7 Aberration. I liked my chances to race it until his Specter hit me and revealed my Ogre Slumlord, which he immediately cast. Not only was this one of my best cards left at that point, it was also a Rogue, shutting down my Deathcult Rogue. I dug in for a long game, squeezing through damage when I could with my Court Street Denizens tapping down his Rogues and getting in with my Deathcult Rogue and a Smog Elemental who showed up in time to stop his Specter from doing more damage.
The game was incredibly close, with several critical topdecks by each of us. He ended up tapping out for two spells, milling my last two lands and leaving me with just four cards in my library. Thankfully, he was at two life, leaving me with three outs to kill him as I had two white creatures that could tap "his" Ogre Slumlord (which remained in play the entire game) and get my Rogue in for lethal and my Merciless Eviction that would leave me with Blind Obedience and three spells in my library to extort him against his empty board. I ended up dodging my one blank and killed him. Game 2 was much less exciting, as he mulled to oblivion and I ran him over with an aggressive draw.
This set me up for a finals match against Mihara, who was to Jon's left. I was very worried that he had the insane Gruul deck that I passed, but instead he had the awesome Boros deck featuring Truefire Paladin, Sunhome Guildmage, multiple Wojek Halberdiers, etc. We played a very close three-game match, but I was able to two for one him in both games 1 and 3 early when he put Madcap Skills on his two-drop (not good against all of my removal) and pull out both of those games, losing game 2 when I drew a few too many lands.
Finishing the Draft portion 6-0 was exhilarating. I knew I was perfectly setup to Top 8 if I could just keep things together for Constructed.
Fate decided to throw a wrench in my plans, pairing me against Steve Rubin and his Human Reanimator deck. Reanimator is one of our worst matchups since we usually aren't fast enough to kill them before they can combo off, but a small stumble in game 1 and failing to find an Unburial Rites in eleven cards (two Grisly Salvage and a draw step) in game 2 let me off the hook with a 2-0 victory.
Nothing comes easy, as I was paired against Ben Stark for round 13. I cannot beat Ben. It doesn't matter what format, what matchup—I literally cannot win. He beat me in round 13 in Paris (and again in the quarterfinals) and in round 9 at GP Indy (and again in the quarterfinals). Thankfully, we also have a trend of both of us making Top 8 whenever we play, so that is some small consolation. This tournament was no different; I drew the wrong half of my deck game 1, and I mulled to five on the play in game 2. Just as in Paris two years before, I entered round 14 needing to go 2-0.
I was paired against Felipe Tapia Becerra, and my scouting report showed only that he was playing Zombies. I had no idea what exactly that meant, but thankfully it turned out to be an incredibly good matchup for me and I had little trouble 2-0ing. I needed to win one more round.
Round 15 I had a feature match versus Roberto Gonzalez. This was a bittersweet pairing, as I thought I had a good matchup but would have to go through a friend to get there. I first met Roberto playing in an Odyssey Block Constructed PTQ in 2002. He'd hiked all the way from Arizona to do battle, and I narrowly defeated him late in the Swiss rounds. We stayed in touch after that, discussing decks and results before I "retired" in 2004 and moved to NY. When I found my way back to the game, he was still grinding, and we resumed our friendship. Just a few weeks earlier at GP Denver, Roberto beat me in the last round of the Super Sunday Series to knock me out of Top 8 (a tournament he went on to win). I wanted revenge.
The match was "featured," but very little of it made it into coverage. I drew well both games and was able to chain Falkenrath Aristocrats in game 1 and resolve (and protect) an Obzedat in game 2.
After winning, I was in a bit of a daze. Coverage wanted to take my Top 8 photo, and my friends were celebrating and congratulating me. I kept telling them to hold their horses as I didn't want to count my chickens before they hatched. As it turns out, this was correct—Missy and Dave Shiels were running low on time as they headed to game 3 in their match. If they drew, I was going to be paired down in round 16 and forced to play. Nothing is ever easy!
Thankfully, after a stomach wrenching ten-minute sweat, the game ended decisively, and I was able to draw into Top 8 with Melissa. It was an incredible feeling and was made even more special by the people joining me. I was so excited for Owen and Gerry making their first Top 8s, as they were long overdue for that honor. I was also a bit terrified that I would again get paired against Ben in the quarterfinals and see winter come for the third time.
I won't go into too much detail here about my Top 8 matches since there is excellent coverage available online featuring the one and only LSV. I will fill in a few blanks.
Melissa was playing a deck that was only a few cards off (with slightly improved mana) from the Wolf Run Bant deck I piloted to no success at GP San Antonio late last year. According to the Twitter bookies, I was a huge underdog. I think they had me as a 3:1 underdog, and after playing ten to fifteen games of the matchup with Zvi, Jon, and Sam, I couldn't really disagree. It looked bad and wasn't getting any better no matter how we sideboarded.
Ultimately, we decided my best shot was to try to get lucky with some nut Human draws. We cut all of the Orzhov Charms (which seemed strange against a creature deck) and the Boros Reckoners for the Skirsdag High Priest, the Obzedats, the Lingering Souls, the Sorins, and the Mentor. My plan was to jam creatures and then start making Sorin emblems, hoping to squeeze through enough damage.
Thankfully, Melissa's testing went dramatically different, and her team came to the conclusion that the matchup wasn't great for her. They decided she should board out Augurs and Centaur Healers for Garruks, Faithmenders, and the Gisela. She also brought in her Rest in Peaces to try to turn off my morbid tricks. This played right into my hand of going super aggressive and probably turned me into a slight favorite in the matchup.
Losing game 1 to a missed land drop stung; I knew I really needed that win given the matchup. Thankfully, game 2 went much better. Melissa mulliganed, and I had turn 2 Knight of Infamy, turn 3 Knight of Infamy, and turn 4 Silverblade Paladin. Melissa led off with a Rest in Peace on turn 2 and then a Faithmender on turn 4. I attacked her to four and decided to play my Skirsdag High Priest, leaving me with two other creatures in hand. It seemed unlikely the Priest was ever going to be relevant, and I wanted to make sure she saw that I had them in post-sideboard so she wouldn't cut the Rest in Peaces. She drew and scooped, and I quickly boarded out all three High Priests for three Orzhov Charms.
Game 3 went similarly, as she double mulliganed into a slow draw and I overwhelmed her. Game 4 was on camera. As Melissa noted in her own tournament report, she made a small mistake when she didn't Azorius Charm her own Thragtusk in response to my Conscripts targeting it. I actually think I may have made a mistake here as well as it is possible I should have targeted a Beast token there to play around Charm. Thankfully, it worked out in my favor, though with all of my pressure there is a decent chance I would have won even if she had played optimally.
From personal experience, playing in your first PT Top 8 is so different from any other match of Magic you have ever played. I had the benefit of not having any video coverage in Paris, so my horrific punt in game 1 of my match against Ben went unnoticed by history (even more embarrassing was that I saw the correct play, saw why it was correct, and made the wrong play anyway), but I learned that there is really no preparing yourself mentally for what it will be like. Melissa played tremendously all weekend, and I am sure we'll be seeing great results from her in the future.
For the semifinals, all of the exciting action happened on camera. Games 2 and 3 were very unexciting, as EFro flooded and I was able to overrun him with Demons in game 2 and Aristocrats in game 3. The only interesting point was in game 2 when Efro conceded with me at four after I held back an extra blocker to play around Hellrider. I was somewhat worried about him bringing in Boros Charms since they could really skew combat; conceding on my turn introduced an interesting mini-game.
There were a few possibilities:
1) I blinked and didn't see him draw a card for his turn before he conceded. Possible, but I was almost positive he scooped in my end step.
2) He had Boros Charms in and spewed tremendous value. Very, very unlikely.
3) He knew he couldn't win and didn't really think about what conceding meant. Certainly possible; Efro seemed frustrated because it was a close game and maybe he just wasn't thinking.
4) He knew I would realize his concession meant he didn't have Boros Charms in, but he planned to bring them in on the play in later games.
This little mini-game is actually why I blocked with my Champion in game 4 when he attacked with his Boros Reckoner into my Reckoner and Champion. I only had one mana and had Tragic Slip + no action; if I block with Reckoner and he gives his first strike, I have to as well. If he then Boros Charms, I get Wrathed and am never coming back. It ended up working well because I got to kill his second Reckoner and fizzle his evolve, but I didn't really draw more spells and lost anyhow.
Game 5 was obviously insane. Looking back at it now, I am shocked at how calm I was. As I took the second mulligan, I realized I was almost certainly not winning, and it didn't bother me. In the past, I would probably have gone on tilt about getting so unlucky at such an important time, but in that moment, I was just thinking about how much I wanted to win a Pro Tour and how it meant I would just need to take down San Diego instead. As someone who struggles at times with a bit of pessimism, it was so refreshing to maintain a positive outlook in such a difficult spot. I hope I can keep cultivating that attitude as I move forward.
The game itself was pretty insane, starting with my bluff attack into his Reckoner representing a Tragic Slip. I knew I had to get him to thirteen, so it seemed worth the risk. On the final turn, as soon as he tapped out for Aurelia, I was sure I had won the game, but I triple and quadruple checked everything to make sure I didn't accidentally punt because I was pretty sure there were several winning lines. My chess background really helped with the decision tree analysis there and making sure I crossed all of my t's and dotted my i's.
In watching it again, I think if EFro had instead cast a Hellrider there I would have lost the game, as I couldn't get his Reckoner off the board without losing both of mine and the Hellrider triggers would have put me to thirteen. I am very glad he drew that sixth land to let him Aurelia me.
Going into the finals, I had the same sense of calm that I felt in the semifinals, and it really helped. Even after losing game 1 I wasn't worried, and thankfully things came together perfectly the next three games. I was so focused on the game that I actually didn't even notice Joel slow roll me in game 1; my only concern was figuring out the optimal attack. I'd like to attribute some of this to a bit of growing up that I may have finally achieved in my ripe old age. Hopefully, it was more than just shock at making it through the quarterfinals!
The rest of the night was a blur. We went out into the freezing cold to take some photos, and then I headed off to dinner with Sam and David. We ended up at a bar with Kibler and his girlfriend, Reid, Owen, Costa, and some other fine gaming gentlemen, where I ran up a bit of a victory tab and much celebrating was had. The night culminated in some epic late-night karaoke before I had to race back to real life the next morning. It was a truly incredible experience, and I feel so lucky to be able to be a part of this community.
I'd like to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who rooted for me or congratulated me—I couldn't respond to all of the messages, but I read all of them and it meant so much to see. Hopefully, I can get #3 in San Diego!
Another giant thank you to #TeamSCG: Jon Finkel, Sam Black, Zvi Mowshowitz, Reid "The Duke" Duke, Matt Costa, Owen Turtenwald, Andrew Cuneo, Patrick Chapin, Gaudenis Vidugiris, David Heineman, Matt Sperling, THE Ben Seck, Paul Rietzl, and Gabriel Nassif. Thank you for everything. This was truly a team effort, and while I was the one who ran good this time, it would not have been possible without all of you.
To GerryT and Owen: About time and very well deserved.
To BenS and House Stark: Thank you for letting me get this one.
@tommartell on Twitter