I'd post a victory selfie but im crying ATM.— Nick Prince, Jams GW No Matter What Guy (@nicknprince) February 18, 2019
Sunday, at the San Diego Regional Pro Tour Qualifier, I accomplished the goal I've had since I first learned what the Pro Tour was in 2008. While admittedly my dedication to Magic has waxed and waned since then, qualifying for a Pro Tour never stopped being something I knew I wanted to do (at least) once. When Wizards announced the end of RPTQs it ignited a fire in me to qualify under the "old" system, to prove to myself that I could do it. I won the first PPTQ I played in Guilds with Selesnya in October, and blocked off mid-January to mid-February for almost exclusively Standard practice once Ravnica Allegiance released.
Once the set dropped, my first forays into Standard had me working on Judith, the Scourge Diva non-stop. I truly thought she was the best card in the set. In terms of raw power, that might still be true, even if the supporting cast isn't quite there. But Sultai proved to be too much of a brick wall for the deck and I eventually had to give up on the matchup. By Dallas I had given up on tokens strategies for the most part, instead opting to just make The Obvious Choice and play Mono-Blue. The deck won the event, I went from 7-2 to 10-5 with some rough matchups and bad luck on day two, and I went back to the drawing board to gear up for my RPTQ.
While I'd done decently well with Curious Obsession, I figured level 0 was Mono-Blue, and level 1 was White Aggro. I also made the assumption that Sultai would be suppressed, as the day two meta of Dallas was quite hostile to it: Mono-Blue and Nexus both consider the deck a bye, and Esper is a coinflip. From experience on both sides of the matchup, I also know that the Mono-Blue deck is quite beatable: apply pressure and the house of cards tips over. Discard is also a useful way to force out countermagic without spending much mana. These two factors combined had me very excited when VTCLA (Baker) posted an Esper Midrange deck that had both Thought Erasure and Hero of Precinct One that looked perfect for beating both Mono-Blue decks and Mono(ish)-White. The deck also could run Thief of Sanity, which gave it a good matchup against control, and meant that Sultai, while unfavored, was never too unbeatable.
A bonus decklist for you, this is what I would have played at the RPTQ if it was one day earlier. I actually had the entire deck built and in my bag all Sunday, just in case I needed to grab it. Every matchup is either "folds to Hero" or "folds to Thief" or "both." Don't be afraid to cut down on Hero of Precinct One despite that the deck is literally built around it, you can function as post-board Esper Control and just win with Thief of Sanity. Especially against Sultai, Hero of Precinct One is blanked too easily, and it's better to take some out and bring in Kaya's Wrath in case they get too far ahead on board and you need a reset.
Gerry Thompson went and upended that plan.
I dismissed Selesnya both times we talked about it, left dinner Friday with him saying, "I don't think there are many bad choices. If nothing else, play Mono-Blue." When I woke up Saturday, I thought, "Well I have time to at least TRY Trostani Discordant, and I think I owe it to the Conclave to see if it's good…" By midnight I had played 6 leagues (I would have played more, but I decided to leave the house to pick up cards "just in case" and to get lunch with my boyfriend for a couple hours), won about 70% of my games and decided to jump to Selesnya the night before the most important tournament I'd ever played in.
I didn't have a fixed list, or a sideboard guide, and figured I would use the 1.5–2 hour drive down to San Diego to think through what I had liked, disliked, and what options I wanted to have available to me throughout the day. When everything was said and done, this is the list I registered:
The two-drops are almost always the most important part to figure out about this deck. Despite just two colors, there are a ton of options that all have different impacts: Thorn Lieutenant, Tithe Taker, Hero of Precinct One, Saproling Migration, Adanto Vanguard, Emmara, Soul of the Accord, Shanna, Sisay's Legacy, Kraul Harpooner, Growth Chamber Guardian and Knight of Grace are all cards I've considered or tried at different points. Tithe Taker never left the list, as it's absurd against control and Mono-Blue. Emmara does a lot of things decently and can force wrath effects on her own. Finally, I settled on Thorn Lieutenant because the third point of toughness was so relevant against both white aggro decks and Cry of the Carnarium, which otherwise hurts quite badly.
I'd also learned a couple things I didn't like four copies of: Venerated Loxodon and Conclave Tribunal. Drawing multiple of either felt awful, and I was boarding them out quite frequently. Convoke is a great mechanic when random stuff is lying around that can be tapped, like in a midrange slugfest, but is quite a liability at sorcery speed in any matchup where you either need to race (Nexus, Esper) or avoid dying (White Aggro, Red, Mono Blue). Tapping creatures to Venerated Loxodon can be a huge liability if it opens up the possibility of dying to aggro, or the creatures may get destroyed by a Kaya's Wrath.
I hated Adanto Vanguard in most matchups, but still loved it against Esper and Nexus of Fate decks, so I knew I wanted four total. Putting one in the main gave me a 16th sideboard card, and I took it.
Similarly, the 60th card became a Knight of Autumn so I'd have access to three, as I love the card as a catch-all and it is quietly one of the best cards against Mono-Blue. All three modes are hyper relevant: 4 power is the exact pressure point against Tempest Djinn. It cannot be Spell Pierced, so it hits the Curious Obsession. And in a racing situation, gaining 4 life can buy an entire turn against Mono-Blue, which frequently is winning by inches and not miles.
The sideboard was built with aggro in mind, as I expected it to be the most represented archetype of the weekend. The plan vs. Mono-White is to win with either March of the Multitudes or Lyra Dawnbringer, as white has no answer to the former and few to the latter. As long as you can survive the initial rush, which a deck with 15 one- and two-drop spells should, Mono-White cannot win. The Azorius versions have some outs, assuming they can Negate the March of the Multitudes or Deputy of Detention the Soldier Tokens post combat, but Boros and Mono-White are effectively cold to March of the Multitudes, and their only chance is to race. Thus, Settle the Wreckage is the perfect card against them: they either attack all or nothing into a wall of blockers, not knowing whether to be afraid of Settle the Wreckage by attacking or March of the Multitudes by not pressuring you.
And finally, Huatli, Radiant Champion. I tried the card, it was OK. It would've been an Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants but I couldn't find one in time, a risk when switching decks eight hours before a tournament in a city where you don't know anyone. I think Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants is also just OK, and a little better than Huatli, Radiant Champion, but unless you plan on going heavier on planeswalkers I don't love any of them that much. The slot was just a general "attrition card control has trouble with" that let me play a relevant spell on turn four before they nuked the board. The only time I drew her, I got to dunk on my opponent, but I was so far ahead it could've been Progenitus and I would still have gotten there.
Finally, my general sideboard guide. As always, think before blindly following a guide. Kraul Harpooner is frequently mopey vs. Mono-White, but if they have Healer's Hawk it suddenly has the potential to be gamebreaking against them, for example. Settle the Wreckage is good when they don't expect it, but something like R/G can easily play in ways to mitigate it. If they have Cry of the Carnarium, Knight of Autumn is a good way to dodge the effect, etc.
Vs. White/X Aggro
(You'd think the matchup game one is bad sideboarding out 12 cards, but the reality is it's decent pre-board and most of the cards are in the sideboard for other matchups anyway, so might as well bring 'em in. Just be careful attacking Adanto Vanguard into Merfolk Trickster.)
Round One: vs. James Dudek (Sultai), 2-1
This was a very strange match. Games one and two were decided by mulls to five both games. Game three on the play he missed his third land drop after bricking with Merfolk Branchwalker, and I was able to shove through enough damage that even once the Find // Finality showed up, an end-of-turn March of the Multitudes could get there.
Round Two: vs. Curt Sendaydiego (Esper), 2-1
Again I lose game one when I can't gain traction, then come back to win games two and three. Game two he tapped low on blue sources, and when he didn't Negate an end-step March of the Multitudes I went for Flourish to one-shot him. Game three was a slugfest where he ultimately found all four Kaya's Wraths, but Adanto, the First Fort churned out so many Vampires that he couldn't stay afloat.
Round Three: vs. Jose Daniel Garcia Rosas (Sultai), 2-1
I start this match looking around and seeing a lot of white and blue decks, as well as a good amount of Sultai. So of course I miss a good matchup again and have to have a slog. Game one my opponent Hostage Takers Trostani Discordant and then quickly figured out why that was a bad idea, but I lost to multiple Find // Finality anyway. Games two and three were won because Sultai can't play around Splinter Twin very well (end of turn, big March of the Multitudes, untap, Flower // Flourish/Unbreakable Formation/ Trostani Discordant). They have to control the board with Finalities and hope that you don't draw "the combo" in a spot where it'd kill them. Admittedly, Finality is backbreaking. Sultai is favored, but it's definitely still winnable.
Round Four: vs. Kyle Miller (Nexusless? Gates), 2-1
I was almost completely allergic to game one wins this tournament, and round four was no exception, and I died to a bunch of Gates Ablaze. Games two and three, Unbreakable Formation proved why it's in the deck handily, bricking a Deafening Clarion and Gates Ablaze game two and another Gates Ablaze game three. He flooded a bit hard the last game and didn't have a Guild Summit to mitigate it, and Adanto, the First Fort's constant stream of Vampires won me another match.
Round Five: vs. Josh Sellers (Mono-Red), 1-2
The first of my opponents who qualified for London at this RPTQ, Josh flipped the script on me and beat me in both post-board games. I got stuck on two lands game two, and game three I flooded hard. I feel like Mono-Red is a good matchup, but in all of the time I put in this weekend, this is the only time I played against it. Chainwhirler feels bad, but Thorn Lieutenant being a 2/3 is very relevant against their early plays. And of course several cards say "lifelink" on them, including Lyra Dawnbringer. Congrats on qualifying Josh!
Round Six: vs. Seth Cole (Sultai), 0-2
Aaaand the second of my opponents who qualified. Both games I couldn't gain traction and died, more or less. Big Hydroid Krases ran me over after some Wild Growth Walkers held the ground. To be frank, there isn't a ton to talk about here: I think maybe I ran one of my Marches out too early, but I'm also not sure I was beating his draw anyway. The upside to midrange, as always, is that when you draw only the relevant cards you get to just win. Where Hydroid Krasis is terrible early against Selesnya, it's great when the board is locked up as a way to close quickly. Against last season's Golgari, Carnage Tyrants could be raced or traded with fairly easily. But there aren't so many answers to big fliers once the game reaches that point.
And then just like that, the dream was dead.
RPTQ dream is dead, 4-0 into 0-2. Feeling pretty defeated.— Nick Prince, Jams GW No Matter What Guy (@nicknprince) February 18, 2019
I sat at the table dejected, and considered dropping. It was already 5pm, and I'd left a little before 8am. With two hours of driving left, it was tempting, but I figured I'd play the last round to avoid traffic.
But then the standings were posted. At 67 players, it was a seven-round tournament, but only barely, and that meant Top 8 math got a little weird if there were draws. I was in 9th place, a few percentage points above the other 4-2s in breakers, and 8th place was a 13-pointer. That meant the 7th-8th place match couldn't draw, because if I won I would jump into 8th. If Daniel (on 15 points) won, I was in with a win. If he lost, I could pass him on breakers.
For any of those to happen, I had to win. But obviously you clicked on the title to get to this point, so you know the outcome already.
Round Seven: vs. Ryan Marino (Mono-Blue), 2-1
Finally, a matchup I wanted to play! Game one he had a turn one Mist-Cloaked Herald, but not a Curious Obsession. Thorn Lieutenant and some Histories of Benalia clocked him quickly, especially once Trostani Discordant appeared. Game two my opponent played turn one Mist-Cloaked Herald, turn two Siren Stormtamer, and I was sure that the two Tithe Takers in my hand would take it down, as that card is typically just an assassin against the 19-land deck that often can only leave up one or two mana. But he played a Curious Obsession and another Siren Stormtamer on three, then two more Obsesssions the following turn. It didn't matter that he couldn't play his spells on my turn, as I couldn't race effectively. In the last game, Emmara, Soul of the Accord, Knight of Autumn, a Kraul Harpooner and a Baffling End were enough to win.
Two quick notes on this matchup: Merfolk Trickster must target something with its ability, and you resolve the ability in the order it is written. Against Thorn Lieutenant, that means it triggers when targeted. Against Emmara, Soul of the Accord, she will be tapped, her ability will trigger (and wait to go on the stack), and then she loses all abilities. Either way, they should probably tap something else. But when either of those is your only creature, they have to give you a 1/1 to play the Merfolk Trickster. Both came up during this match.
I'd done my part, Daniel won his matchup to take first seed with 18 points, leaving the door wide open for me to get 8th place and lock me in as his semi-final opponent. And since the RPTQ awarded four invites, it was the only one we'd play in Top 8. I posted on Twitter that I was gonna need all the energy I could get, and then sat down to play.
The Top Eight Match: vs. Daniel Troha (Mono White), 2-1
Game one he summarily crushed me with a triple one-drop, double Benalish Marshall draw. I scooped after the second Marshall. Still allergic to game ones, I guess. I boarded in eleven cards, as I knew he had Healer's Hawk in his deck and that Kraul Harpooner could gain a ton of edge.
Game two we both had a decent amount of low-cost cards, no lords and flooded. Harpooner on turn three did his job and shot a Healers Hawk out of the sky, a Knight of Autumn blew up Legion's Landing before he could flip it, Emmara, Soul of the Accord eventually traded after making a few lifelink Soldiers, and I started chip shotting him with Thorn Lieutenant and six lands up to make blocking impossible. Eventually I drew Flower // Flourish which prompted multiple chump blocks and a scoop after drawing for the turn.
Game three we both kept weird hands. Mine was Plains x2, Tithe Taker, Baffling End, History of Benalia, Unbreakable Formation, Emmara, Soul of the Accord.
He kept something that, from what he played, I'd guess was along the lines of: Plains, Skymarcher Aspirant x2, Legion's Landing, and some combination of more one-drops and Tocatli Honor Guard. It was a hand that, like game one, probably runs me over if he hits the land in the first couple draws. Instead we both miss land drops for a couple turns, and I used the Baffling End to take him off of three creatures so that he couldn't flip a Legion's Landing. The power of Twitter Friendship held, and I drew the land first to play a History of Benalia. He was forced to chump attack to try and stay in the game by flipping Legion's Landing and landing a Tocatli Honor Guard. I drew a fourth land and played two Thorn Lieutenants. He missed again on land and played another Honor Guard. Now with History of Benalia Chapter III going off and a wide board, Unbreakable Formation forced him from 21 down to 3, and he scooped the next turn.
Got it in three.— Nick Prince, Jams GW No Matter What Guy (@nicknprince) February 18, 2019
IM GOING TO LONDON!!!!!!!!
It was a strange set of three games, but I'd gotten there! I called the boyfriend first, then updated Twitter, talked to the TO and judges to make sure there was nothing I needed to do, then sat in my car for a few minutes to compose myself before driving back to Los Angeles.
I'm excited to visit London, as I've never been out of the country at all, much less England. I have no idea what the format will be as it's the prerelease weekend, but I've had a lot of people reaching out to give support and offer help preparing. I'm grateful for everyone who has done that, or was cheering for me on Twitter.
Finally, a few shout outs:
Justin, the best partner everThe Elite Yeet groupchat, who listens to me whine constantly and still supports meTrostani, who has won me every tournament I've registered her inCaffeine, for keeping me awakeGerry, for tricking me into playing W/GBaker (VTCLA), for the Esper list and talking through it and the format, even if I last minute abandoned it
Seeya in London, y'all!