It's been a long and emotional week.
A good one, though.
Sometimes tournament Magic is all about doing your best to curb expectations. For Pro Tours in particular, spending weeks of your time and hundreds of dollars in preparation to participate in a singular event against 400 other players who aren't going to make any step of the way easy can be an overwhelming experience. The realization that you can prepare well and simply have a few bad days is a tough pill to swallow.
Other times the tournaments simply blend together. Each round just represents a clock ticking down until you can leave, and each loss only means a potential pro point lost. The travel is grueling, knowing that you must attend every tournament lest you end up barely short a status six months later. For me especially, the line between discipline and apathy has always been tricky.
On rare and special occasions though, we're granted true perspective. How incredible the game and the people involved in it are. The ripple effect of how much Magic has influenced our lives and established some of our strongest relationships. That it's all so important.
Maybe this realization hits us suddenly at an inopportune time (say, while at a karaoke bar), but beauty should be embraced in any setting.
I was alive for top 8 until about 7 PM on Saturday. I was the only 11-5 player to make the top 16, after a murderer's row tournament including five of the eventual top 8 competitors. Genesis killed it, putting up (I believe) both the highest Constructed deck and Limited win rate. Eventually, because it's my job and likely why you clicked on this article, I'm going to talk about our deck and its innovation, but for at least another mouse scroll or two, none of this paragraph matters.
One of my best friends won the Pro Tour.
Gerry Thompson has been by far one of the most influential people in my life over the last few years and I couldn't be happier for him.
I first met him briefly the Sunday of Pro Tour Magic 2015, after my first real professional season ended. I missed Platinum by inches and he commiserated with me, having experienced a similar situation the previous year.
A short while later he talked to me on the phone for about an hour one day, chatting about Magic and life. He went out of his way to help a kid he barely knew.
A few months after that we played at Grand Prix New Jersey (where he got that damn extra point in with a Delver of Secrets that he loves to hang over my head) and after the tournament he encouraged me to get my [redacted] together and start writing. He basically waved Cedric Philips over and told him to give me a shot.
He's one of the first in a long line to vouch for me. If you've enjoyed my content in any capacity over the last several years you have, in part, Gerry to thank.
The rest of our relationship is more public. We've been playtest partners, worked together for Pro Tours, and brewed decks. As you're likely aware, we do a (mostly) weekly podcast.
I've been reading his articles for years even before meeting him, just like you have. His contributions to both the Magic community and to my life are numerous.
I can't picture a more deserving champion, and I'll always remember Pro Tour Amonkhet fondly.
Testing for this Pro Tour was more-or-less a tale in two parts. I didn't really play that many games this time around, but I watched a lot of Magic. With the Pro Tour in Nashville, we arranged to rent a house in downtown Roanoke and have the European contingent stay there, then the locals would be in charge of driving everyone to the Grand Prix in Richmond and then Nashville the following week.
Further, Amonkhet released on Magic Online far sooner than normal, the Monday before release. What this culminated in was a particular Chris Larsen sleeping on my couch for four days prior to everyone else's arrival doing not much else than trying to score more Draft trophies than Martin Dang. While Chris may have had to whip out his credit card a few times over the course of his (around) 70 draft binge, I did nothing but profit.
When Felidar Guardian was emergency banned, we fell into a pattern of laptops side by side, where we discussed draft picks and (I) played whacky Constructed decks.
My only real run of my usual attempt of trying to "break it" was this:
When an effect as unique and powerful as Memory is available in Standard, it fundamentally changes the way that you can build decks. Having access to a Time Spiral effect that you can "flashback" means that self-milling is suddenly a valid way to build a deck. In conjunction with Torrential Gearhulk, Memory feels precisely like a Time Spiral when you can do it on an opponent's end step.
Essentially the deck seeks to generate a massive mana advantage with Splendid Reclamation and your cards that dig aggressively - Contingency Plan and Pieces of the Puzzle while buying time with Haze of Pollen and Engulf the Shore. Once you're "set up" it's pretty difficult to lose your hold on the game - Memory allows you to keep gassing back up in a deck that's suddenly devoid of lands, and you can keep manipulating the battlefield and even "loop" Eldrazi as you see fit with Engulf once you've established a critical mass of lands.
The deck has a lot of potential - it simply suffers from a small fail rate and you're admittedly going through a lot more work than simply curving into an Aetherworks Marvel on turn 4.
On the other hand, its matchup against Zombies is likely to be excellent. When I was playing with it the most, the online metagame was heavily Mardu (slightly ahead), Aetherworks (slightly unfavored), and blue control decks (bad, but got better with this version).
Together, Chris and I collectively burned a stack of tickets and learned quite a bit about the skeleton of Amonkhet Constructed and Draft, some of which by osmosis.
Richmond was a successful tournament, and it's not too much surprise that Martin Dang and BBD reached the top 8, as they had drafted the most while Chris was on the outside looking in with some unfortunate draws with a great deck.
Brief Limited Aside
Genesis had an amazing Limited record with five 5-1s and a 3-3. Martin Muller beat me in the last round of our draft to deny a 6-0.
My personal strategy was pretty simple. White and Red are the best colors, and I feel comfortable cutting either of those colors hard as they lead into the deepest archetypes. I wanted to avoid Green as much as possible as I felt B/G was the hardest deck to build properly without uncommons and rares while U/G was the most incoherent archetype.
Essentially I stack ranked the color combinations approximately as such:
I drafted almost mono-white splashing blue and R/B at the Pro Tour. Amonkhet is basically about aggression or not getting run over and setting up your deck to grind properly. It's classic Magic where building coherent archetypes and understanding how they function is far more important than individual card quality.
Leaving Richmond and Chandra Temur
On our last day of Constructed before heading to the Grand Prix, it became pretty clear to us that Marvel was "the best deck." It had broken free wins, the ability to play a normalized game, and was resilient to sideboard hate. The question was how to build the best version.
At some point after Atlanta, I finally got around to building Zombies just to "do my homework." Well, as we now know, the deck is very good. It didn't take long for it to start exploding on Magic Online as well, and it quickly became a large target for the Pro Tour.
Enter Chandra, Flamecaller.
I was testing a build of Naya Aetherworks that utilized Vessel of Nascency and Angel of Sanctions with Chandra as a sideboard plan against Zombies. This was all effective, but Vessel still sucked overall in a world where it's not Dark Ritual for Emrakul, the Promised End.
Sunday night a group of us decided to leave the Grand Prix before the top 8 to get another night of Constructed testing before leaving for Nashville.
So at about 10 pm that night, Muller and I sat down to build the deck that would be less than ten cards away from the deck he took to his second PT top 8:
His instincts were right, and Chandra plays out incredibly well in multiple copies in Temur.
As of this writing, I believe that we are the only Marvel deck that "actually" has a good matchup against Zombies.
Even that aside, Chandra just makes so much sense now that we aren't dying to infinite Cats. She is a high impact card that increases your threat density when activating Marvel, but she is also incredibly reliable to cast at six mana.
The play patterns are relatively simple. Games where you have Aetherworks Marvel, she is a quality hit that can take over the game by recycling your hand into more energy until you hit Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
Games where you don't have Marvel, Whirler Virtuoso can play defense, essentially time walking your opponent and keeping her alive while she keeps 0'ing into more energy and eventually Marvel. All the while discarding any Ulamogs that you have stuck in hand! Whirler's third toughness is also often key for sweeping your opponents wide board and keeping the Thopter maker alive.
You've likely noticed I keep mentioning her 0 ability. Looking back on the tournament, I think I plus ability'd my Chandra once, maybe actual zero times. A high impact draw engine that can catch you up and build additional battlefield presence is exactly what Temur needed.
Perhaps the best list moving forward is some kind of hybrid between Yuuya's spell-heavy version and our version of Chandra, but the point is that Chandra is the real deal and is critical to beating Zombies.
Our only real miss was our last minute addition of Sphinx of the Final Word. We were pretty concerned about the U/R Control matchup, but not only did the deck fail to show up in large numbers, but apparently it got beat up by Marvel throughout the tournament anyway.
This seems to coincide with the historical notion that control decks are just worse in early metagame tournaments. There's simply a massive advantage to being aware of all the cards in your opponent's deck, even in testing situations.
So did we break it?
Not really, but I do think we had an appreciable edge over the field. Our Constructed deck was good and properly set up for the metagame that showed up to the Pro Tour. Several of our guys properly figured out the Limited format and did a great job of sharing that wealth of information with the team as a whole.
Mardu didn't dominate another tournament.
Gerry Thompson won the Pro Tour.
It was a good weekend.