In the competitive Magic: The Gathering scene, the Pro Tour is the big leagues. The main route to the big leagues is the Pro Tour Qualifier, a tournament that awards an invitation to an upcoming Pro Tour. The glory only goes to first place, however, and everyone else is sent back to the minors. It is on the PTQ circuit that players can prove their skill, best the local competition, and earn the right to play with the best in the world.
The qualification season for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx is entering its final weeks. This past weekend featured some very competitive PTQ's across the country, which collectively drew thousands of players to compete for a handful of invitations to the next Pro Tour. Three of said PTQ's were won by three people I know, three people with varying levels of Magic Pro Tour experience. All three of them have graciously agreed to answer some of my questions today, and I expect that they will have some wonderful wisdom and advice for others out there working to qualify for the Pro Tour.
I present, Drew Christensen, Steve Rubin, and Andrew Morrow.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, and give me an overview of your Magic: The Gathering history.Drew:
I've been playing Magic for about nine years, and I've been playing tournaments for over seven years. I started playing tournaments to distract myself from swimming (I was a member of the 2008 Paralympic swim team for Canada). I really got into the competitive side of the game when I won 2008 Champs with Faeries; it really lit my competitive fire. My largest tournament successes are finishing 21st at GP LA in 2009, a few PTQ Top 8s, and winning the ManaDeprived.com $2,000 tournament held in Vancouver last year. PT Atlanta will be my first PT! :)Steve:
I started playing Magic in Urza block, but only started traveling to events outside my home of Pittsburgh around Zendikar block. I'm primarily a limited player though I play any format of upcoming GPs or PTQ seasons.Andrew:
My name is Andrew Morrow I've been playing Magic for a little over four years now. Ever since I won my first tournament (a GPT) in 2009, I was hooked. I travelled to just about every local and non-local event that I could. In 2010 I attended my first SCG Open and Grand Prix, where I played against Gerry Thompson (round one of SCG Cincinnati) and Todd Anderson (Round 8 of Legacy Grand Prix Columbus). After playing against very skilled opponents I knew I had a lot to learn. 2012 I Top 8ed my first SCG Open and lost to Adam Prosak in the finals. I gained a lot more confidence after that tournament, mostly because I knew I could compete with the best. A well timed Searing Spear won me my first PTQ in May of 2013 for Pro Tour Theros. I top 8ed the SCG right before the Pro Tour with a black/white home brew that turned out to be a good deck.How many PTQs have you played this season? What was your state of mind before and during this particular tournament?
Drew: This was the second PTQ I've played this season. Working full time makes it hard to really travel to PTQs, so I've only played the local ones. I felt incredibly confident going into this PTQ, I'd gotten a good list from my good friend Seb Denno, and felt like the deck was very well positioned in the tournament's metagame.
Steve: I played in three PTQs this season. Before the tournament I felt awesome, as this was the local PTQ so a lot of legendary wizards who I do not get to see often were there. In addition, Jarvis Yu, Steve Nagy, JD Nir, and Ben Peebles-Mundy were all staying at my house for the entire weekend and as you can imagine were not only around for the PTQ but associated shenanigans. Quite frankly, I was not quite that focused on the PTQ but more excited about a day of drafting with my friends.
Andrew: I played in three PTQs this season; third times the charm. My state of mind is to stay focused on the match, when you focus you tend to make better plays.What did you play at your PTQ and why? What is your past experience with the deck?
Drew: I played Orzhov Control at the PTQ. I had played a lot of Monoblack Devotion earlier in the season, and I just became sick of playing the mirror. I felt playing white in the deck would give me a way bigger edge in the mirror (it did), and it wasn't really sacrificing anything else in other matchups. I had only played the BW version of the deck once, finishing second in a local standard GPT.
Here's my decklist:
Steve: I played Monoblack Devotion. I had picked up the deck for earlier PTQs when it was more dominant. I had already played in a few PTQs with one Top 8 so it was a comfortable choice. It also had a good matchup against the Gruul Midrange deck that seemed to be the most popular deck.
Andrew: I played Azorius Control. I played it because I feel like it's the best deck and allows you to make more decisions to outplay your opponents.
How do you approach the Standard metagame? What archetypes did you prepare to face?
Drew: I was expecting a lot of Gruul Midrange, as it had put up really big numbers at the most recent SCG Open, so I changed the removal package in the deck to improve that matchup (shaved down on Bile Blights and added Ultimate Price).
Steve: Usually I play one of the proven tier one decks in Standard, though I much prefer to be the beatdown which can impact my decision.
I didn't really test for the tournament, but I did play two Notion Thief again in my sideboard with one Watery Grave main because Azorius Control is your worst matchup as Monoblack. Not to mention I played against at least two Sphinxes Revelation decks in each of my prior PTQs.
(The winner of the last Standard Grand Prix in Melbourne played two Watery Grave maindeck and a sideboard Notion Thief: a new trend for Monoblack Devotion worth trying. This is the sort of splash I like, Late-game, high-impact, and for a specific problem.)
Andrew: I played in a PTQ the day before the PTQ I won, and I played against Gruul Midrange five out of the eight rounds so I wanted to improve that match up and changed a couple cards. In the PTQ I won I played against Gruul Midrange five times and didn't lose a match.What did you actually play against in the tournament?
Drew: The decks I played against, in order were:
Round 1: Gruul Midrange Round 2: Monoblue Devotion Round 3: Monoblack Devotion Round 4: Azorius Control (loss in the swiss) Round 5: Gruul Midrange Round 6: Junk Reanimator Round 7: Monored Burn Round 8: Draw into Top 8Quarterfinals: Orzhov Control mirror match Semifinals: Azorius Control (same player I lost to in the swiss) Finals: Esper Midrange
Steve: Matches in order:
Round 1: Gruul Midrange Round 2: Orzhov Control Round 3: Jund Midrange Round 4: Azorius Control Round 5: Esper Midrange Round 6: Azorius Control Round 7: Esper Control Quarterfinals: Azorius Control Semifinals: Monoblue Devotion Finals: Bant Midrange/Control
Round 1: Lost to weather conditions Round 2: Gruul Midrange Round 3: Gruul Midrange Round 4: UW mirror match Round 5: Gruul Midrange Round 6: Jund Midrange Round 7: Draw into Top 8 Quarterfinals: RUG Midrange Semifinals: Monoblack Devotion Finals: BWR BurnWhat was the toughest match of the tournament?
Drew: The toughest match in the tournament was definitely the Semifinal matchup vs. Jason Fleurant playing Azorius Control. He was my only loss in the swiss and he also beat me at the other PTQ I played this season. Game one went super long with me beating him down with Mutavaults. Game two he crushed me with multiple Sphinx's Revelation. Game three was very close, I had a turn one Duress into turn two Pack Rat, but I didn't draw a third land. He didn't have an answer for the Pack Rat / Mutavault beatdown until he was at eight. I eventually started drawing lands to play my threats, and finally I was able to resolve an Obzedat. The game ended very quickly after that.
Steve: My most difficult match was probably the finals, particularly the final game. I just got so behind my opponents' start of Sylvan Caryatid into Courser of Kruphix into Domestication on my Nightveil Specter. I was able to draw back into it with both my Erebos' eventually building up enough steam to rattle off two Gray Merchants for 13 to kill my opponent through his active Elspeth and Jace.
Andrew: I had several tough matches in the Top 8. In the quarters I beat a Domri Rade ultimate Emblem. In the semis I beat a Gray Merchant of Asphodel for 13 followed by an attack for 11. In the finals I mulliganed to five game two after punting away victory in game one. My Top 8 was a roller coaster.If you lost a match, what matchup was it, and why did you lose?
Drew: The match I lost was to Jason playing Azorius Control. I never seemed to be able to get in either game. In game one he cast Sphinx's Revelation I believe five times (with Elixir of Immortality) before I conceded. I definitely should have scooped them up early. Game two was the same story, and he was able to keep me off threats then he killed me quickly with an AEtherling.
Andrew: My only loss was to road conditions/not waking up on time. Luckily there is justice in this world.At tournaments I am often haunted by game-losing mistakes, but I am quick to forget those that go unpunished. Did you make any potentially devastating blunders?
Drew: I can't really remember any glaring mistakes at this time. The one I do remember was in the finals. I knew my opponent was playing Esper Midrange, but instead of playing a scry land turn one to be able to play Bile Blight turn two, I lead with a Swamp so I could Thoughtseize. I ended up taking too much extra damage from the Precinct Captain he played turn two.
Steve: My blunder came in game two of the finals where I accidentally missed my second land drop. I cast a Thoughtseize before playing my land as I always do, and after picking my card I said I was done. Whoops. Surprisingly I brushed it off right away as I was already down a game and was going to need to play real tight to win the PTQ. What's interesting was I wasn't nervous at all in this match - my error was just a communication sequencing error.
Andrew: I made too many mistakes to count, but the most notable one is the finals match. I'm at seven and my opponent attacks with a Spark Trooper and Mutavault. I have two lands and up a Jace in play that I ticked up last turn. I Azorius Charm the Spark Trooper to the top, forget my Jace trigger, go to 5, and die to Magma Jet and Lightning Strike.I have lost in the finals of just as many PTQ as I have won. Tell me about the final match.
Drew: The finals match was incredibly stressful! It was my first PTQ finals, so I was incredibly nervous. I was playing against my good friend and roommate for the weekend, Mani Davoudi. I knew this matchup was good for me, but he ended up squeaking out game one with a top decked Obzedat. Games two and three weren't all that close, I drew a lot of removal and multiple Blood Baron of Vizkopa, so both games were over pretty quickly.
Steve: My final match was pretty awesome. It was almost certainly the longest sanctioned match I have ever played. My play was pretty quick and concise; my opponent was a talker which didn't bother me. I would let him talk, give up no information and just focus on making good plays. He was playing a Bant control deck and I was able to take games two and three mostly on the back of Erebos preventing life gain, beating down, and drawing cards.
Andrew: Game one I sat on my Sphinx's Revelation for too long and missing the Jace trigger really cost me. Game two I mulled to five and kept with four lands and a Celestial Flare. Mulling actually turned out to be a good thing because my opponent cast Toil//Trouble on me and I ended game two at two life. What won me game two was drawing Elspeth, Sun's Champion on turn six and jamming her out to make tokens. Game three my opponent got stuck on mana, which allowed me to land Elspeth and block Boros Reckoner for several turns. I did have to Last Breath one of my tokens so I wouldn't lose, so that was pretty cool.Anything else about your PTQ, your deck, or Standard you would like to share?
Drew: I think Orzhov Control has to be the best deck in the format at the moment. Other than Azorius Control, it felt like every matchup was very much in your favor.
Andrew: I want to thank everyone again for showing me so much love. Really want to thank Eric Rill for driving with me even though he qualified already. Jeff Rasmussen for letting us crash at his place and for being an awesome host. Andrew Tenjum for riding in the car with me (someone always Top 8's in Tenjum's car). Also, cut Divination from Azorius Control, it's very bad.Pro Tour Journey to Nyx is under 10 weeks away, and testing time is going to melt away quickly. Tell me about your preparation plans.
Drew: Yikes, the PT is in 10 weeks?! I haven't really thought about testing for the PT yet, but there are a few other players from Vancouver that are also qualified, so I'm sure I'll be doing some testing with them.
Steve: My testing for PT Journey to Nyx will probably be a lot of drafting and doing MODO events to familiarize myself with the formats. I'm hoping I can rejoin the team I was on last PT I went to, though that was a while ago and they keep the amount of members low so I'm not expecting anything at this point. If that falls through my roommate Stu is also qualified, so I imagine there could be a lot of long nights of block ahead of us, given we are both teamless.
Andrew: I'm going to go out to Atlanta a week early and play test with everyone I know that is qualified for the Pro Tour. It's very difficult to practice a format until we know what's in the third set of the block.What deck do you like in Modern, and why should I play it?
Drew: I really like American Midrange. It feels like a really powerful deck, although I've only played a few games with it. Geist of Saint Traft just seems so hard to beat.
Steve: I don't really know that much about Modern currently. For Richmond at least I will be playing Samuele Estratti's Living End deck. He has won a modern PT so I definitely trust his judgment on deck choice as well as his specific list. As for a reason you should play the deck? I figure that you would enjoy hard casting Monstrous Carabid and Deadshot Minotaur at an eternal Grand Prix, Adam.
Andrew: I usually like to play combo decks in Modern because it's the only PTQ format where you can play combo. I would lean toward Twin or Storm. Storm I believe had the best win percentage on the PT and Twin is just a consistent deck. My unbiased answer would be Birthing Pod, it's another deck that allows you to outplay your opponents as well as being more resilient to hate than other combo.
There you have it! Thank you very much to those guys for answering my questions and sharing their stories with us today! What impressed me most was that these guys fought through a lot of opposition and made plenty of mistakes along the way, but they were able to stay strong throughout and come away with the win. If you have any more questions for me or for these guys ask in the comments and we'll get some answers.
Good luck at the Pro Tour, guys!