Cards in hand?
It is Tourach's power we invoke.
We perform these rituals to end all hope.
With voices in sync we sing our Hymn to Tourach.
His mysterious power alone brings hand disruption back.
Cards in hand?
It's not every day that I sleep on a couch in a dimly lit basement, but it just so happened that it was every day for the past few weeks.
Team Genesis decided to pair up with Team Ultimate Guard, ft. the Peach Garden Oath for this Pro Tour. Many of the members of both teams, at various points in time and for various durations, traveled to Washington, DC to stay at William "Huey" Jensen and Owen Turtenwald's place for a marathon of Pro Tour testing. To say we got an early start on things would be an understatement. We started testing for this tournament a month in advance, and we didn't stop until they told us to submit our decklists. While other players and other teams were testing Core Set 2019 Limited for GP Sacramento and GP Minneapolis, we were slaving away on Standard, Modern and Legacy trying to give ourselves the best chance of winning the biggest Pro Tour of all time.
My personal team for the tournament was Brad Nelson playing Standard, Seth Manfield on Modern and myself on Legacy. I was very lucky to have a chance to team with some of the best players in the world, and I felt like this might be my best chance ever to Top 8 (Top 4 in this case) a Pro Tour. I wasn't going to let the opportunity go to waste.
Wake up, play Magic, eat, play Magic, eat, play Magic, sleep. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Day in, day out. Week after week.
While we're on the topic of eating, Brad Nelson and I happen to be huge fans of a dying franchise known as Ruby Tuesdays, or Rubinald Tuesdays, as I like to show proper respect by calling it by its full name. It turns out that certain members of the Peach Garden Oath, whose names I will omit to protect the guilty, are also enormous fans of Ruby Tuesdays, and we frequented the local Rubinald Tues enough times to where the waitresses started to learn all of our orders.
The power of Ruby Tuesdays is threefold. For one, they have an excellent salad bar, which is great for people like myself who are trying to eat healthy but have low willpower, and they also serve Coke Zero, which is better than Diet Coke by such an astronomical amount to the point where I will often refuse patronage to restaurants who don't serve Coke Zero, because they don't deserve to be in business with such substandard business practices. It's the principle of the matter.
The final great aspect of Ruby Tuesdays is that they are a dying business, which means that, since you are often the only customer, the service is always going to be exceptional. You don't get service like that anymore.
It didn't matter what day of the week it was, we were always ready to put on our Tuesday best and go somewhere fancy for lunch. Don't be surprised if next year you see "Team Genesis, Sponsored by Ruby Tuesdays." We're raising the bar...one salad at a time. For at least the next year, until they go out of business.
My format was Legacy, the format that originally seemed like it would need the least testing. The plan was to just register Four-Color Control, and bash up on people at the Pro Tour with Deathrite Shaman. That plan didn't pan out too well. A handful of bans later and Legacy was suddenly the format that might actually need the most testing.
Originally, Sneak and Show seemed like the early frontrunner for us. Huey loved the deck, and both Huey and I had experience playing with the archetype back in 2013, when it was a truly dominant deck. Both Grixis Delver and Four-Color Control preyed on the archetype and were banned out of existence, giving Sneak and Show room to breathe. Sneak and Show also wasn't the kind of deck that would get directly attacked by people's reactions and overreactions to the bans, unlike graveyard combo decks.
Turns out, everyone else had the same idea and Sneak and Show was dominating tournaments left and right immediately after the bans. The format was quickly adapting as well and becoming quite hostile to the combo deck. All kinds of random decks were playing Karakas. People were putting in Humility and Ensnaring Bridge off Show and Tell, and an army of Containment Priests were doing their part to keep the deck well contained. The resurgence of Death and Taxes as part of the metagame wasn't helping much either. Sneak and Show was becoming a tough sell, and in fact it seemed to do fairly poorly at the Pro Tour.
I had this idea, one that I couldn't shake, that Hymn to Tourach seemed unbelievably good against a huge chunk of the format with the way that Legacy was starting to shake out. I began to work on Grixis Control lists, as did Lukas Blohon, who was the other Legacy player on team Genesis. Lukas was winning a lot more with Grixis than I was, but we were both on the same page about the deck being pretty good.
As we started to test Grixis Control, two things became clear. The deck was as medium as they come. It was also beating everything. Every Stoneblade deck, every other midrange deck, every control deck, Eldrazi, all combo matchups, Turbo Depths, Temur Delver...you name it and Grixis was posting 50/50 or positive records in our testing sessions. Grixis had some issues with decks like Lands, Mono-Red Prison or Eldrazi Post, but those didn't look to be super popular decks at the Pro Tour. Of the popular choices, only Grixis Delver seemed like a tough matchup, and it was unclear to us how many people would play Grixis Delver.
Grixis seemed like easily the right deck to play, and I was set on playing Grixis Control over a week before the Pro Tour. The final list that Lukas and I played (Reid Duke also played Grixis, but a slightly different list) was very similar to the versions that we were testing all along, weeks in advance.
The last card to make the cut was Ensnaring Bridge. It was a narrow card that only came in for a few matchups, but in the end I wanted to play it because I like playing cards with blowout potential in Legacy. I think getting free wins whenever and wherever you can is important.
Turns out, this ended up being a great choice. I played against Sneak and Show a grand total of five times in 14 rounds in the tournament, and I went 4-1 against it, largely thanks to Ensnaring Bridge winning a few games.
Modern ended up being the hardest part of our testing. Things started off well but ended up being kind of a mess. To put it into perspective, at the beginning of testing Brad and I were adamant that Seth was not allowed to play Burn at the Pro Tour because we were both convinced that Burn was a bad deck.
By the end of testing, we were almost begging Seth to just play Burn. Our opinion of Burn never changed, but things were becoming such a feces-demonstration in Modern that we felt like Seth would get more wins playing Burn than anything else.
How did things progress to that point?
I'm glad you asked.
Our testing started with a deck known simply as KCI. Drumroll please! The Krark-Clan Ironworks deck is one of Modern's most misunderstood and feared combo decks. We ourselves did not fully understand the deck, and it took some testing for us to begin to figure out how some of the combos actually worked.
Once we got rolling, we couldn't be stopped, though. We were losing our minds about just how busted the KCI deck was. It combos on turn three a fairly high percentage of the time and is very consistent at finding and executing the combo. It has an extremely high game one win percentage against a huge chunk of the field.
Sideboarding is a thing. A real thing. A very real thing. We were having some, how do you say it...issues...defeating some decks after sideboard. For example, control decks that boarded into Rest in Peace, Stony Silence, Damping Sphere, Dispel and more were proving to be a bit problematic for KCI to reliably defeat after sideboard. We tried a variety of things, from Sai, Master Thopterist to Thrun, the Last Troll, Defense Grid, Guttural Response, and more and more it just wasn't ever enough.
Other decks were also doing a great job at attacking KCI via sideboards that included Surgical Extractions as well as a lot of complementary interaction pieces. Thoughtseize your Scrap Trawler and Extract it Surgically is relatively hard to beat in a lot of matchups.
Once we realized that KCI wasn't going to get the job done, it was pretty late in testing and we began to scramble hard. We were testing all kinds of wild decks. I personally played Black-Red Vengevine, Dredge, Hardened Scales, three very different builds of Humans, and White-Blue Control personally in the last week trying to figure out what deck we should play.
In the end, we all settled on Storm and all four of our teams played the deck. I was a little nervous about Seth since he was scrambling the hardest of any of the Modern players and was the last to pick up and settle on the Storm deck. He also seemed unsure of how to play and sideboard the deck, but in typical Seth fashion, he picked it up very quickly.
Also in typical Seth fashion, I'm pretty sure he ended up having the best individual record with the deck out of any of the four of us who played it.
I'm not sure how great Storm or KCI are going to be in Modern moving forward. Personally, I really liked my ideas behind Humans, which were to cut Kitesail Freebooter for Mayor of Avabruck and then change the mana base to a Bant-splash-red shell, which allows you to play real cards in the sideboard like Stony Silence and Rest in Peace to completely shut down a lot of decks. Personally, I think Freebooter sucks in a lot of matchups, and while Mayor might not be great it's not a strict downgrade, and part of the problem with Humans right now is that the sideboard is pretty weak in a lot of matchups. Who knows, though, maybe this is a dead end.
Standard is the one format I barely touched, having dedicated my early testing to Legacy and the final week of testing to Modern.
Much how we wasted a lot of time in Modern on KCI, we similarly wasted a few weeks of time in Standard testing Paradoxical Outcome. Martin Muller came up with a version of the deck using Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain as another powerful engine card to churn through the deck.
We spent a LOT of time on this deck and spun our wheels in circles trying to fix the various problems with it, until finally deciding that it wasn't good enough. That left us only a couple of days to settle on a deck, and we ended up just playing a fairly generic Red-Black Aggro deck.
We thought the deck was going to be a fairly good deck, and in terms of results I think it did fine at the Pro Tour, but we must have had a bad list or poor sideboard plans as we got smashed in the tournament in Standard, across the board. I'm not sure exactly what was done wrong, but we definitely didn't do it right, to the point where I think we might have done better if Brad just played the Jhoira deck.
I think my favorite moment from testing came one night when Corey Baumeister and I were testing Modern. He was playing Mono-Green Tron against me on Miracles to see how the matchup played out. We were still testing pre-sideboard games at the time when some other teammates rolled around and suggested we go out and get some dinner.
"Sure," we said. "We'll go after this game."
They agreed. Classic mistake.
On around the 25th turn of the game, Corey – who was slightly ahead but still potentially in a losing spot if I miracle Entreat the Angels or draw Cryptic Command – decides to ultimate his Karn Liberated and restart the game.
On the new Karn-created game, I ended up winning with White-Blue Control around turn 30 after literally dealing with and answering every single threat in Corey's entire deck and then finishing the job with my last Celestial Colonnade. This single game took well over an hour and we would have never finished if it actually happened in a tournament.
"Alright, guys, we're done. Ready for dinner! Guys? Guys?" The rest of our team had already died of dysentery and old age in the interim. Shucks.
There was a good bit riding on the event for Team Genesis. Lukas, Corey and Martin were battling for Gold and Platinum status. Brad and I were fighting for slots in the World Championship and Seth was fighting to be first in the Player of the Year race. As a team, Genesis was in fifth place, and the top two teams would compete in the World Championship and the top four teams earned prize, so we were looking to jump ahead a bit.
Going into the event, Seth mentioned how he never started Pro Tours 0-2 and that he wasn't sure how he would feel if we started 0-2. On the other hand, Brad and I are notorious for throwing it all away in the draft portion of the Pro Tour and thus we are quite well-versed in the lost art of the 0-2 start followed by comeback. We assured Seth that if we started 0-2, it would be okay and we'd come back.
We started 0-2. It was okay. We came back. We ended up finishing the tournament at 9-5, winning eight of our last 10 matches. The last match was intense. We were playing for Brad and I to qualify for the World Championship. Seth and I both lost game one but Brad quickly won his match. I was playing against Sneak and Show and was facing down a Boseiju in both sideboard games, and I would need to win both.
I did the only thing I knew to do. I offered up a prayer. I was going to need some divine help. Only weird thing is, my prayers involve a bit of singing. I turned to page five of the hymn book and belted out a personal favorite to none other than my boy Tourach. Tourach took over from there, stripping my opponent of his most precious resources and dismantling his gameplan, two random cards at a time.
I need you to fill all that I lack
Your infinite destructive wisdom I call upon
Look at my opponent's hand and make it all gone
In game three, after casting Hymn to Tourach on turns two and three, I cast a Surgical Extraction on my opponent's Griselbrand. As I looked through his deck, I noticed that he didn't have any alternate win-conditions or any ways to remove a permanent from the board. Brad started to clap my back as we knew it was over. I fetched for my third land and played the 75th card from my sideboard, that Ensnaring Bridge we had spent hours debating whether we wanted it in the deck or not, and locked my opponent out of the game.
We were going to Worlds. We may have started 0-2, or 1-3, but we never gave up and we battled back hard. 9-5 wasn't a dominant performance by any stretch. We finished in 33rd place. But for us, for where we started, and how much we struggled in the early rounds, it was just good enough. Good enough to get Brad and I to worlds. Good enough to put Seth into first place in the Player of the Year race.
I was ecstatic to qualify for Worlds again, this time by simply earning the most points I've ever earned in a season by a huge amount. This was by far the best Magic year of my life, and I attribute a lot of it to some of the changes in mentality I've had over the past year, which I have largely documented in several articles on this very website. I'm getting older and dumber every year, but somehow I'm still improving at Magic. There's a lot more to this game than sheer intelligence, and a lot of ways to constantly improve. I'm excited to see if I can keep climbing from here. A number of people told me that winning the World Championship in 2016 was the ceiling of my Magic career, but I'd love to prove them wrong. It all starts with going back to Worlds again this year and giving it my all.
Unfortunately, celebrating Brad and I qualifying for Worlds was a bit bittersweet, as Genesis failed to make the top four of the team Series, barely finishing in fifth place and a lot of the players on our team failed to meet their goals for the year. It wasn't exactly the season we had dreamed of, but I'm still proud to have been a part of the team this year with some of the best Magic players I know.
As for medium Grixis Control? The deck performed great. It might be as mediocre as they come, but it's my brand of mediocre, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The rumors of Tourach's demise have been greatly overstated. It's time to bust out the old hymnals again.
- Brian Braun-Duin