For Pro Tour Origins I decided to switch things up a little bit. I had wanted to test with long-time friends Martin Juza and Frank Karsten for a while now. After almost two years, Team Revolution had some success, bringing innovative decks to the table and taking home a Pro Tour title, but I felt it was my time to look for something else.
A week before GP Dallas, I met with Team Cabin Crew in the country side of the Czech Republic where Martin's parents own a hotel-like building in the middle of the woods (therefore the cabin). Beds for everyone, a professional kitchen, a lobby with tables and chairs, a TV with the music channel on the whole day, no real distraction around except for big trees and forest trails: the perfect setting to dedicate yourself 100% to testing for the duration of the stay.
The line-up came from Holland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, England and Slovenia with Martin Juza, Lukas Blohon, Ondrej Strasky, Ivan Floch, Robin Dolar, Davor Detecnic, Thomas Hendrick, Fabricio Anterri and me. Frank Karsten and Jeremy Dezani who followed me on that new adventure would only meet us later in the US.
The plan was to get as many physical Drafts done as possible, and that meant drafting at least three times a day, from dawn till night, in order to have the best understanding of the format. We would wait for the results of the first big Standard tournaments with the new set to orientate our Constructed testing.
The team has always had very good Draft results, and I can understand why. After the first Draft of the Pro Tour, out of 11 players, we had a combined record of 22-11 with no one posting an 0-3 record. A 2-1 average score is pretty impressive. Over the weekend I 3-0ed my first draft and 2-1ed the second to a 5-1 record in Limited.
Coming into the tournament, I had different goals:
-Winning the Pro Tour (Well, you gotta aim for the stars, right?)
-Achieving Platinum (Needed a 12-4 record)
-Making the World Magic Cup as the French team captain (I had 4 point on Pierre at the beginning of the tournament).
I felt very confident about the Draft. The problem was that I was not feeling confident about Constructed at all.
As soon as we reached the cabin we started drafting. We didn't focus much on Constructed until the last few days, before we would depart to Dallas. Some of us had brewed a few decks and were playing between the Drafts, waiting for the first new decks to pop up to know what to do from there.
I wanted to try something with the new Jace and maybe include some combo pieces to it, maybe some Jeskai Ascendancy. Oh, and I wanted to play my beloved Daring Thief one last time. I couldn't come up with a deck competitive enough; it was too bad because the deck was really fun to play. For the record, here's a deck I came up with:
Just a few words on it, the deck has an "infinite combo" thanks to Jeskai Ascendancy, Retraction Helix, and Springleaf Drum and you have the option to win with your opponent's threats thanks to Daring Thief. The deck would require an entire article to explain all the trick is has in its bag. I particularly enjoyed trading a flipped Jace for a big creature: activate Jace with four or more cards in the graveyard and a tapped Daring Thief, play an instant, untap both, trade Jace for an opponent's creature, resolve Jace, loot, Jace flips and comes back under your control.
If you want a deck that does a million different things and has a million different angles to attack your opponent, then you should try something like that. I got to work on that deck for a long time, but it had problems against control in general and super aggro decks.
With the Pro Tour results in and a known metagame, this deck could actually have been something. Retraction Helix seems pretty well positioned against Ensoul Artifact...
Anyway, maybe I'll put some more effort to try to make it work again before Theros block rotates out.
So when I realized I wasn't going anywhere with this deck, I had to focus my testing on a deck I would have liked to play.
Jeremy was testing his UB online, tuning it every day, and posting very good results. He ended up playing a list very close to this:
But that just wasn't my style. No matter how much I would practice with it, a short week would not allow me to change my playstyle to the one of a control player.
In the same idea, Robin was tuning his Esper Dragon list. He posted an 8-1-1 record at the Pro Tour:
UB and Esper Dragon were just not good options for me.
We had a couple more decks that weren't gauntlet decks, including that Elf deck that wasn't actually doing so bad in testing. I think we discarded it as it suffered way too much from sweepers after board:
That left me with a few other options:
Lukas and Thomas had been testing this RG Dragon deck for a while and seemed to have good results. However, every time I would try it, I didn't seem to win a single game.
We had Rally decks but none of them really seemed overwhelming. There were explosive at best, but overall kinda clunky. The SCG results came up and Ray Tautic and his Rally version emerged. It couldn't be so bad if it won, right? That could have been a deck I got behind. After two days of testing, I was far from satisfied with the results; not only was the deck clunky, it had a lot of interactions to learn and master before you could pretend to take it to the Pro Tour. All the Liliana triggers, the sacrifices...I would have lost games to myself for sure. Ivan decided to change a few things to that deck. He took out the Elvish Mystics and some three-drops to add Jace (changing the manabase in the process) and Sylvan Caryatid.
At the same time, my previous teammates Pierre Dagen and Timothée Simonot had been tuning their own version of Rally (thinking I would have loved to work on it too) to end up with this version. Had I been with them, I know that's the deck I would have played:
At the same time, Frank Karsten was working on his Monored deck (he posted a 6-3-1 result at the Pro Tour):
That's also something I could have been behind. Just like with Elves, sideboarded games looked horrible and it felt the metagame was prepared for that kind of deck. It turned out it wasn't...
So that left me with one option. Martin had been tuning his version of Green/Red Devotion, the deck we both ended up playing:
With only a couple of hours left to pick a deck, I chose Green/Red Devotion for the tournament. At that point, it was really a default choice. I had never played the deck before, was very unfamiliar with all the interactions and didn't feel confident at all. Martin was positive it was a good choice, so instead of doubting myself too much, I gathered all the cards and submitted my decklist.
After my 3-0 in draft, I only had to win two out of five rounds to make Day 2. I won three out of five in a very unconvincing manner which put me at 6-2 after Day 1. My hopes were still alive, Top 8 was seven wins away and Platinum was six. Pierre was also 6-2 which was my primary worry.
Day 2 also started well, Pierre and I were drafting at the same pod, and I felt I had my fate in my hands. I drafted a great red/green deck, lost to Zvi Mowshowitz in the second round, and he proceeded to beat Pierre in the last round of the Draft. Once again, we were tied. But we had to play Constructed again.
In round 13 I was paired against Pro Tour Fate Reforged champion Antonio Moral del Leon and his Demonic Pact / Invasive Species deck in a feature match. You can probably find the video online. I won game one, but not without making a fool of myself, not really knowing all the Whisperwood Elemental shenanigans. Turned out my opponent and the table judge also didn't notice. Antonio played a Languish, I had a manifest creature (a Genesis Hydra) and a Whisperwood. I sac'd my Whisperwood in response, then unmorphed my hydra to get another manifest creature. It turns out the manifested Hydra doesn't get the ability to bring another manifest into play as Whisperwood only grants the ability to face-up non-token creatures in play at the time you sacrifice it. I have to check the video again, but I'm pretty sure I manifested one creature too many in the process when I unmorphed the fresh new manifest before the Languish resolved.
That game wasn't glorious and it showed how Green Devotion wasn't a deck I could just pick up and play. I proceeded to lose the match, which looked like an impossible matchup in retrospect.
This was just an example of how unprepared I was with the deck. It also took me a while to figure out the math of Nykthos and devotion, but I think I did an ok job with that.
I was paired in the next round against UR Ensoul Artifact. I had beaten PV with the same deck the day before, but this time I lost. I felt my fate was slowly slipping out of my hands as Pierre had one win over me. I was paired in the next round against Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, which was again, an almost impossible matchup for Green/Red Devotion.
The following round was the decisive one. I was paired against Abzan. If Pierre lost that round, I would make it for sure. If he won, I had to win and he had to lose his next round. At that point, Martin was paired against Pierre and he was playing his match for Platinum. So much was on the line in that round. I lost my match in a tight three games and picked up my fourth loss in a row. Martin also battled for three games and eventually lost his hope of making Platinum, which would have been his sixth year of top pro level in a row.
Knowing there was very little chance I would make the WMC, I played my last round against Monored and it wasn't even close. I had been on the other side of the matchup many times and, even though I was feeling really bummed, I enjoyed sadistically watching my (very friendly) opponent trying to deal with 5/5s and 4/4s every turn with me on a healthy life total. I could feel every time he was drawing a Mountain: "Yep, that Mountain ain't gonna deal with Polukranos..." We weren't playing for anything at this point and it was in all good spirit.
Meanwhile, Pierre IDed to get the point he needed to tie the race. He had a Grand Prix Top 8 last season which worked as the first relevant tie breaker between us and would therefore be serving the nation as the next French Captain at the WMC.
I finished 97th with a 5-1 record in Draft and a 4-6 record in Standard, which is by far one of my worst results in Constructed in a while. Honestly, I could see it coming; and as much as it pained me to miss Platinum (that would have been a bonus; wasn't really expecting that) - and most importantly, miss the WMC - I wasn't surprised.
It was also the first time I don't feel like I threw a game away this tournament. In almost all the tournaments I play, GPs and Pro Tours, there's always a round when I feel: "f***, I could have won this game!" Not this time. I regret not having been able to find a deck I liked early enough to feel confident playing it. I regret not having worked more with Frank on his Monored deck.
This is far from the end of the world. It's not like tie-breakers haven't been keen to me in the past (see Pro Tour San Diego 2013, also to qualify for the WMC). I was fortunate enough to reach my goals most of the time on the last tournament of the season, the most important was probably Pro Tour Portland last year where I had to Top 75 to reach Platinum, and that was two weeks before my wedding.
I definitely feel bummed, but I'll get over it; PTD (Post-Tournament Depression) usually never lasts for too long!
I'm now on my way back home, after having been away for almost three weeks. PTD used to last for longer as there's usually not so much to look forward to right after the Pro Tour. It feels very different this time. I used to not care so much about how long I would be away from home; I've been travelling like that for almost 20 years, and I never really missed home, no matter for how long I was away for. It's very different this time. I'm stoked to get back to my wife and that makes and the bad feelings go away.
So I finished the season with Gold which is good already, and will try to do at least as well next year.
I'm going to write just as much (and maybe more) next year, but as it's the end of the season, thanks are necessary:
-to TCGplayer.com for the support and the opportunity to write about Magic, my experience, my brews and whatever you can read on here!
-to Cartapapa and Fantasy Sphere, the French stores that lend me cards for the GPs, and anyone else who I can borrow cards from.
-to Team Revolution and Team Cabin Crew for all the good times and the testing.
-to you for the support.
-and to my wife for everything she does and her unconditional support, whether I bring home trophies or tournament regrets.
Thanks for reading and see you next season!