This past weekend marked a few different milestones for me. Not only was it my birthday, but it was also my 50th Pro Tour. It only seems fitting that this milestone coincided with the last-ever Core Set as well as a location that I had not yet traveled to in Vancouver. I wasn't sure what to expect of the city, but I was blown away as it was once of the nicest cities I've ever been to. In the weeks leading up to the Pro Tour, I had mainly been playing in Open Series events and felt that my Standard game was on point. I also had plans to attend Grand Prix Dallas the weekend before the Pro Tour, and between that and Magic Online drafts I thought I would be prepared for the Limited portion of the Pro Tour as well.
The first stop of my twelve-day journey was Dallas, where I was in need of one Pro Point to lock up Silver and qualify me for a Pro Tour of my choice in the 2016 season. Silver would also qualify me for Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers as well, an event many of my skilled friends had used to get back on the Pro Tour. I squeaked into Day Two of the GP with a 7-2 record and I was excited to be able to draft the next day. While I'm talking about the Grand Prix, I just want to take a moment to say that I think the change for GP Day Twos that was announced at the Pro Tour is great. If you haven't already heard, Helene Bergeot, the Director of Global Organized Play, announced that cutoff for all Grand Prix would now be a record of 6-3 or better. Players attend Grand Prix because they want to play as much competitive Magic as they can, specifically in the main event. Once they took away the PTQs that used to occur on the Sundays of Grand Prixs, I feel that the competitive side events have been lacking. I'm not really a fan of the Super Sunday Series, so when I miss Day Two of a Grand Prix I'm usually not excited about my competitive options. Personally, I would much rather see Open Series Premier IQs run on Sunday instead. These tournaments provide a similar level of competition to the old PTQ system and would support the growing Open Series events. The way I see it, there could easily be a Legacy event at 9am and/or Modern and Standard events at 10am. This would allow players to play in whatever Constructed format they wanted.
Getting back to the Grand Prix, the first draft of Day Two came and went and I found myself in a position where I needed to go 3-0 to get the Pro Point I was looking for. I managed to pull it off, finding myself locked for Silver even though I had to miss Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir due to work commitments. It felt great to be able to reach a goal, as I knew I would not have been happy if I ended up falling short after feeling obligated to skip the Pro Tour. Once Dallas came to an end, my focus was solely on the Pro Tour. I mainly tested with Andrew Boswell, but I also discussed the format with Allen Jackson who agreed I should play U/B Control. At first I tried Jim Davis's U/B Thopter Control list, but I felt that it was strictly worse than the original U/B Control list.
Thopter Spy Network felt very bad unless a lot of things were going right for you. For starters it forces you to have a Darksteel Citadel on the battlefield, which means that you're forced to play them over other colorless lands that might be more powerful. Radiant Fountain and Haven of the Spirit Dragon are both powerful lands that impact the board on their own. Thopter Spy Network also doesn't do much to help you if you are behind or under heavy pressure. Lastly, it doesn't do anything the turn you cast it most of the times and it leaves you open to getting blown out by Dromoka's Command, a card which otherwise basically does nothing against us.
The other thing I didn't like was Artificer's Epiphany. In the early game I want to handle the threats that my opponent is playing, not spend my turn drawing cards. In the late-game, on the other hand, I would much rather have a more powerful source of raw card advantage like Jace's Ingenuity. The only card I really did like from his list was Hangarback Walker, so I decided to add it to a more streamlined U/B Control deck. I also quickly realized how good Perilous Vault was going to be and wanted three copies of it. It may seem like Perilous Vault and Hangarback Walker don't work well together, but they actually do as the threat of Hangarback Walker alone normally forces your opponents to go around it and commit more permanents to the board. Overall I thought that U/B Control felt very smooth and that my list was in good shape for the expected metagame. Here is the list I ended up playing:
The tournament ended up surprising me in a few ways. I didn't really expect U/R Thopters to be a major portion of the field, and I also thought that there would be a lot more Abzan than there actually was. Regardless of my expectations, the first day of the Pro Tour was here and I was ready to play. As I write this, I think back to my first Pro Tour in 2001. I had just graduated from high school and just turned eighteen. I still remember seeing Jon Finkel and talking to him, which I couldn't believe. A lot of my opponents might have been Pro Players, but I didn't know who was who and played liked I had no worries. I had nothing to prove to anyone and I was just thrilled to be there. My team didn't end up making Day Two (it was a team event), but I remember it not bothering me that much. It wasn't that I didn't want to win, but that I was just content with finally experiencing the Pro Tour regardless of my record.
Fast forward fourteen whole years and that same feeling came over me. It just didn't matter to me whether I won or lost because I was just thrilled to be there. When Scott Larabee and Helene Bergeot surprised me with a birthday greeting and a congratulations on my 50th Pro Tour at the player meeting, I smiled like I was a five year old kid at Disney World. Afterwards, 400 players from around the world started to clap for me and the smile became even bigger and that moment is something I will never forget. I want to take a moment to thank everyone who congratulated me as it truly means a great deal to me. I like to think that I'm a player that people can relate to and I hope I continue to make you guys proud. Maybe one day my achievements will allow me to make the Hall of Fame, or maybe they won't, but I what I realized is that it's not the outcome that matters but the journey you take. The friends that I have made playing this game over the last fourteen years are worth more to me than anything else in Magic.
Once the announcements were over and Helene brought me my birthday muffin, I was ready to draft. I was very satisfied with my deck from the first draft. I stayed away from G/R, which is my least favorite color combination in the format, and ended up drafting U/W, my favorite color combination in the format. I was excited to play, and I ended up going 3-0 in my first draft. Obviously 3-0'ing the first pod is the best possible way to start a Pro Tour and I was ecstatic. I think that U/W is a good color combination in Magic Origins Limited; there are several good fliers for you to fill out your curve with, and the bounce spells are cheaply costed and effective. Separatist Voidmage does a bad impression of Man-o'-War, but even a bad impression is still incredibly powerful in this format. The counters are fine as well, and white also has several good combat tricks that you can fill out your deck with.
After the first draft there were five rounds of Standard, and I was able to start off 2-0. First I beat an Abzan Constellation deck, then Jeskai Ascendency Combo. Perilous Vault was excellent in both of these matches and I was happy that I added three copies to the deck. I was very excited to be 5-0 in my 50th Pro Tour. After a great start, I found myself paired against Mono-Red in two back-to-back matches. Between the unfavorable matchup and a few mulligans, I found myself with a 5-2 record. In the last round of Day One I found myself paired up against U/R Thopters which, as I mentioned earlier, I did not expect and was not prepared for. After losing this final round too, I ended the first day of the Pro Tour with a 5-3 record. This was good enough to make Day Two, but was not what I had hoped for after starting the day undefeated.
After a birthday dinner with a few good men…
...I was ready for Day Two!
In the second draft of the Pro Tour I broke my rule about never drafting G/R and promptly went 0-3 as a result. After this draft, the rest of the day was a blur, and before I knew it the Pro Tour was over and I was 8-8. To say I wasn't disappointed would be an understatement, but the trip was not a complete bust. My goal was to achieve Silver, which I did. This means that I will be looking to work even harder now that the new Pro season has begun. My first trip of the new season is Grand Prix Detroit, then I will try my hardest at the WMCQ to have the honor to represent the United States and team with Michael Sigrist. The Season Three Invitational in my home state isn't too far away either, so there is a ton of high-level Magic to be played.
Going forward, I think that I will continue to work on U/B Control unless I choose to switch to Abzan Aggro. If I stick with U/B Control I would like some copies of Annul in the sideboard and perhaps even Sidisi's Faithful as a very cheap way to bounce a copy of Darksteel Citadel that has been animated by Ensoul Artifact. Sidisi's Faithful is also a combo with your own copies of Hangarback Walker in situations where you want a sacrifice outlet. Overall, though, I think that Abzan Aggro might be better positioned in the post-Pro Tour field. Unless I find an exciting brew before then, Abzan Aggro is likely my go-to deck for both the WMCQ and the Season Three Invitational.
Overall, I am very thankful for my experience at my 50th Pro Tour and all the Pro Tours that have come before. I have many people to thank for supporting me over the years, including all of you who have been reading my articles week in and week out. I appreciate the love and support from all of you, and it's what keeps me coming back for more every week.
Before I go, let's talk about new brews. I am a part of Randy Buehler's Super Standard League that starts next Tuesday and I've already started working on brews for it. However, I am also interested to hear about any brews that you all have been working on as I figure out what deck I'm going to submit. Right now, I'm working on a Sultai Turbo Delve deck, a Mono-Green Ramp deck and an Abzan Constellation deck with Demonic Pact, Dromoka's Command and Tragic Arrogance. I would love to hear about any unusual decks you guys are working on, so you know where to post them!