For Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, I wanted to do things a little differently. I didn't cash in the previous two Pro Tours I played. I got to play a default deck in both PT Vancouver and PT Milwaukee, and I enjoyed neither.
Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch was going to be Modern. I have been in a love-hate relationship with the format since its inception, until last year, when I started brewing my Life from the Loam deck. When they announced the Pro Tour was going to be Modern, I already knew what I was going to play, unless they banned something from the deck, released something really sweet (that I didn't miss) or unbanned Deathrite Shaman. I also knew I would have a hard time convincing anybody to test with me and tune the deck.
I also had very little time to actively prepare for the Pro Tour after the release of the new set. I was to spend a week in Lisbon to cover the European Championships of BJJ (I'll try to compete next year, when I have more time to prepare for that too!), and there wasn't anybody I could test with in Toulouse either.
At GP Lyon in November last year, I shared my list with Jérémy Dezani, Vincent Lemoine and a few others that would be interested in trying to make the perfect list. I also posted my list here on TCGPlayer — maybe I was also looking for new ideas. I wasn't worried that people would know what I played since they either
For some reason, this is just not a deck Pro Tour players like to pick up.
So for days and while I was on holidays in South Africa in December, I tuned my deck and it was very close to what I ended up playing at the PT.
Jérémy tried it but was dead set on his UWR deck. Vincent was in love with the deck and took it to the semi-finals of the Sunday Super Series of GP Mexico the weekend before the PT.
Anyway, here is the list I ended up playing:
Before I go on and explain the few differences with the previous version, here is the version I should have played (and the one I'm running these days):
The main changes:
A lot of you didn't understand why this card wasn't in the deck. It used to be in the deck in the early versions, but it felt like it wasn't needed anymore. At the Pro Tour I ran into multiple situations where one or two in the deck would have won me the game, mostly against Geist of Saint Traft. While you can deal with Geist of Saint Traft by blocking it, you'll be taking four damage in the process every time (and four more damage if they kill your blockers or save the spirit with a Restoration Angel). This damage can be crucial and put you in burn range. As a solution, you can mill Lingering Souls, which gives you chump blocker. It's not a bad card in other situations, but I just didn't think it was needed.
I'm not a big fan of the card, but you need more ways to deal with Scavenging Ooze. Sure, it won't help you in the early game, but on an empty board, even when you're way ahead, Scavenging Ooze can turn the game around. Having one answer to that situation is necessary. Just make sure you either have it in hand or in play at that stage of the game so it doesn't get munched by Scavenging Ooze.
Vincent and I were looking for anti-graveyard cards, mostly against Storm, Living End and Goryo's Vengance. He suggested we played 2 or 3 Surgical Extraction along with Raven's Crime to deal with combo decks. At first I was skeptical; Surgical Extraction can't be played from the graveyard or dredged so you'd need to draw it in your opening hand. And even then, it might just sit there the whole time and do nothing.
Even though you don't have blue mana, Memory's Journey is very easy to cast from the graveyard, and does a lot against Storm and Living End. It can also save you from your opponent's Surgical Extraction as you can shuffle the targeted card into your deck, and therefore have a chance to play it again later. It's also a good way to get rid of a Kitchen Finks. Sure, it doesn't do much against Scapeshift, but the Raven's Crime/Surgical Extraction combo was too clunky.
I've covered most of the other cards in previous articles.
At the Pro Tour, I expected a lot of Affinity, Infect and Burn, and I had a pretty good win-rate in testing against them. The decks I got paired against pretty much were what I thought the field would be:
Round 4 : Affinity 1-2
Round 5 : UWr 2-1
Round 6 : Abzan Company 0-2
Round 7 : Burn 1-2
Round 8 : Affinity 2-1
Round 12 : Bant 0-2
Round 13 : Naya Burn with Rest in Peace 0-2
Round 14 : Affinity 2-0
Round 15 : Infect 2-1
Round 16 : Burn 2-0
Even though I had good matchups, I still lost some of them. Knowing which matches I would play, I would still play the same deck. 5-5 was probably the worst record I could have against these decks.
One thing to note is that I didn't get paired against any Eldrazi deck. While the matchup isn't great, it's far from the awful matchup previous versions were, the ones running 4-8 copies of Relic of Progenitus/Scrabbling Claws maindeck.
During our testing, we shared our results with Manuel Vernay and Pierre le Mason, two French players not qualified for the Pro Tour but committed to finding great stuff for us. After the Pro Tour, I got quite the speech from both of them. They were "a little mad" that I had such a good showing in Limited, but was too stubborn to look into any other deck than mine, that I didn't surround myself with a super-team, that it was a shame we didn't find the Eldrazi decks ourselves. Basically, they were sad and disappointed for me not to have done better at the PT.
They were not the only ones telling me this kind of things. How many times have I heard: "Why do you always play weird decks? Can't you play a normal deck for once? You'd win so much more!"
The Pro Tour is a tough tournament for a lot of reasons. First of all, the competition is a lot harder than in any other tournament. Some of the players play their first Pro Tour, some of the players aren't super well prepared or don't play the best Magic out there, but at least half the competition is top-notch players who punish your bad plays and bad preparation.
The Pro Tour takes place only a couple of weeks after the release of the new set, leaving very little time to play with the new cards. If you have business to attend to at that exact time, that's time you won't invest in preparing the tournament.
I didn't play Life from the Loam because it was "fun" or "original," I played it because I genuinely thought it was a great deck for the field. I couldn't invest as much time this time as I used to for other tournaments, or as much as others who succeeded in breaking the format. I feel like I used the time I had to tune a list I knew how to play and that would mess with my opponents. In Modern, you have to play a deck you know how to play with. Also, nothing tells me that with more preparation or with a better team, I'd have played anything else or have had a better result.
I didn't do better than 5-5 with it, which is a little disappointing, as you should be able to beat the field by a bit if you feel prepared. But it's Magic, and winning more than 50% at the PT isn't an easy task.
The disappointing part, for our consultants, was that I didn't put more effort into breaking the format, and the Pro Tour showed that there was a way to do so: Eldrazi. I have to say, if someone had given me the deck two or three days before the tournament and had told me: "the deck is very good but has a terrible matchup against Affinity", I still would have passed.
Here's another highlight of my tournament:
The Pro Tour starts with a draft portion. A bad draft deck can mean the premature end of your tournament. That being said, in my first draft, I first-picked a Relief Captain, followed by a couple more white cards and a couple of red cards including a Boulder Salvo. After six picks, I had passed two Pyromancer's Assaults. Pack seven offered a third Pyromancer's Assault, and not much else. I had tried a deck with that card once, and I could see it had potential. I felt that a U/R deck built around the card would be amazing but I never had the chance to try. Most importantly, I didn't want anybody at the table to have two of them in a deck, so I picked it up. Turns out, the first assault wheeled… so did the second one. I picked all three of them.
I opened pack two and found a second Boulder Salvo and a Linvala, the Preserver. What's your pick? Linvala, the Preserver is arguably the better card in a R/W deck, but Boulder Salvo keeps your options open and the U/R Pyromancer's Assault dream alive. It's a decision that will have a lot of impact on your tournament. I think a lot of people would have gone for Linvala, the Preserver. I went for the Boulder Salvo and drafted a U/R deck on the go, trying to figure out the best way to draft it without having previous experience with it. It was risky, but the reward was high. If the deck was as good as I thought it would be, I would easily go 3-0. If it failed and my deck ended up being terrible… well, that would have sucked.
I ended up with:
2 Lavastep Raider
1 Akoum Stonewaker
1 Coralhelm Guide
1 Umara Entangler
2 Valakut Predator
1 Eldrazi Skyspawner
1 Vestige of Emrakul
1 Goblin Freerunner
1 Cinder Hellion
1 Slip Through Space
1 Grip of the Roil
2 Boulder Salvo
1 Reality Hemorrhage
1 Oath of Chandra
1 Comparative Analysis
3 Pyromancer's Assault
The deck played amazingly well. The Lavastep Raiders filled the early curve, always traded for more expensive creatures, but were also another 1-drop that allowed me to play a turn 5 Pyromancer's Assault and trigger it right away. The cantrips—Expedite, Slip Through Space, Anticipate, and Comparative Analysis—obviously worked great in the deck. I had another Slip Through Space in my sideboard that I decided not to play; the trap with U/R decks is to play too many do-nothing cantrips. You sure will get to your lands, but you'll end up being "dry", you'll just draw into more draw spells, into more lands. Maybe it works a little differently with 3 Pyromancer's Assaults, but since I couldn't rely 100% on that card, I needed some "active" spells as well.
I went 2-1 with the deck, losing to a great U/B deck that I probably could have beaten had I played differently. The gamble didn't entirely pay off, but I believe the card had enough potential to run the gamble to build my draft around it. But overall, if I had a piece of advice, don't experiment on the day of the Pro Tour. As I was building my deck, I was thinking "oh man, I reaaally hope this works." Maybe this was an unnecessary risk.
So I went 4-4 after day 1 (quite unimpressive), and 6-2 on day 2 with a 3-0 in the second draft. 5-5 in constructed and 5-1 in draft, to an overall record of 10-6, enough to reach the 74th place worth $1500 and 6 PT Points.
I'm happy with my deck decision and fine with the outcome of the tournament. I agree I might have been a bit stubborn, but there's nothing worse than not going with your gut. Go to a tournament with the deck you feel you have the best chance with.
So what now? Is Loam dead? Is Eldrazi the only deck to play?
Well, there are a couple of Modern GPs coming up and I have to see that myself. If Affinity is the deck to beat Eldrazi, if more people choose to play Lantern Control, I'm more than happy to keep playing Life from the Loam…
I'd like to thank everyone, including Melissa DeTora, for making sure I had all the cards I needed for the tournament in time!