I didn't win the Pro Tour this past weekend, but my team did!
Today I'd like to do three things. First I would like to share with you the five best decks from our month of testing for the Pro Tour. Then I would like to talk about our testing process that led up to us settling on these five best decks, including the Black/White Tokens deck I almost played. Lastly I would like to introduce the members of Team TCGplayer and say something about each member's contributions for this pro tour.Our Five Best Decks
By the end of our final leg of testing, we narrowed our choices down to five decks:
1. Monored Aggro was our best aggro deck since it edged out Monoblack Aggro head-to-head due to its ability to run burn spells and Coordinated Assault. It could also pressure any deck enough to force them to have a third turn Anger of the Gods or Drown in Sorrow to survive. Conley Woods and David Sharfman played this deck and ended up not doing so well. Frank Skarren, a teammate who deferred his silver invite until the next Pro Tour, played the red deck in his New Jersey State Championship and won. This proves the deck is a legitimate contender despite the poor result of both pilots who played it at the Pro Tour.
Here was our monored list:
2. UB Control was our best control deck. Adrian Sullivan was our primary advocate of this deck and put in a lot of time and effort tuning his list. After the tournament he admitted his list was a few cards off from where it should have been because less aggro decks showed up than he expected. Still his list is very good. It's similar to Pantheon's list and the main card is Perilous Vault. Instead of killing with Pearl Lake Ancient we kill with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. Card draw and removal is the name of the game, as it is with most control decks. Adrian and Adam Fox ended up playing the UB Control deck.
3. Our best combo deck was a Jeskai Ascendancy deck we called "Space Jam." It is also the hardest deck to play and only Chris Fennell was able to pilot it with the success needed to play it in the Pro Tour. He wasn't happy enough with the sideboard to pull the trigger, though in hindsight I think he wishes he had. Our list plays less card draw than the artifact lists, but we also have fewer "dead" cards to draw. Meletis Astronomer was the card that pulled everything together in this list and it's the card that separates our combo list from most other combo lists. Maybe someone will play it at the Grand Prix this weekend.
4. Jeskai Tempo had been one of the most difficult decks to beat in our testing. The game one matchup could be favorable if you play lifegain and removal spells, but the deck had such a versatile sideboard plan that allowed it to counter just about any plan an opposing deck could throw at it. Marc Lalague, Adam Mancuso, and I played Jeskai Tempo at the Pro Tour. It was basically a coin flip whether our Jeskai deck or our Abzan deck was the better choice, but I liked the Jeskai deck's plan slightly more, so I went with it instead. I ended up going 7-3 with the following build:
5. Abzan Midrange was our other top performing deck and was the deck Ari won the tournament with. Steve Rubin did the majority of the work on the deck, pushing it further into the "ramp" part of the spectrum than most of the other Abzan decks that everyone else was playing. We cut Fleecemane Lion and Brimaz, King of Oreskos in favor of Elvish Mystic and more planeswalkers. The scoreboard would suggest we made the right call, so I guess we'll just leave it at that. Here is the deck Ari Lax, Seth Manfield, Steve Rubin, Stu Sumers, Jonathan Hickerson, and Alex John played:
DECKID=1218504Our Testing Process
Our testing began as soon as Khans of Tarkir was fully spoiled. I was in charge of running the "fight club" group, which was essentially an open testing group that included people outside the team. The purpose was to run daily mock tournaments in order to get a head start on our testing. It also served as a recruiting tool for future Pro Tours since it would show us who was willing and able to participate in the early stages of testing.
The Fight Club gave us a solid starting point and nearly a hundred matches of data to work with. These were our top performing archetypes from the Fight Club:
RW Control - 7-1Jeskai Control - 5-1Mardu Tokens - 9-4Angry Temur - 3-0Green/x Devotion - 10-5Black Aggro - 10-5
The control decks were dominating, but mostly because they matched up well against all the green decks and aggro decks that were over-represented in the mock tournaments. We still had a lot of work left ahead of us.
We then broke off into our core team and tested matchups, collecting lots more data. I was in charge of tracking and organizing all the testing data.
Then for our final week of testing we flew to Hawaii where we rented a beach house.
By the end of our testing we had arrived at the five decks discussed in the previous section.
There was one deck that I had been tuning and was very close to playing in the tournament until the final week of testing. It had great matchups against the aggro decks and could hold its own against most of the midrange decks. Its only bad matchup was Green Devotion, but that matchup was pretty terrible and required a 12 card sideboard plan just to make it 50%. I eventually discarded the deck in favor of Jeskai Tempo, not because I expected a lot of Green Devotion but instead because I expected very few aggro decks. Hence Raise the Alarm went from being an all-star to being under-powered. If aggro is big in your area and Green Devotion is not, I would highly recommend this deck:
I expected more Stormbreath Dragons than actually showed up, so I could see cutting the two Murderous Cuts for two Suspension Fields, which would allow us to also cut the two fetch lands for one more Swamp and one more Plains.
Finally, I'd like to introduce the members of Team TCGplayer and say something about each member's contributions for this pro tour. This section should give you a glimpse into what constitutes a successful pro team as well as what sort of skill sets you could look to develop in yourself if you have aspirations of joining a profession or semi-professional team.Team TCGplayer
Ari Lax – Ari has been the unspoken team leader since the beginning. He is organized, not afraid to take charge, and is determined to get work done quickly and efficiently. He puts work into all the decks and is thus in a position to offer criticisms after trying each new deck. He also won the tournament.
Craig Wescoe – For this tournament I was the team's official record-keeper. All testing results were reported to me and I would record and organize them into an easily readable spreadsheet. I also ran a pre-testing "fight club" group that served as a recruitment tool to help us decide who to recruit for the next Pro Tour.
Conley Woods – In addition to being the team's rock of emotional stability, Conley is also our rogue deck builder. He explores all the off-the-radar strategies and creates rough lists for the rest of us to help tune and figure out which ones are worth exploring further. He is also great at knowing what needs to be worked on just by looking at a deck list, which makes him very important in guiding everyone else's deck building and tuning.
Chris Fennell – Chris is usually our draft expert, and this time he was assisted by Neil Reeves. Chris also built our best combo deck (Jeskai Ascendancy) and was deeply invested in most of the deck's tuning. He has become not only our limited guru but also one of our primary combo experts.
Seth Manfield – Seth's greatest asset is his ability to
pick a deck for the tournament and never waver figure out the best way to play and sideboard with a deck in a given matchup. His skillset is especially valuable when testing Top 8 matchups where both lists are locked in. Without his help on Saturday night and Sunday morning, Ari may not have won the tournament.
Adam Mancuso – Similar to Seth, Adam is great at figuring out non-obvious ways to win without changing the cards in a deck. For instance, he figured out how to beat UB Control with Jeskai Tempo: don't start casting your threats until you can defend them with counter-magic. He also is not afraid to play a known list at the Pro Tour, and this attitude contrasts nicely with the rogue bent most of the rest of the team has.
Adrian Sullivan – Adrian built our best control deck (blue/black) and would offer a unique perspective on a lot of our decks while they were in the tuning process. This was his first time testing with the team.
Marc Lalague – Marc always finds the nut high testing houses for the team to stay at for the Pro Tour. He is also an important mediator of conflicts between teammates and is able to keep everyone on task. Marc is a very big-picture-oriented person and makes the testing process more enjoyable for everyone.
Steve Rubin – Steve logged a ton of testing hours with a wide variety of teammates. He was largely responsible for creating and tuning the Abzan deck that Ari won the tournament with. This was Steve's second time working with the team and he is quickly proving himself to be an important asset.
Stu Sumers – Stu and Steve are roommates and the primary testing partner for each other. While Steve focused on fine-tuning Abzan, Stu spent the later stages of his testing trying to make Esper Control work. Ultimately we deemed Adrian's UB Control deck superior, so Stu audibled to Abzan, but if a handful of factors would have gone differently, Stu could have just as easily been the creator of the winning deck.
Jonathan Hickerson – Jonathan is always willing to assist anyone with whatever they need help with. He'll play the enemy deck, test whatever matchup, and offer constructive input. Then whatever deck the team decides is best, he'll get on board and focus on making that deck the best it can be.
Pete Ingram – Pete started testing early and made himself available often for testing. He helped figure out which strategies were worth pursuing further and which should be discarded.
Adam Fox – This was Fox's first time testing with the team. Like Jonathan, Fox was always available for testing and would help work on whatever needed to be worked on. Also like Pete, he made himself available from the beginning and helped us to separate the good decks from the bad ones.
David Sharfman – David has some sweet shirts with cat pictures on them. He is also good at seeing promise in decks that others are ready to discard, which makes him a kind of safety net for decks without a champion. He would have been perfect for our Dublin team where we prematurely discarded Monoblue Devotion.
Alex John – Alex was probably the only member of the team that actively wanted to play a Caryatid/Courser deck throughout testing. Most of us wanted to play anything other than the strategy with the target on its back, but Alex embraced it. This was helpful in testing since he always volunteered to play whatever enemy green deck we wanted to test something against.
Neil Reeves – Neil was a late addition to the team and was brought on primarily for his expert limited analysis. He also demonstrated an ability to quickly find a deck's flaws and to offer suggestions for fixing them. My prediction for Neil's Magic future is that he will be successful on the Pro Tour in exactly the proportion to which he is willing to play the best deck, even when it is a known entity and nothing overly degenerate. If he just always plays a tier one deck, I think he would be a Platinum pro each year.
Aaron Rubinstein – Aaron was not qualified but helped shoulder some of the logistical concerns for the team while being an overall cool dude to be around. Danny Batterman did this for us at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze and it is a big help to a team. Both Aaron and Danny said they had the time of their lives helping out and being part of everything. So even if you're not qualified for the tournament, offering non-magic assistance can make you an important part of a team's success and is a great way to network for the future.Conclusion
Hopefully this has given you a glimpse into how a successful pro team operates. Our team is Grounded in hard work, organization, and camaraderie. We look out for each other's best interests and care as much about the overall team success as we do our own individual success. That's why you see us testing the Top 8 matches for our teammates more vigorously than any other team in the game. And it's also why you see us celebrating together as hard and as often as any other team. There are a couple pro teams with more individual talent than ours, but if I had to describe our team in one phrase, it would be:
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Do you have a question about any of the six decks listed in this article? Ask in the comments section below.
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter