At this point, you already know the outcome of Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. I guess I do too, but I didn't as I sat down in my hotel room in Minneapolis Thursday afternoon before the Pro Tour watching the Silver Showcase Draft and reminiscing about my time preparing for this Pro Tour. I've never worked harder preparing for a tournament in my entire life, and I hoped all that preparation would be worth it. That's because I was at 49 Pro Points for the season which meant a good finish got me and my teammate, Brian Braun-Duin, to Worlds. Genesis was also in fifth place in the Team Series, and a good finish could get us to Team Worlds.
Simply put, the stakes had never been higher for me and my team.
Since Pro Tour 25th Anniversary was so important, Genesis decided to up the ante by preparing harder than we ever did before. We joined forces with Team Ultimate Guard and began preparation for the event a month out.
That's right. We tested for four weeks and in person for much of it. Crazy in 2018, I know.
William Jensen and Owen Turtenwald live four hours away from where Brian and I live, but very close to Seth Manfield, so that seemed like the perfect location to meet up to begin preparation. Three formats weren't going to be easy to break, but we had the time and resources to get the job done.
The merger of Genesis and Ultimate Guard was exciting. Both teams work extremely hard to give themselves the best chance for success when playing professional Magic and very often do both teams choose the same decks for events. So much so, in fact, that we've joked that we already know what the other team is playing at events and we're often correct. We think in similar ways, work in similar ways, and now prepare in similar ways.
Testing for team events was something new to me. I've played Team Constructed Grand Prix before, but nothing close to an event this large in magnitude. Usually you just work on your deck/format, answer questions asked by teammates about theirs, but for the most part don't get too involved in their business unless asked to. This time around, I assumed we would want to all know each other's decks to have the best chances. It's possible that something might go wrong and attentions scattered, but theoretically we would be able to divide our time between the formats.
Things were going to be complicated, though, as Wizards of the Coast decided to ban Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe in Legacy, ultimately shaking the format up. As a result, many of us assumed the best deck would end up being Sneak and Show. After all, it was one of the best strategies before Deathrite Shaman moved into the format. Brian Braun-Duin wasn't willing to give up on Four-Color Leovold and was busy working on the Grixis variant that also leaned on Hymn to Tourach.
Those two decks weren't all there was going to be though. We knew we had to do our due diligence by practicing with every deck in the format, not just to make sure we know how to beat every strategy, but potentially finding one worthy of playing ourselves.
Modern was initially easy. We decided to learn everything we could about Ironworks, as that was the primary reason why meeting in person would be so beneficial. We needed our players to practice it in person as opposed to online as it's an excruciatingly slow deck to play on Magic Online. Many of us worked on Ironworks and to great early success. A few times here or there, five players huddled around a game arguing what's actually legal to do, but for the most part we were getting it.
In Standard, it was just Owen and I on an island bashing deck after deck against R/B Aggro. Game after game we found the deck just didn't have any bad matchups. There were a few we considered slightly unfavorable, but as we kept playing games, we slowly realized one of us was an unmovable object while the other was an unstoppable force.
Luckily for me, one day I was up 26-24 in matches played, which I made sure everyone in the house was aware of!
As the days went on, it seemed that Sneak and Show in Legacy wasn't putting up the numbers we would have liked, but Grixis Control was. Many of the players in the house started to like the deck, but Owen had to take some time out of his day to find out for himself as he was not follower of Tourach. He grabbed Temur Delver and told Brian Braun-Duin that he was challenging him. We already knew Temur Delver was bad, so I believe Owen was making some sort of a power play. He wanted Grixis Control to be bad: I knew it, he knew it, and BBD knew it.
BBD 9-1'd him.
After that, the only thing heard in the house was Owen singing his praises to Tourach and hoping all our opponents would feel his wrath by getting their best cards taken from them.
Modern started to get bogged down like it always does. We began to run into issues with Ironworks against sideboard hate like Stony Silence, Surgical Extraction out of specific decks, and just a variety of things we thought we would be able to solve. Surely given this much lead time we could fix this, right?
Wrong. We even started testing Sai, Master Thopterist in the sideboard, as we started really liking the card in Standard. It was okay in the sideboard of Ironworks, but casting it against Stony Silence was impossible. Changing the manabase was considered, but at that point I went back over to my Standard island, as Genesis member Martin Muller had a brew for us to try.
Now this ain't your normal version of Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome, as it's way more dedicated to the storm combo thanks to Jhoria, Weatherlight Captain. The idea is that Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome has to grind its way up to a large density of lands and permanents before it can get above 50 life while splashing red allows you to do it as early as turn 5 (well, turn 4 if you're really lucky, but that only happened a few times in testing). Adding more legendary creatures to the deck also allows you to play four copies of Mox Amber, one of the best cards in the deck.
U/R Paradoxical Outcome could do some really stupid things with Jhoria, Weatherlight Captain and Inspiring Statuary on the battlefield. Card after card gets drawn until Paradoxical Outcome gets cast, sometimes after all your lands have been tapped. Three Ornithopters and a Mox Amber turned into four fresh cards drawn and another Paradoxical Outcome means the same thing. Sometimes this loop could draw an entire deck, so we had to cast Baral's Expertise on two Ornithopters and Jhoria herself to make sure we didn't deck ourselves, and Aetherflux Reservoir would enter the battlefield after something like twenty spells being cast.
Unfortunately, we did very well with U/R Paradoxical Outcome in the early days of working on it. We were smashing everything and kept trying different sideboard plans, but eventually we learned how to play against the deck and realized it had difficulty with R/B Aggro. Since we expected that to be the best deck, we ultimately discarded U/R Paradoxical Outcome, but only after 400-500 games. We went all-in on the deck and busted, which left us with only a few days before the event to perfect R/B Aggro as we didn't have anything else that seemed reasonable. Additionally, the data pointed to R/B Aggro being the best, and since it was last time at Pro Tour Dominaria, it didn't seem like we could go wrong playing it.
We did discuss the chances that we just learned how to beat U/R Paradoxical Outcome, thus leaving a great deck on the table, but that's never a great path to go down. Assuming your opponents at the Pro Tour will not know how to play against your brew is often just a subjective reason to play the fun deck. Maybe the data was being harsh on the deck, but that wasn't enough to all of a sudden think the deck was tournament-worthy.
Luckily, our Legacy guys were locked in on Grixis Control as it simply had the highest win percentages, but the kicker was the team also really enjoyed the deck over the other options. The most enjoyable deck being the best deck? I'll take that!
Ironworks, in the end, was a "bust." I put bust in quotations because I wasn't really sure if the deck wasn't where we wanted to be or if it was just that we tested too hard against the deck. When perfect information exists in testing against great players, it's difficult to not beat the deck you want to succeed. Maybe we had too much hate, or maybe we always knew how to play against the deck, but in the end, it just wasn't where we wanted to be.
Fortunately, we had a backup!
Huey suggested trying U/R Gifts Storm even though it wasn't that popular and historically hasn't been that good of a choice. Surprisingly, the release of Damping Sphere made the choice better as it gave players a false hope at beating the matchup. When Storm is prepared for Damping Sphere, it isn't really that difficult to beat. Huey, Martin, Brian, Finkel, and Seth worked hard on a list we were all really excited about given the predicted metagame.
We figured that Humans must be the most popular deck, and even though it's not the best matchup, we worked hard on a great sideboard plan for turning the deck into a combo/control deck using removal spells to keep the battlefield clear. Grim Lavamancer has historically been amazing against creature decks, which is especially true when they don't see it coming.
Out (On the Draw):
In (On the Draw):
Out (On the Play):
In (On the Play):
Back to Standard!
I really don't like playing the most popular deck at Pro Tours. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's fine, but R/B Aggro just seemed like the kind of deck players could exploit. The problem is we didn't find anyway for that to be true. It just feels like the 51% deck since all the good matchups are gone. The deck won't have any great matchups in the room, but maybe might have a few bad ones if people break it. At the same time, Paradoxical Outcome hype really throws a wrench into things as that deck is horrible against R/B Aggro if you know how to play against it. It's unknown if players knew that and decided to play the deck, as it has a good matchup against everything that's not R/B Aggro and Mono-Green Aggro. It's even great against Mono-Red Aggro as they can't kill Sai, Master Thopterist, which is something R/B Aggro can do with ease.
People might be afraid of Paradoxical Outcome, ignore it, or even play it. Trying to guess the numbers kept me up at night, but we ran out of time. We just had to sleeve up what we thought would give us the best chance and this was the final product.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 2 Glorybringer
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 2 Soul-Scar Mage
- 3 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
- 1 Pia Nalaar
We wanted the fourth Chandra, Torch of Defiance in the sideboard as it's the best card against Grixis Midrange, a deck we thought would be the third most popular deck right behind Mono-Green Aggro and R/B Aggro. We also assumed control will be too risky of a choice, as U/W Control doesn't even have a great R/B Aggro matchup, and Esper Control struggles with anything that's not R/B Aggro and U/W Control. Additionally, we really hated Doomfall and think that card should never be in R/B Aggro. I will say that I'm scared of playing against U/W Control and them casting Sorcerous Spyglass on a card I play four copies of, but there's not much I could do about that. I just had to bank off Grixis Midrange being more popular than other control decks.
VS R/B Aggro
Sometimes I take Heart of Kiran out of the deck on the draw, but the options to replace it aren't great. Other players seem to keep Chandra, Torch of Defiance in over Heart of Kiran or Unlicensed Disintegration, but I'm unsure about that. Usually I'll just keep in more removal on the play and can see having one Planeswalker on the play, but the problem is Chandra's Defeat and Goblin Chainwhirler can leave you in a pinch. If you tick Chandra up to five counters, an opponent can kill it while getting to make their hand better with Chandra's Defeat, but a tick down to one loyalty can let Goblin Chainwhirler take it out with its triggered ability. It's also not a great card when it's not hitting spells.
One thing we noticed while testing for the tournament was many players removing Hazoret the Fervent for more copies of Rekindling Phoenix. That change makes the deck much better against Mono-Green Aggro but doesn't always just win the game when they go way over the top with cards like Ghalta, Primal Hunger. I'd instead want to have the best chance to beat mirrors, which is where Hazoret the Fervent shines. We tried so many combinations of four-drops in the maindeck, but in the end we just went back to the old school mix.
VS Mono-Green Aggro
I really wanted a third Cut in the deck solely for this matchup, but we just couldn't find room. I also never got to test a sideboard supporting Bontu's Last Reckoning, but again discarded the idea due to having difficulty finding room.
VS Grixis Midrange
Duress isn't the best card in this matchup, but neither is Soul-Scar Mage. Duress can also help keep Chandra, Torch of Defiance on the battlefield, but honestly, it's not that important. What's important is getting good exchanges against Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, which our list can do.
VS Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome
Not bringing in all the copies of Duress might seem weird, but we don't think you want to ever draw two copies. They can slow you down. You just want to kill Sai, Master Thopterist and hit them as much as possible.
As you know by now, Seth locked up Player of the Year, and Brian and I sealed our invites to Worlds, but how did we do it? I'll be going into detail about that, along with what we overlooked preparing for the tournament, the mistakes we made throughout, and where I believe Standard, Modern, and Legacy are going to be moving in the future later this week.