Without further ado, I present to you the decks The Peach Garden Oath registered at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary:
- 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
I heard a lot of whining on Twitter about how team tournaments didn't quite feel like playing on a team, since each individual player stuck to their own format for preparation. I don't have a ton of insight as to how other teams prepared for the Pro Tour, but The Peach Garden Oath was constantly in communication and each of us playtested all the formats and had sway over every card choice in every deck. Reid showing up with Grixis Control in Legacy wasn't just him picking his pet deck because he likes to play grindy matchups and specifically has a bias for card advantage cards like Hymn to Tourach. It's because we collaborated as a unit alongside Genesis and decided it was the best strategy.
As for our amazing Grixis Control list, all the credit goes to Brian Braun-Duin. He showed up to our testing house with it, and without spending time to look at it, I thought it was a terrible choice. I was confident Huey would beat people senseless with Sneak and Show and we would settle on that, but thanks to his diligence in spite of my pessimism, we grinded through all the matchups, and in the end, it was clear that Brian's deck was phenomenal. For the record, I believe Hymn to Tourach is just an incredibly powerful card, and if your manabase can support it, you should maindeck three copies; you rarely want to draw two, but the first one is always brutal. I joked repeatedly during testing:
What better way to celebrate 25 years of Magic than Game 5, Match 3 of the finals of the Pro Tour, we see Reid Duke Hymn to Tourach his opponent's only two lands as they lose to manascrew.
Before I continue, I wanted to take a moment to talk about Temur Delver in Legacy. My thoughts are very straightforward – the deck is horrendous and I believe it has zero good matchups. Nimble Mongoose and Stifle are cards not suitable for competitive tournament play and I can't even believe eleven people at the Pro Tour played it. Compare Nimble Mongoose to Gurmag Angler in terms of what type of payoff you receive for filling your graveyard up with disposable cards quickly. Admittedly, I'm not a scientist, but if I show up with 5/5s and you show up with 3/3s, I think I've got the edge.
Stifle overperforms at lower levels of competition and generally lends itself to poor strategies based solely on winning the die roll and getting paired against decks with unusually low land counts. I tried Stifle in Temur Delver for a small period of time and quickly dismissed it since it made sideboarding difficult and hurt my ability to play long grindy games in midrange mirrors, which are still a very real portion of the Legacy metagame. Anytime someone in the house was feeling down about their deck choice in Legacy, they would fire up a set against Temur Delver and win every time. I was getting frustrated playing it as the enemy and continually asked myself, "Do people really play this deck?!"
With Legacy mostly taken care of, I was over in Standard-land for the majority of my testing for Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. That meant I sat across from the best Standard player in the world, Brad Nelson, and played the matchups over and over. Brad and I sweated over the R/B Aggro list we both ended up playing and one teammate described it as genius. I'll be the first to admit I didn't love our choice, but it's also very hard to say it was bad, as it was the most obvious choice, yet it still put two teams through to the Top 4 despite having a huge target on it.
Our main change was to include Magma Spray in the maindeck to combat the oppressiveness of Scrapheap Scrounger. The metagame leading up to the Pro Tour was very creature-centric with Mono-Green Aggro and R/B Aggro occupying most of the Top 8 slots of the SCG Tour® Team Constructed Opens and Standard Classics.
I was happy with the list we played, but my personal record was something around 7-7. If it was an individual Pro Tour, I would have been comfortable with my record and rest easy knowing I didn't have a bad weekend, but I also didn't have a particularly lucky one. My winrate at the Pro Tour is hovering around 60%, so it's always going to take a combination of unusually good deck choice, great play, and a bit of luck to rise above, and I just didn't have that this time.
Teaming With Huey
For this tournament, I ordered a new suitcase. When it arrived, I threw away all the boxes it was shipped in and left it in the corner of my room for weeks. Each time I would look at it, I would feel a wonderful sense of comfort that at least one portion of the weekend, the travel, would be stress-free and straightforward. For years I've had an ill-sized travel bag and just stuck it out rather than buy a new one. The day before the Pro Tour, I went to pack…and I realized my bag had a combination lock on it and that I was incapable of opening it, since I threw away the instructions.
Naturally I did what I do whenever I have a problem I can't solve: I asked Huey, who, even after hearing my circumstance, was up to the task of solving this puzzle and helping a friend. I left the room and came back later to see he was manually brute-forcing every possible combination and I immediately laughed about it. Rather than Google a solution, he willed himself to opening it and solved the problem.
There are many reasons why I think Huey is great, but this story seemed to encapsulate his willingness to help people around him and have the thrill of an escape room for fifteen minutes as a break from the day of playtesting.
Pro Tour Recap
We played very few interesting rounds at the Pro Tour and it felt like we were dancing on two left feet all weekend. A lot of our wins felt like they would've played out to 3-0s and our losses all seemed to be nailbiter 1-2s. We played against Pardee/Nass/Black, who presumably had the exact same 225/225 cards as Utter-Leyton/Stark/Juza, and we pounded them to dust. Reid won with Grixis Control 2-0 over U/B Death's Shadow and I won with R/B Aggro 2-0 in a mirror match, while Matt Nass in the middle seat still had absolutely no clue how his deck worked and failed to finish Game 1 before the match was over due to a judge call.
On Day 2, I played against Ben Rubin, one of the people who helped design Bant Nexus (you can read his breakdown of the breakout deck here). I won Game 1 and lost Game 2 in a game he later explained to me that he was very fortunate to win. Game 3, I mulliganed to five and took lethal damage as time was called.
This was my sideboarding strategy against Bant Nexus, which I came up with on the fly. It may seem unintuitive to sideboard in Cut // Ribbons against a creatureless deck, but I feel strongly that it's correct in this matchup because Ribbons is such an effective way to close out the game. You can discard Cut // Ribbons to Bomat Courier and Hazoret the Fervent, or you can just cast it on your own creature once you're Fog-locked, since your creatures have no value anymore anyway. One thing to note is that I left in one copy of Abrade because I'm a deck with four copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance, so Sorcerous Spyglass is more effective than normal.
Is R/B Aggro favored against Bant Nexus? Right now, it's unclear. Bant Nexus pilots will tell you that the reason they played the deck is because of its positive matchup against R/B Aggro, but in my experience, everyone thinks they have a positive matchup against R/B Aggro, and when there's perfect play and perfect deckbuilding on both sides, the margins start to narrow. I think it's well within the realm of possibility that either deck is a favorite, and I'm excited to see how the metagame shapes up moving forward. My only match against it, I felt like I got unlucky to get the result I did so I need more games before I make up my mind either way, but it's nice to see that we've got a potentially effective countermeasure already in Insult // Injury.
Speaking of Nexus of Fate, I've heard a lot of talk about it lately and how it's bad for the game or controversial in many ways. First and foremost, I'd like to dispel a rumor I hear often that professional players don't maintain collections or buy cards. This is 100% false. I preordered four sets of Core Set 2019 and I paid cold hard cash out of my own pocket and I didn't get four copies of Nexus of Fate. This is stupid, as the entire point of me buying the sets was to alleviate the stress of having to acquire cards for the Pro Tour. I don't have any solutions to this problem, but I can provide you with my experience as a deeply committed player, not a collector or a member of #MTGFinance.
Team Series Fallout
This is the first year they've had the full prize payouts for the Pro Tour Team Series ($102,000 for first and $51,000 for second) and it certainly got people's attention. Ultimate Guard Pro Team had a commanding lead heading into Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, but because of the structure of the tournament and the emphasis on teams in general, if a team got second place like Juza/Stark/Utter-Leyton did, it's as if all three players got second place at an individual Pro Tour. Our lead was composed 100% from results of individual tournaments until now, but fair is fair on that front, since it's a team event after all. I'm sure this system is to our advantage and we would've agreed to it at the beginning of the season.
When I won Player of the Year in 2011, it culminated at Worlds and I had a small lead, but the Top 8 had four teammates all playing the exact same Tempered Steel deck and three of them were capable of passing me with strong finishes in the elimination rounds. The nature of these Pro Point races can sometimes mean rooting against your friends who may be able to pass you, and it can be potentially awkward.
If you told me my team would crap out and weren't able to win the Pro Tour, Josh Utter-Leyton, Martin Juza, and Ben Stark are all strong players and good people I would be happy to see take home the title. This time on Pro Tour Sunday, I was glued to the screen rooting against them. The math shook out to mean that Hareruya Latin would pass us outright and the playoff would only cut to the top two teams. If Team Channel Fireball won the tournament, they would pass us as well and we would've slipped from first place to third place in a matter of hours.
The coverage of tournaments back then wasn't what it is today, but for me personally it felt weirdly poetic. This was a team of guys I've been playing tournaments with and against for years, and each time we show up and play, we always know it's all about who played the best games that weekend. Winning that first Player of the Year title is what caused me to go to more and more Magic tournaments to try and prove I was one of the best. I took a leap of faith on Magic and it has taken me all over the globe and helped me meet some of my best friends, who I otherwise would have had no chance of meeting. Tournament Magic has immeasurably enriched my life and I can safely say it's the best thing that's ever happened to me. It taught me the value of hard work, honesty, networking, sportsmanship, and camaraderie.
The irony was lost on no one that, during the final moments of Pro Tour Sunday, the Peach Garden Oath boys needed to root for a different fruit: Greg Orange, the Citrus Assassin.
Can anyone recommend a delicious orange/peach dish I can cook for Greg as a thank you? At the very least, next time I see him, I'd like to give him a great big hug.
I've actually played against Greg many times and he's an excellent player, so I felt oddly comfortable with my fate in his hands. As one of only two players in the entire Pro Tour who played U/W Control in Standard against a field of 47.4% Goblin Chainwhirler decks, if Greg made it to the finals of the Pro Tour, it stands to reason that he probably had a pretty solid matchup against that style of deck. I've seen Greg at the GP level winning with control decks for what has felt like years now, so it was second nature to him under the lights on how to play the matchup. I know nothing about Allen Wu or Death and Taxes besides the fact that it's a horrible deck name, but I respect Ben Hull and his choice to play Hollow One, a deck I love and have played in the past many times.
Congratulations to Greg Orange, Ben Hull, and Allen Wu, deserving champions of Pro Tour 25th Anniversary!
In the end, the PGO didn't win Pro Tour 25th Anniversary like we all hoped we would. We had three good decks and zero truly great decks, so although I believe we had the advantage in each of match when we sat down to play, it was only by a small amount and historically our edge has been much higher. We finished 8-6, which I'm still happy with, since we won more than me lost and it was an extremely high level of competition. I told my teammates this tournament was so amazing that I would play it with them every day if I could.
Seth Manfield passed Reid Duke by a single point in the Player of the Year race, and I hope to see them chasing Pro Points over the globe; I'd do it in their shoes. There's no official prize for Player of the Year, something I wish had been changed long ago, but it's a prestigious title and I wouldn't trade mine for anything in the world.
Huey barely finished outside the list of top Pro Point earners to miss a qualification for Worlds and it breaks my heart to see him miss after the history we've all had at that particular event, with Reid and me having runner-up finishes in the past and Huey winning it last year. We've been crushing this tournament for some time now and I wish we would have had a chance to work together as a team and defend the amazing show we put on last year.
This picture always makes me smile.
My preparation for Worlds begins now. I plan to play Dominaria Draft and Standard until I'm blue in the face. Thank you again to all the fans for your continued support. Wish me luck.