The eyes of the Magic world converged on Boston, Massachusetts this weekend to observe the biggest tournament on the Magic calendar. Twenty-four of the world's most powerful wizards battled for prestige, dominance and, of course, $100,000 in cold hard cash. The tournament was one for the ages, with William "Huey" Jensen showcasing sheer mastery of the game on his way to a richly deserved victory. Additionally, the Pro Tour Team Series final was held on Sunday, in which Team Musashi narrowly beat out Team Genesis in a tiebreaker final.
In preparing for the weekend, Team Genesis relentlessly prepared for success by exploring Ixalan Limited as thoroughly as possible. Half the team were also playing in the World Championship itself – while Seth Manfield, Martin Müller, and Brad Nelson were hungering for the title of World Champion, the rest were wanting to bring their A-game during the Team Series final. As a result, this group of wizards certainly knew their eggs when it came to the current Limited formats – both Sealed and Draft.
Over the weekend, I sat down with some members of Team Genesis – TCGPlayer's own Seth Manfield and Lukas Blohon – to get their impressions of Ixalan, and see what wisdom they had accrued during their time testing with Team Genesis. They had developed strong preferences already after having learnt a lot during their preparation. Manfield and Blohon agree: the best way to succeed is to get on the front foot and pressure your opponent with early aggression. And the best way to do that? Red-White Dinosaurs.
"Dinos are really good," Blohon told me. "There are powerful commons in red-white: Territorial Hammerskull especially, and Thrash of Raptors."
Blohon's position is supported by Manfield. "It's probably my favourite archetype," he revealed with a smile. "It's the best of the Dinosaur decks. It's certainly the most aggressive, and I like attacking."
Manfield definitely put his money where his mouth is when sitting down for his first draft at the World Championship. He comfortably put together a strong red-white deck, and was pleased to have managed to maneuver into his favorite draft archetype. "It was good," he said, remembering. "I was missing one or two two-drops, but I had two copies of Sky Terror and they're excellent."
So, for those looking to follow in Manfield's footsteps and leverage the power of red-white aggressive commons, what advice does he offer? "You do want removal, but you want the premium creatures first," he confided, making it clear that good creatures should be the absolute priority while drafting, even above removal. "Normally you can pick up a couple removal spells and tricks throughout the draft."
Unfortunately, Manfield was unable to 3-0 the first pod. "I was 2-0, and then lost to Calcano," he recalled ruefully. "I got completely run over." Not that there's any shame in that – Calcano's perfect start to the tournament came on the back of an innovative, high-risk high-reward approach to drafting.
We've seen this kind of risky business in the past, with cards like Hammerhand and Madcap Skills putting removal-light decks on very quick clocks indeed. Given the slower nature of removal in Ixalan, decks like this can be rewarded with strong results. A word of warning for those seeking to emulate Calcano, however! "This deck gets worse now," explained Manfield. "Calcano's deck had three and four copies of the most important cards so he got a good version of it. Now, people are going to try it out, it will be harder to get there."
All the same, Calcano's approach signals that there's yet more to learn about Ixalan. "I don't think the format is figured out," mused Blohon. "Because the Pro Tour is usually 14 days after release, people come with stuff figured out, but with one month more things will change a bit."
So, we haven't yet seen everything Ixalan has to offer? "I think this format is pretty straightforward, but this could change," Blohon contended. "Maybe there are some gimmicky slower decks, or strategies based around weird uncommons."
Manfield agrees that there are still strategies and approaches that require further investigation, especially considering his defeat at the hands of the Swashbuckling Calcano. "I hadn't seen that deck ever," he admitted. "I didn't know it was a thing, but it played out very impressively." You won't be surprised to learn that Manfield is hungry for more data. "I'm going to immediately hit Magic Online and start drafting it, because it's the same format for the next Pro Tour!"
Manfield had a second draft on Saturday, of course, and this one was a little tougher.
"I didn't get enough two-drop Merfolk," he reflected. "I also played against Huey, and no one could beat him." You can watch Manfield break down his draft as part of the weekend's coverage, but he was able to offer a little more perspective to me as well. "I didn't have any premium cards, just a Shapers of Nature that I got early," he said. "Some of the other picks, like a Repeating Barrage, weren't in my colors and were pretty speculative."
This is something Manfield is pretty happy to do, as it happens. "I don't mind using a couple of my pack one and early pack two picks to speculate," he explained. "Normally you can get 23 cards together anyway, so I'll stay open and speculate on powerful cards early in the draft." This sentiment was echoed by other pros at the event – a good number of them highlighted the importance of staying open and flexible during the early stages of a draft.
Manfield and Blohon will take up positions in Albuquerque in under a month, where their Pro Tour fortunes will be heavily influenced by the six rounds of draft. Blohon already has some interesting data on a deck he's looking to avoid at all costs, too! The widely-respected White-Black Vampires deck may not be all it's cracked up to be. "We found out that Vampire deck felt like a trap to us because we weren't really winning with it," he reveals. "You need a lot of rares, or things to be doing in the late game.
"For example, Pirate's Cutlass is very good in Vampires as it makes your bad lifelink 1/1s into real cards, and gives you something to do with your mana." Vampires has been widely touted as one of the premier decks in Ixalan Limited, perhaps because when it comes together it can blow an opponent away at lightning speed. Manfield joins Blohon, however, in wanting to move into more innovative areas. "I think there are going to be more aggressive decks that are out there in different color pairs," he said, considering. "Decks that aren't even based on a tribe. I might try to draft some weird color pairs moving forward."
Manfield and Blohon had some final pieces of advice for those looking to crush their enemies in Ixalan draft. With the power of the red-white deck now more or less an open secret, he has a new angle on getting aggressive. "I really like red-black, as it's the most aggressive of the Pirate colors," he told me. "There's Headstrong Brute, which is the best in black-red – I don't really like it in other decks. Then there are all the good black and red two-drops."
Manfield offered some more general advice. "I advise people to stay open at least through the first pack," he said. "After the first pick or two of pack two, you should be more or less solidified, but you need to leave room to splash a powerful card if it comes your way."
With Pro Tour Ixalan looming large on the horizon, Blohon talked also about how being part of a team has helped to shape and improve him as a player when contesting top-level Magic events. "It definitely helped me to be part of Genesis," he confidently asserted. "I think that everyone on the team is best at one thing – so you get to learn a lot of things that you're not the best with. Seth is good, very good, in Limited in particular."
Manfield shares Blohon's appreciation of a positive team environment while working with Team Genesis, especially for the World Championship. "I was able to get in a ton of drafts on Magic Online, bouncing ideas off with my teammates," he recalled. "Then last week it was just grind time for Constructed – I relied on my teammates as we tried to get across as much of the format as possible."
With Team Genesis placing as runners-up in the inaugural Pro Tour Team Series, they're of course hoping to continue their success into the coming season. Some changes are coming, however – some very exciting changes for fans of TCGplayer's team of pros! "Genesis will be a bit different next year," Blohon reveals. "Corey Baumeister and Brian Braun-Duin will be joining us."
With the majority of the team publishing content right here on TCGplayer, we'll have an excellent window into the preparations and results of one of the best teams in the business!
- Riley Knight