Getting ready for my trip to Australia has been a process with a lot of hurdles in addition to there being so much on the line. Simply playing games with Eldritch Moon cards is very time consuming when looking at Standard and all the various strategies it has to offer. While Bant Company and W/G Tokens are the best decks this week I fully expect some completely new decks to emerge at the Pro Tour. I have been battling as much as possible in Standard, since Limited is where I feel most confident going into the Pro Tour.
Living near Washington D.C. means I was invited to an exclusive draft camp featuring some of the best Limited minds in the game, and many players qualified for Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. This happened during Prerelease weekend, a time where I was drafting nonstop, and I was lucky if I got a chance to take a break to eat. Drafting is really fun, especially when a set is brand-new. There are so many different cards to explore and evaluate. Even now, with each draft, I feel like my grasp of the format gets better.
Going into Grand Prix Sydney, I felt like I had prepared a lot for Eldritch Moon Limited and so I was more confident that the tournament would go well. However, Grand Prix Sydney was the toughest Grand Prix field I have ever played in. Over 60 players had three byes, as most players qualified for the Pro Tour naturally played in the Grand Prix as well. It felt like every round of the tournament I was facing off against another pro.
Of course day one of a Limited Grand Prix is sealed, so it is important to have a decent sealed pool in order to have a fighting chance. I would say my pool was about average, and I am happy with the black/red aggressive build that I ended up with. Sometimes it is very clear cut in sealed which two colors the pool lends itself best to, as was the case for me at Grand Prix Sydney. I saw other players trying to splash a new color for powerful interactions, but in my opinion most of the times it is correct to stay consistent and play two colors. Having a good curve of creatures might very well be the most important aspect of Limited, and that was something I focused on all tournament.
Going undefeated at a Grand Prix is not easy at all, yet I've been pulling it off with some frequency lately. I have been asked how I keep doing it, is there some sort of performance enhancing drug that helps me do well? This is pretty funny. While I did get lucky to go undefeated with an average-looking sealed deck, without the preparation there is no way I would have been able to make the run I did.
Going into day two of a Limited Grand Prix comes with a lot of excitement; the drafts are a pleasure to participate in. It turns out that not only was my sealed deck black/red, but so were my draft decks. While I would like to think this was due to correctly reading signals, I also think that these are some of the deepest colors in the format. In one draft I was more controlling, and in the other super-aggressive. Once I in the Top 8, with Ben Stark passing to me, I was forced to choose a different color pair, and ended up with a solid white/blue fliers deck. I ended up keeping a risky hand and losing to my friend and teammate Scott Lipp in the semifinals. This is a result I am more than happy with.
There was a lot of talk this past weekend about the Grand Prix Player of the Year Race and how I was a contender to win it right up until my loss in the top four of Grand Prix Sydney. While I have been in the mix for the Grand Prix Player of the Year race for a while I was never actually trying to win it. The winner of the Grand Prix Player of the Year Race is the person who has the most Pro Points from Grand Prix across the entire year. While I have been doing well at Grand Prix I have not been going to all of them, like a couple other players who were seeking the Grand Prix Player of the Year slot. The reason is that I am already qualified for the World Championships which is really the only reason to seek the Grand Prix Player of the Year title. For those who were going after it hardcore they were not qualified for the World Championships already, the most prestigious tournament Magic has to offer.
In the end I did not win the race, though I would have if I had won the entire Grand Prix this past weekend. Tomoharo Saito and Brian Braun-Duin were the ones who desperately wanted to win the Grand Prix Player of the Year Title. The honor goes to Brian Braun-Duin, who really went all out towards the end of the year, and fully earned his slot in the World Championships. Traveling all around the world for Pro Tours is hard enough, doing it for Grand Prix is nearly impossible. I am actually happy that I didn't win the title as BBD is a friend of mine, and it would have almost felt like I would be taking away his slot at Worlds if I had won.
Now that the drama of the Grand Prix Player of the Year Race is over, as well as Grand Prix Sydney, I am fully focused on the Pro Tour. Generally when preparing for the Pro Tour focus is more on Limited at the start of testing, and shifts towards Standard directly before the big tournament. This Pro Tour is no different. With plenty of Limited under my belt, Standard is the format I am most interested in tackling. Now all the information is in as far as what the most popular decks in the format seem to be, and the question becomes is there another angle which can successfully attack them.
As expected Bant Company is still the most dominant deck in the format by a wide margin, followed by W/G Tokens, White Human decks, and various control strategies. I feel pretty silly heading into a Pro Tour being a dog to the best deck in the format. That is why many players will focus on having the best possible version of Bant Company, along with a good plan for the mirror. Playing a stock version of Bant Company means that you will need to play the deck very well while other players know exactly what you are trying to do.
Before the existence of Spell Queller and friends, W/G Tokens had a good matchup against Bant Company. Now with Eldritch Moon Bant Company's matchup against W/G Tokens improved, but Osyp Lebedowicz was able to win a big tournament constantly going through Bant Company. His updated list of Green/White Tokens takes advantage of where the format is at right now.
Having five-mana spells, which can't be countered by Spell Queller, is extremely important. Bant Company has a difficult time dealing with Tragic Arrogance, and Lebedowicz clearly understands that. This version of W/G Tokens is a bit less aggressive than the archetype normally is, it is really trying to sit behind Hangarback Walker and Evolutionary Leap in order to win.
Osyp Lebedowicz winning the Open with W/G Tokens just goes to show that decks that don't need many Eldritch Moon can still win tournaments. In fact Lebedowicz doesn't have a single card from Eldritch Moon in his deck. So did Eldritch Moon create many new decks, or are we just going to see the same decks do well?
A niche deck before, the Crush of Tentacles deck has now incorporated a delirium element so that it can play Emrakul, the Promised End. Ishkanah, Grafwidow is also another creature that benefits heavily from delirium. A lot of the time delirium is associated with the black/green color combination but it is clear there are more color combinations that can take advantage of these powerful cards. Kiora, Master of the Depths is actually a fantastic enabler, a Planeswalker that could start seeing more play. Noose Constrictor is another card that may seem surprising in the deck but having ways to block fliers has become increasingly more important.
These types of fringe decks are exactly what I am exploring this week leading up to Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. I am currently in the lead in the Player of the Year Race and I would love to be able to control my own destiny and seal the deal. It is not often that I get the chance to head to the other side of the world to play a card game, and this is another time I am reminded of that. There are so many fringe strategies and cards to try in Standard but most of them lead to a dead end which can be frustrating. Even when a brew doesn't work out gaining some information is important. Sometimes it takes just running a lot of strategies up against the best deck in the format. I will say that I have learned a lot from East West Bowl's testing process for this Pro Tour and am hopeful it will pay off in a big way at the Pro Tour.
Thanks for reading,