This was the most preparation I have ever put in for one single event, as I spent weeks testing in the lead-up to the Pro Tour celebrating Magic's 25th anniversary. This tournament had a lot of build up, and I believe it delivered on the hype. The prize pool helps to show how significant the event was, as $850,000 is over three times more the total payout of a normal Pro Tour. The other major difference was of course this event was Team Trios, so I was able to battle alongside two close friends in Brian Braun-Duin and Brad Nelson.

The Testing

For this particular Pro Tour, the Genesis team decided to join up with Team Ultimate Guard. The Ultimate Guard group contains some of the absolute best players in the history of the game, and since William Jensen and Owen Turtenwald live close to me, it was only a short drive away to meet up and play with them. Not only did we play, we had spreadsheets with thousands of matches logged both from playing online and grinding out matches in person.

This was a lot of work, in fact it was a month-long testing process. Personally I enjoy testing, so while it was a form of work it was also quite fun, with a bit of stress mixed in. Ultimately, I don't believe the amount of testing we did produced the results we were looking for. Of the four different three-person teams within our testing group, it was myself, Brad, and BBD that put up the best finish. We ended up finishing with nine wins and five losses. While this is a good bread and butter result, it is nothing amazing.

The best part of this finish is that Brad and BBD will both get to play at the World Championship, and I was already qualified. This was my baseline goal going into the tournament, as my teammates' success is just as important as my own. On the flipside, in many ways it felt like luck was not on the side of Team Genesis. My three-man team ended up finishing in 33rd place at the Pro Tour, and Genesis ended up in fifth place in the team series. In both cases had we been one spot higher we would have made much more money, but that's the variance you can run into at these types of events.

The other race that I thought ended at the Pro Tour was the Player of the Year, as for as long as I can remember the Pro Tour has been the last tournament to decide Player of the Year. If that were the case I would in fact be the Player of the Year. Unfortunately, I hadn't realized that there are still several more weeks left to decide the race. Furthermore, the competition behind me in the race has a very real chance to catch and even pass me. While I would like to have the attitude that I will just go out and win a Grand Prix so that nobody can catch me, it really isn't that easy. If the Player of the Year ends up not being me it will be fair, but it doesn't mean I'm not frustrated about the circumstances.

Ultimately I play Magic not for titles or for money (though those things are great) but because I love to play the game. There is nothing that will stop my drive to keep going and improve, playing and preparing alongside the best in the world allows me to do that. With all the preparation we did (more than any other testing team), how come our results weren't better? This is the question I believe many players will ask themselves after putting a lot of effort into preparing for an event, only to come up short in some way.

First of all, luck is obviously a huge part of the game, and this is the easiest thing to attribute losing to. I don't believe our group ran very well at the Pro Tour, but that can't be the only issue. Let's get into the actual deck choices, and why or why not they ended up working out.

Standard

The Standard talent in our group was off the charts, yet we are talking about the best deck tuners, not really pure brewers. This led to us settling into a comfort zone of playing the same deck we expected everyone else to show up with: Red-Black Aggro. While it is tough to call this choice flat out bad, it is hard to gain a significant edge playing the same cards that most of the other teams were also playing. Our combined Standard records were not impressive.

Of course, we did try other decks, but we weren't creative enough. Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome was a sweet deck that many players knew about, and one we expected to see. We definitely put in some work on the archetype but ended up believing it was too inconsistent against Steel Leaf Stompy, the second most popular deck in the format. What we did not do was play with Nexus of Fate, one of the breakout cards of the tournament. If I were to pick one deck that seemed to be the most impressive it would be this one.

It has been a little while since we have had a playable Turbo Fog strategy in Standard. This deck is actually quite well-positioned against the red aggro decks, as it can take over the lategame with Fog effects and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria for card draw, and there isn't much the red decks can do at that point. The deck has a ton of card draw to be able to filter through its deck, and then eventually take infinite turns. You can actually win with either Teferi tucking itself back into your deck to mill out the opponent, or making Constructs with Karn, Scion of Urza.

So. while I liked our Red-Black list, there wasn't a ton of innovation behind it. We did believe it to be the best deck, but sometimes when the best strategy has such a big target on its head there are ways to exploit that. Reflecting on the event, we weren't all that happy with our Standard deck choice.

Modern

This is the format I spent the most time on, working with the likes of Jon Finkel, William Jensen and Martin Muller. A lot of our time testing was spent working on a deck that we didn't end up playing. This deck was Krark-Clan Ironworks combo. There was quite a bit of time put into learning how the Ironworks combo worked, and we even tuned the deck by adding Sai, Master Thopterist, like the version others played.

In the case of the Ironworks deck, we initially thought the deck was completely busted, especially looking at the results it was putting up at the Grand Prix level. In house, it was doing a lot of winning at the start of testing, until we started playing against problematic sideboard cards like Stony Silence, Surgical Extraction, Kambal Consul of Allocation, Rest in Peace, and others. Many of these cards can be extremely frustrating to play against.

We eventually decreed Ironworks to be not quite strong enough at the Pro Tour, as players were very likely to have tested against it and know what their matchup is like. This was when William Jensen finally decided to pick up the Storm deck, and I'm glad he did. All our Modern players besides me had experience playing Storm before, so I was a bit nervous picking it up for the first time. I personally was off trying other decks like Tron, Humans, Dredge, and Burn, but eventually settled on Storm because of my teammates' confidence in the deck.

We developed our Storm list to the point we actually didn't have a bad Humans matchup anymore, which was the main reason players stopped playing Storm. We also had plenty of ways to fight Damping Sphere, one of the most-played hate cards against our deck in the format.

The additional spot removal spells and Grim Lavamancer allow us to transition into a slower deck after sideboard. Empty the Warrens is the alternative plan against any deck that is likely to bring in a lot of hate cards. For example, Leyline of the Void is one of the toughest cards for our deck to beat, and Empty the Warrens becomes an absolute necessity after sideboarding if that card is in play. The Blood Moons can often completely catch opponents off guard.

I was happy with my choice to play Storm and owe my success with the deck to my testing partners. My individual record with the deck was 9-4 with one round unfinished, which is about as good as I could have asked for. Moving forward, Storm may have a bit bigger target on its head after we played it at the Pro Tour, but I do believe this list is pretty resilient to whatever opponents might bring to the table.

Legacy

Legacy was the format I ended up testing the least. Only a couple days after the banning of Gitaxian Probe and Deathrite Shaman, BBD started to test Grixis Control, and was really liking the deck. Grixis Control plays out in a similar way to the Four-Color Control (or "Czech Pile") deck that had been seeing success. Once all the other Legacy players also started liking Grixis Control, I felt pretty confident about the choice.

While this deck performed pretty well, it can be said that it was not the very best deck choice for the Pro Tour, that honor goes to Blue-Black Death's Shadow. Josh Utter-Leyton created a beauty with this one.

The deck looked spectacular, and the few pilots in the tournament playing it all did very well. Reanimate in particular looked very good, as not only a way to lose life and bring back your own creatures but also stealing creatures in the opponent's graveyard, leading to some pretty big blowouts. I'm expecting to see a lot more of this deck in the future.

Wrapping Up

As it turns out, Magic players are very smart. Going into the event our team thought we had very strong decks, but many other players also came with the same Standard and Legacy decks. It is becoming more and more difficult to get an edge on such strong fields of players without brewing up something truly unique. There were a couple teams that found decks like this in the case of Blue-Black Shadow and Turbo Fog, but most teams failed to do so. There is room to do better, and while I'm happy to be celebrating the first 25 years of Magic's history, I'm looking forward to the future!

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield