Pro Tour Ixalan was a tournament I'll never forget.
The Tournament Report
It started with a triple Ixalan draft. Overall, not my favorite format of all time, but I like attacking in Limited and Ixalan gives me some nice opportunities to do that.
In Pack 1, Calcano opened Vance's Blasting Cannons on my right but didn't immediately slam it. My options were Merfolk Branchwalker, Siren Lookout, or Firecannon Blast. I was hoping Calcano would take a card so that I would know if I should take the Firecannon Blast or not. Since he didn't immediately slam it, I assumed he wasn't going to take it.
When the judge said "draft," I put Firecannon Blast into my pile and was shocked to see Calcano take the Cannons! What the hell, dude? Nice signaling.
Oh, well. At least the Firecannon Blast was foil.
After that, I slid into W/B Vampires, so my first pick wasn't going to matter either way. Unfortunately, Josh Cho stole my draft deck after the PT, otherwise I'd post a picture of it here.
Round 1: I was able to stabilize relatively easily both games but couldn't mount a counter-offense quickly enough. He found River's Rebuke, which I couldn't beat.
Round 2: In Game 1, I Kitesail Freebootered my opponent, saw air, and attacked with my ten creatures on the following turn. My Rallying Roar wasn't going to be enough to kill him, but it would have decimated his battlefield and gained me a bunch of life.
In that window, my opponent had drawn Settle the Wreckage.
I was still fine, since now I had all the lands I needed to cast the many spells in my hand, but he drew Bishop of the Bloodstained and killed me.
It was even more unfortunate since I was stuck on four lands for forever with an Anointed Deacon in hand. If I were able to play Anointed Deacon on curve, I could have started attacking with one of the many 1/1 lifelinking Vampires I had on my side, which would have made it very easy to play around Settle the Wreckage.
Over the course of the match, I also mulliganed to six, six, and five. In Game 3, my opponent killed me with a single Sleek Schooner because I was stuck on two lands and discarding. Any reasonable draw of mine would have won the game.
Round 4: My opponent missed an early Sunscorched Desert trigger. It was obvious he missed it, yet he still wanted to argue with a judge about it.
Anyway, he ended up getting me to three life with Hazoret and Ramunap Ruins on the battlefield, which would have been lethal. That gave me a window to actually draw a Glorybringer or Confiscation Coup to win, but I failed.
I won Game 2 and then got flooded Game 3 and didn't draw any five-drops.
Round 5: I ended up losing the game the turn before I would have won. I didn't draw any five-drops.
My opponent's draw was: Turn 2 Harsh Mentor, Turn 3 Aethersphere Harvester, Turn 4 Harsh Mentor and Abrade, Turn 5 Glorybringer, Turn 6 Glorybringer and Soul-Scar Mage (to crew Aethersphere Harvester) and kill me for exactsies. Meanwhile, I was stuck on three lands with a bunch of five-drops in hand, yet still would have killed him the next turn.
After Round 5, I dropped the tournament, Josh Cho yelled at me, I ate a hot dog, and then I un-dropped from the tournament.
Round 6: Game 1 was a fairly easy Temur versus B/R Vehicles affair where I won. Both post-sideboard games, my opponent had draws that lined up well against mine. He was either able to draw multiple cards with Glint-Sleeve Siphoner or always have something like Heart of Kiran or Hazoret that I couldn't deal with.
At 1-5, I dropped and stayed dropped. I also booked a flight home for 7am the next morning.
To the surprise of zero people, I registered Temur Energy at the Pro Tour. I knew I was spewing potential equity by not working on some weird deck, but I was worried about other people's weird decks.
- 3 Bristling Hydra
- 3 Glorybringer
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
My Temur deck isn't much different from a stock Temur deck. I tried many different cards and many different configurations, but ultimately stuck with what felt best. The only real departure from the norm was the addition of Skysovereign, Consul Flagship.
While Glorybringer and Confiscation Coup are frequently your best cards, Skysovereign adds a nice layer to the deck. You pick up some staying power and the ability to clean up a bunch of smaller creatures, which Temur typically struggles with. Having that ability means you can sideboard out weak removal in the mirror like Abrade, which increases your threat density.
The boat also gives you game against the greedy Four-Color Energy decks that try to beat you with planeswalkers and card advantage from Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Against Ramunap Red, it gives you another flying threat, which you'll need against Hazoret the Fervent. It also cleans up their chump blockers and removes the ability for them to last-ditch alpha strike you.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a card I don't particularly like, considering how bad it is on the draw against most decks. It's also poor against aggressive decks in general. Steve Rubin convinced me to play one copy in the interest of threat diversity rather than play a fourth copy of Bristling Hydra, which tends to have diminishing returns.
I also changed the manabase slightly from my Nationals decklist. An additional red source helps with early Magma Sprays and the inclusion of Chandra. That change seemed to work out fine, but it all depends on what you're trying to cast. If you change the maindeck, you should also look at whether or not you need to change the manabase.
At the time, I thought maybe everyone had figured out how to beat Temur somehow. After watching the tournament, seeing Temur still crush people, and comparing my list to other lists in the field, I think I did a really good job.
Maybe I was just really unlucky?
It's easy to write off having a bad tournament as variance. In truth, variance did affect me, but it didn't outright cause me to lose in the tournament. Over the course of a tournament, people are going to have good draws and you're going to have bad draws. What separates good players from great players is the ability to win games nobody else would have won.
Here's my real tournament report:
I could have assumed that Calcano would first pick Vance's Blasting Cannons and not wasted my first pick trying to be greedy. My deck was good, but I ended up prioritizing two-drops too highly, including taking a Queen's Bay Soldier over a Skymarch Bloodletter.
Round 1: Honestly not sure I would have been able to beat River's Rebuke. Maybe focusing more on fliers and powerful cards in general over Grizzly Bears during the draft would have allowed me to break battlefield stalls and put a clock on him.
Round 2: I was ahead on the battlefield, ahead on life, and ahead on cards, but walked into Settle the Wreckage that I rather easily could have played around. Considering that I had just seen my opponent's hand, it's unlikely that my opponent drew Settle the Wreckage, but if I were playing at a great level instead of merely good, it would be a game I definitely could have won.
Round 3: I won a solid match where I think I played great. Having Michael Majors and Andrew Brown birding my match probably helped, since I really wanted to turn it on and show 'em how it's done.
Pro tip: If you explore into a combat trick, you should probably put it in the graveyard. I assure you it won't be very helpful in the coming turns.
Round 4: I could have made an attack that might have let me win the race, but chose to not take a "risky" line, instead hoping to draw into a five-drop. With the line I took, I definitely lose if I don't draw a relevant card, and that's a significantly worse play than making a winning line and hoping they draw nothing.
Round 5: My opponent attacked with a Hazoret and I pumped my Bristling Hydra to a 7/6. That would have allowed me to start racing a turn earlier, but I realized afterward that my opponent had two cards in hand. That meant Hazoret was on defense and I couldn't attack. I ended up losing the game the turn before I would have won.
In the second game, my opponent had a great draw and capped it off with using all of his cards and mana on the last turn to kill me for exactsies the turn before I would have killed him. In reality, I could have managed the Harsh Mentor triggers a bit better by using a removal spell at a better time to take two less points of damage.
Round 6: As I sat down for my round, Ken Yukihiro and Yuuya Watanabe were already seated in the chairs next to me, also at 1-4. We laughed about it and Ken's opponent snapped a picture of the three of us.
I decided to try sideboarding a bit differently from how I usually would, but still didn't end up sideboarding well. It's probably true that I should have killed a Heart of Kiran on Turn 3 instead of playing Rogue Refiner, despite it using my mana poorly. The game sort of spiraled out of control from there when I failed to draw anything relevant.
I love playing close games of Magic where the small edges shine through. In this case, I played a bunch of close games where I spewed off the small edges that I could have utilized. On the surface, it looked like I simply lost to variance, but in every match I played, I had a chance to win, bad luck or no.
As always, there's something to be learned from every experience. I could have blamed luck or misfortune or whatever, but that isn't helpful. Perspective is a powerful tool.
Did I put myself in a position to do well? If so, I can correct my mistakes and hope something nice happens next time. In this case (and for the last few Pro Tours), I think I did, and that's about all I can hope for.
Having of a goal of finishing in Day 2, or 11-5, or Top 8 isn't very helpful because it only sets me up for failure. The best I can do is try to make the best decisions possible. In this Pro Tour, I made a bunch of mistakes, mostly from auto-piloting and assuming my practice would carry me.
Next time, I have to slow down if I want to do well.
The Sideboarding Guide
Out, on the Play:
Out, on the Draw:
It's very difficult to break serve in the Temur mirror. Each of the five cards I bring in assist in you doing that.
Four-Color Energy, Sultai Energy, B/U Midrange
River's Rebuke, while fine against random permanents like Anointed Procession, is mainly as a midrange breaker against The Scarab God. It also doubles as a complete battlefield wipe against God-Pharaoh's Gift.
After playing in the Pro Tour, I would change my plan slightly. Glorybringer is quite good against Rampaging Ferocidon and Hazoret the Fervent, so I would keep some of them in. Maybe the Essence Scatter and a Rogue Refiner can go.
Keep in some removal or Skysovereign if they have Gifted Aetherborn or Gonti. You could also have a second Vizier if they have their own.
If I were playing in Grand Prix Atlanta this weekend, I would register basically the same deck I registered from the Pro Tour. A second Appetite for the Unnatural is a reasonable inclusion, as is a second River's Rebuke. Very few control decks did well at the Pro Tour, so you don't need as many counterspells or Nissa, Steward of Elements and can make up some sideboard slots there.
If you want, you could also trade the Magma Sprays for Abrades, which will help against Heart of Kiran, Rampaging Ferocidon, and God-Pharaoh's Gift, but potentially hurt you against more aggressive starts.
I have to give huge congratulations to Seth Manfield for winning and putting a nice cherry on top of an already incredible career. I saw a lot of mistakes over the course of the weekend, but in typical Seth fashion, none of them were from him.
My next tournament is Grand Prix Portland, and I'll be back with a vengeance.