Every so often I break from routine to discuss Magical things without the constraints of videos. What I mean by that is that sometimes I like to write about things that aren't limited to the content I've uploaded to YouTube that day. Considering that Oath of the Gatewatch isn't available (or legal) on Magic Online until this Friday, I figured today would be a great time to go over some of the most recent things on my mind, Magically speaking of course. Hopefully you'll not only join me, but enjoy the ride as well, despite the apparent lack of my beautifully dulcet tones.

Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch

Next week I will be doing something that I have been attempting to accomplish for nearly 20 years: playing in the Pro Tour. I came about my qualification in 2014, when I made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Orlando. At the time Melissa was about to take a contract position at Wizards of the Coast, so I was unable to use my invite as people who live with Wizards of the Coast employees were unable to compete in sanctioned Magic events with a prize pool of over $250; insider information and all that, I assume.

Well, Melissa's contract ended in December and my deferred invitation kicked in, allowing me to head to Atlanta next week for the Pro Tour. I'm incredibly excited, to say the least, but that excitement comes with noticeable levels of stress as well.

You see, before taking a position at Wizards, I was there with Melissa for some of the previous Pro Tours she had participated in and I had a good grasp on how things were done. We would often leave for the destination weeks in advance and test with players such as TCGplayer's own Raphael Levy, Jeremy Dezani, Joel Larsson, Brad Nelson, and others. Having this firsthand experience with the testing process allowed me to know immediately that I would be woefully underprepared for this event. While I wish this wasn't the case, it's simply how things played out. I didn't really know that I would be attending the event until the end of December, which left me with about a month to get all my affairs in order. Heck, even as I write this I'm unsure of what deck I'll be playing in exactly one week, and I've only done around ten Drafts so far. I don't even have a hotel locked in yet, and I certainly didn't have the luxury of flying in early in order to properly test with a legitimate team.

No, despite talking shop with players like Zac Elsik of Lantern Control fame, Mark Nestico, and Ali Aintrazi, I'm still mostly flying solo for this event. This isn't too troubling, because I know I'll have plenty of friends at the actual Pro Tour; I just wish I could have put a little more effort into an experience I may realistically never have again. There's no person or thing to really blame; it's just the way things happened to work out this time.

I guess my point is mostly that, coupled with numerous other factors that have been taking place in my non Magic life recently, this has been an incredibly stressful few weeks and preparing for a Pro Tour is no easy task to begin with, especially when you don't have the benefit of being surrounded by some of the best players in the world. I had no idea how many factors even went into it until I was doing all of the planning by myself, let alone the fact that I didn't have a pre-established team to test with or a pre-established set of plans I knew I needed to make. I suppose I'm finding out the hard way, but it's all part of the ride, I suppose.

As far as Modern goes, I'm still up in the air on what works and what doesn't work in the format, but I think that's Modern's secret: everything both works and doesn't work at the same time. It's basically Schrodinger's Format. I playtested three different decks a couple of nights ago, through several different matchups, and I was basically 50/50 at the end of testing.

Some of the decks I'm looking at for the Pro Tour are Land Destruction, Eldrazi, something with Collected Company, and something with Blood Moon. Honestly, I have no idea, but I feel like being able to destroy lands via cards like Fulminator Mage or Blood Moon is very good right now, so I either want to be playing the cards that destroy lands or playing the lands that people hope they're able to destroy. Oh, also turn two Thought-Knot Seer is pretty ridiculous.

Speaking of Modern, however...

Modern Bannings

I never really got to say much on the bannings of Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom a few weeks back. I mentioned them in passing in an article, but that was basically it. For anyone who watches my videos regularly, my feelings on Amulet Bloom were pretty apparent. The deck was simply too consistent and incredibly hard to disrupt with conventional disruption. Sure, you could destroy Amulet of Vigor, an artifact, or counter Summer Bloom, but not every deck was able to do those things, nor should they have to. There were so many games where I could literally win on my next turn, as I had stripped away every chance the Amulet Bloom deck had, only for them to topdeck something ridiculous like a redundant Summoner's Pact and win on the spot. Anyone arguing that decks like Infect or Goryo's Vengeance were or are anywhere close to the consistency of Amulet Bloom do not play nearly enough Modern. Aside from that, I haven't played against a Goryo's Vengeance deck in over a month, probably longer, which is pretty indicative of its metagame share.

As for Splinter Twin, was it dominating? No, not really. Was it oppressive? Yes, it was. There are few decks in Modern that will flat out win the game against you on turn four if you don't keep them in mind. Was Splinter Twin itself, or Deceiver Exarch, or Pestermite, that hard to deal with by themselves? No, of course not. The creatures die to things like Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt, and Abrupt Decay, after all. The problem was that Splinter Twin prevented other decks from being able to advance their board state simply due to the very existence of Splinter Twin, which is just incredible for a control deck masquerading as a combo deck. If you were playing against Splinter Twin, you basically couldn't tap out on turn three. Or turn four. Or any turn, really, if it disallowed you from playing a removal spell on the off chance your opponent attempted to combo off. Go ahead. Play your Kitchen Finks on turn three. Meanwhile, you're dead.

Decks like Infect, or Tron, or Goryo's Vengeance, well you can see them coming from a mile away.

"Oh, you have an infect creature in play? Let me work with that."

"Oh, you have two Tron lands. I better make my decisions based on you possibly having the third."

"Oh, you have a Griselbrand in the graveyard. I'll be sure to keep up Path to Exile mana."

You know what happened when you were playing against Splinter Twin or Amulet Bloom?

"Oh, you have lands in play? I better assume you can kill me next turn."

I really don't think that's the place you want to be in Modern, and I look forward to seeing how the format adapts. Yes, there are several other powerful combo decks in Modern, but none of them are the go-to combo decks in the same way Splinter Twin and Amulet Bloom were, and that's a good thing.

Competitive Muscle

This weekend I'll be heading to Grand Prix Vancouver, which is a mere three hour drive away from me. It's the second Grand Prix I've played in this month along with a PPTQ, so I guess you could say I'm flexing my competitive muscle again. The format is Sealed, and while that's not exactly the same as the Drafting that will be taking place at the Pro Tour, it should still give me some practice. If I can 6-3 and make Day 2, then we're in business!

That being said, I'll be sure to pick up some Oath of the Gatewatch cards on Magic Online and get some Modern videos done for you guys for Monday. Or maybe not. I'm not sure yet. "Maybe not" was in reference to the Oath cards, not the videos. I will 100% have some videos for you on Monday so, in the words of Scar from the Lion King, be prepared!

If you haven't already, be sure to follow me over on the public Facebook page I created for all of my Magic content. If you're looking to get updates on when I post a new video to YouTube, know when I have a new article, see when a new podcast goes live, or want to join in some cool discussions, be sure and give the page a "like."

Thanks for all the support and be sure to keep an eye on me at the Pro Tour next weekend. I'm sure I'll be telling you again next week, but getting a little head start never hurt anyone. Unless of course we're talking about my Pro Tour testing, in which caseā€¦

Well, you get the point.

Frank Lepore
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