It's been a Whirlwind couple of months for YT, Magic-wise.
First they invent a new qualification system that lets me play in local stores instead of traveling up and down the highway system all weekend. Got one of those.
Then I'm qualified for the Regional PTQ tournaments where Top 4 gets you back on the Pro Tour. Okay, twist my arm; I'll try one of those. Yahoo!
And now: The Pro Tour.
It's been almost ten years for me. To say that I came into Vancouver rusty — Pro Tour paper tournament-wise — would be an understatement. Fortunately I was lucky enough to get on one of the top Magic teams in the world. Team Ultra PRO made sure that I both had a great Constructed deck and was geared up for the Limited portion.
So I sat down to the first Draft reasonably confident.
There were only seven people at my table, but one of them was Platinum level pillar of the Pantheon, Andrew Cuneo. Nevertheless, I was pretty calm and collected; while I've never been known as a Limited master, like I said, I had the Ultra PRO playbook between my ears.
I got this, I thought.
Oh wait, that seat to my left? Not empty after all. Just late. The eighth player at our table was none other than my own teammate — and Limited god — Ben Stark. And I was passing to him.
All that stuff about being calm and collected? Officially out the window.
I opened a pack with three very powerful cards:
● Kothophed, Soul Hoarder● Ravaging Blaze● Sentinel of the Eternal Watch
Any of the three would be a worthy first pick, with the two six-drop creatures being the stronger two. Of them, Sentinel of the Eternal Watch is the slight favorite. Kothophed, Soul Hoarder is a potentially game winning card but sometimes it can kill you. I took the Sentinel of the Eternal Watch, expecting Ben to take Kothophed.
Surprisingly, I ended up with two other Ravaging Blazes in my RW deck! The deck was quite interesting. It didn't have a great curve (only three two-drop creatures, of which you only want to play one on actual turn two), but I figured the top end would be far and away the best at my table. Because of that I played a Guardians of Meletis at the three to help me draw lands / get to the later turns.
I figured 2-1 would be a reasonable expectation, maybe 3-0 if I didn't hit one of the Platinums.
ROUND ONE - Andrew Cuneo
So much for not hitting one of the Platinums!
Andrew was a solid quality UG deck with Rhox Maulers, Leaf Gilder, and Bonded Krasis.
I opened on a mulligan to five. The game was competitive but Andrew ended up getting me. I possibly could have played my combat tricks better, but it wouldn't have changed the outcome. The second game I thought I was ahead, but I ended up petering out. I let Andrew make a trade of Watercourser for War Oracle which put me fairly up on the merits...but just drew lands from there.
ROUND TWO - Ben Stark
Did I mention "so much for not hitting the Platinums"?
Welcome back to the Pro Tour, MichaelJ! For your second round, how about a teammate / Hall of Famer / basically the best Limited mind on earth? How's that for the 0-1 bracket?
To make matters worse, I opened on a mulligan to five again.
Ben had a UB Control deck with Separatist Voidmage, Sigiled Starfish, the predicted Kothophed, and a flexible spell base.
I had enough initiative to somehow overcome the double mulligan. Ben kept getting cards back via graveyard recursion but I was just able to push through. Game two was super sloppy. It ultimately came down to me suiciding guys into his Kothophed and trying to get him one point (and card draw) at a time; Ben held on to the last point. Ultimately I won a ferocious game three with time running out, siding in Act of Treason for Guardians of Meletis, given Ben's more defensive UB deck.
ROUND THREE - Ian Barber
Ian was a first time Pro who qualified in my home state of New York. He was also on UB, highlighted by Priest of the Blood Rite, good flyers, and Disperse.
Ian and I split the first two games. The last one came down to the last turn; either he was going to kill me from eight or his Priest of the Blood Rite was going to kill him. Ian elected to try to bounce my untapped flyer rather than his own Priest, but I held on to the last two points. Super close game.
Getting out of my first draft 2-1 felt pretty good. I definitely had some ring rust up against Andrew, but mostly knocked it off come the second round. I was pretty happy to be switching to Standard.
You've probably already seen this deck, as Pat Cox used 74 of the same 75 to reach the Top 8 of the Pro Tour.
We all thought early on that monored was going to be one of the best decks. It can't get jammed up on lands that come into play tapped, and because its cards are all proactive, there were few ways to get things "wrong." It's not like a deck that can choose Ultimate Price when Bile Blight is better, or which of Languish, Crux of Fate, or End Hostilities will make you most successful.
We felt that not only was red fundamentally strong, but got powerful additional tools like Exquisite Firecraft (new free wins bff to Stoke the Flames) and Abbot of Keral Keep (probably the strongest card in the set, overall). Plus, some of the old cards got better. Running out Eidolon of the Great Revel on the second turn on the play is basically the best thing you can do in Standard, and the printing of the new Planeswalkers — especially Jace, Vryn's Adept — put Searing Blood as an automatic four-of main deck; even the slow control decks play Jace and Hangarback Walker now!
ROUND FOUR - Branco Neirynck, UB Control
Branco had a pretty innovative UB deck including Mage-Ring Network (presumably to accelerate out Ugin the Spirit Dragon), but the match was not ultimately competitive. UB is about the dream match for RDW, and I had Eidolons for days.
ROUND FIVE - Ross Merriam, GR Devotion
Talk about a horrifying pairing! Not only was Ross coming off a Grand Prix finals, but it was an easy guess he was going to be on G/x Devotion. It doesn't actually matter which Devotion deck he was on, as long as it played the card Sylvan Caryatid.
In game one Ross kept a one lander. He must not have known I was on RDW. I killed the Elvish Mystic he was relying on, and he did not have much of a window to recover.
In game two Ross opened on Elvish Mystic into a face down morph. I had the turn two option of Eidolon of the Great Revel or sending a Lightning Strike at the morph; I opted for the former. His morph was Rattleclaw Mystic and Ross quickly had a Whisperwood Elemental on the board. I actually had a Roast and Searing Blood to recover, but he had another Whisperwood Elemental.
In game three Ross was a little jammed up on mana. I on the other hand had a turn two Goblin Glory Chaser to start (ew). It basically came down to Ross tapping the Sylvan Caryatid I couldn't really get through to play a Genesis Hydra that didn't hit anything. I sent in Glory Chaser and a dashing Goblin Heelcutter which got in a ton of damage and put me into reach range.
The Venn diagram overlap of Ross being such a strong player and running my nightmare matchup had me thinking for a minute that this might be my day.
ROUND SIX - Andrew Cuneo, UR Sphinx's Tutelage
I got to revenge myself against my longtime friend, nemesis, and first round foil Andrew; this time I thought I'd have a good shot as I knew what he was playing.
● Game one - I miss an Eidolon trigger when I pick up Sphinx's Tutelage to read it. I am a bit salty (at myself) but win anyway.● Game two - Andrew gets out multiple copies of Sphinx's Tutelage; super not competitive game in the bad guy's favor (well as bad as you can say Andrew is).● Game three - Interesting end game; I have Andrew at two but don't want to hazard my Exquisite Firecraft because I don't have spell mastery. After a bazillion Sphinx's Tutelage triggers (but not quite enough) I have Spell Mastery for the final turn.
ROUND SEVEN - Ivan Floch, Abzan Rally
My ignominy will live forever in written feature match form.
Game one I basically aped my best Craig Jones, playing to put Floch to three and ripping...a Mountain. My Stoke the Flames was one deep. :(
Game two on the play I won on circa turn four.
Game three he had a quick Reclamation Sage for my Eidolon of the Great Revels. I am pretty sure if it were any other creature on turn three I would have won in a blowout, but the Reclamation Sage got me two different ways. Not only did he get my awesome Eidolon out of the way, but later in the game when he Rallied, the same Sage was able to get my next Eidolon out of the way (Zurgo can't block giant Nantuko Husk) when I was live to win with burn on an untap.
I was kind of fuming at this point, which is weird as I was not only still live for the tournament, but actually doing pretty well. I can blame a number of things - not enough sleep, jet lag, emotional response at losing a favorable matchup that will be immortalized forever in text coverage - but I was really super out of it going into round eight.
ROUND EIGHT - Eugene Koo, Abzan Control
Game one I kept a one land hand but I had a good drop and a Titan's Strength. I didn't get there for a turn or two, but then flooded my next five drops.
Game two Eugene drew ALL FOUR Siege Rhinos. It is possible he would have only needed three to win, but as I pondered my blocking for the next turn he flashed me the fourth. I was already steaming at this point, remember, but at the end of the day the only thing that matters is that I missed an Eidolon trigger. Did he draw a ton of Rhinos to Undo all my early turns? Yes. And he was also at two life right before being at five life. 100% my bad.
Going into Day 2 I was in much better spirits. Which is weird given how upset I was at 5-2. But I realized something: I flew all the way to Utah to play in a PTQ. I was already in a PTQ. What if I thought of this tournament as just a big PTQ? If someone told you that you could go 6-2 and qualify for the Pro Tour...well that would probably feel pretty good, right?
So that's all I thought about. I was a 6-2 away from my next invite.
And hey! Also live in the tournament.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Not when this is your Draft pod:
Third greatest player of all time: check.
Two different Players of the Year: check.
Teammate, Pro Tour Champion, and yet another Hall of Famer: Check.
I don't even know how many Platinums that is.
I guess there are going to be a lot of tears in Platinum-town.
I took a first pick Priest of the Blood Rite.
Yellow Hat passed me a pack with Fiery Impulse on top. Was that a signal? Signal or no, it was the best card in the pack. I made note of a Blazing Hellhound given my first pick black card and took the Fiery Impulse.
Pack three was a signaled (?) Lightning Javelin...but also a second Hellhound. I took the Hellhound, hoping the first one would come back. It did. Anyway, I severely dislike Lightning Javelin.
I only got three playable cards in Pack Two, but they were all Unholy Hungers.
Pack three I just made sure to take some Mage-Ring Bully two-drops because I had plenty of playables (just needed to finish out the curve). I ended up with an outstanding BR deck:
ROUND NINE - Kalab Byrd, BG
Kaleb stalled on mana in the first, and my BR was not a deck where you could do that. The second was more competitive, but I just had too many bombs.
ROUND TEN - Eugene Hwang, BG
Eugene and I traded off having bad mana draws; I got the first when he only had black, and he got the second when I only had black. So it was a clean game three to decide it all.
Basically we paired off until I had my Prickleboar.
Prickleboar went Red Zone with Blazing Hellhound back. That makes for a pretty difficult blocking situation: Prickleboar actually gets to get in because of first strike, and 5/x first strike guys take down like anything and everything in Magic Origins Limited. Then after my guy deals damage I can lean back on Hellhound to finish off gang blocks. Or, if he doesn't block, I just spray Hellhound to the face.
Like I said, "pretty difficult."
ROUND ELEVEN - Brad Nelson, UR Artifacts
Brad had basically the ur-UR deck...tons of small artifact creatures, Thopter-makers, Thopter Spy Network, and even Ghirapur Aether Grid!
I was ahead in game one but Brad was able to lock it down and take over with his card advantage.
Games two and three I just started with the initiative, kept it, and finished off with Act of Treason. Great match.
I didn't get to celebrate my 3-0 win in the draft pod of living legends for very long, as I immediately had a feature match against the mighty GerryT. Worse, I knew what he was on...my worst matchup. :(
ROUND TWELVE - Gerry Thompson, GR Devotion
Simple version: Gerry won the roll and won both games one and three (I kept one land in each of those game losses); I won game two on turn four. You actually need to win 2/3 though. :/
ROUND THIRTEEN - Timothee Simonot, Abzan Rally
This Abzan Rally match was very by the numbers. I stalled on two in game two, but was able to get an interesting finish.
I opened on Zurgo and Monastery Swiftspear. Timothee answered with Hornet Nest. I had R open at the end of his turn for a Magma Spray… and then untapped and played Scouring Sands + prowess. That was awesome!
In the closing turn of the match I ran my two man team into an obvious Collected Company, where Timothee flipped into a Nantuko Husk and Liliana, Heretical Healer. I did not let him block, instead running Lightning Strike on Liliana. He responded by sacrificing the Nantuko Husk to trigger and flip Liliana, producing the 2/2 Zombie Token. Unsurprisingly Timothee blocked Zurgo for the clean trade. I had my one Titan's Strength for exactly six damage from Monastery Swiftspear (with double triggers)...which was coincidentally my opponent's life total.
ROUND FOURTEEN - Sam Black, seventy-five card mirror
This was a camera feature match against my teammate, Player of the Year hopeful, and pivotal developer of my 75, Sam Black.
I think I made one interesting (and effective) play in game one, but it really came down to Sam stalling on two.
Game two he had the overwhelmingly superior draw, getting all three four mana permanents in play while I did nothing.
Game three I once again had the better draw, and was able to dictate the initiative despite choosing to draw.
ROUND FIFTEEN - Frank Karsten, RDW
Frank won the roll and was able to dictate the pace of the game, drawing three copies of Eidolon of the Great Revel on the play. I got a Searing Blood on his Firedrinker Satyr but it wasn't enough.
In the second game I had quite an interesting turn. Frank spent a one mana burn spell on my Zurgo, then let me untap with Eidolon of the Great Revel. On my third turn, I had the option of Scab-Clan Berserker or just attacking (and then either playing Abbot of Keral Keep or post-combat Scab-Clan Berserker, depending on what Frank did). He had RRR open.
Because he already used a one mana burn spell on Zurgo, I guessed Frank would only be able to deal with one of my two trigger men. I took two myself and deployed Scab-Clan Berserker; Frank had both Wild Slash and Lightning Strike, so wiped my side before untapping to play Chandra, Pyromaster. That didn't turn out too good for me.
ROUND SIXTEEN - Ken Yukuhiro, GW Hardened Scales
So this was it. One match for the invite!
Ken was playing a super weird deck where I had to ask for the Oracle wording of almost every card on account of them all being in Japanese.
Game one we got in a rather extended dispute over a play sequence. Ken had Managorger Hydra with one open.
I untapped with Monastery Swiftspear and Abbot of Keral Keep in play, ran my fourth Mountain, and attempted to Searing Blood the 1/1 Hydra.
Ken responded with Gods Willing.
So I attempted to respond with Wild Slash.
We had a miscommunication situation in terms of how many counters were on the Hydra (my intent was to go way up the stack before any counters were on the Hydra). If he wanted to have more counters on the Hydra I said I would just Lightning Strike it instead.
There was a bunch of judge stuff. I eventually just agreed with everything Ken wanted because he was on nine and I had seven burn in my hand and two prowess'd up guys. So I swung and killed him shortly after.
Game two I just got two Eidolons and he couldn't really cast anything for fear of Fireblasts.
It's hard to exaggerate how happy I was at this finish. I mean 25th instead of 27th (same record) is $1,000 more, and not missing one Eidolon trigger would have put me in a tie for Top 8, but still... A Top 32 finish is my best individual result ever.
And a heck of a way to win a PTQ.
● Brian David-Marshall - My collaborator on Fetchland.com and Top 8 Magic, confidante, friend, whatever you want to list.● Patrick Chapin - My brewing brother and partner on Top Level Podcast; eternal gratitude would last not long enough.● Team Ultra PRO - One of the greatest teams in the world; two guys (Matt Sperling and Pat Cox) in Top 8; Rich Hoaen in 9th; the proximate reason I did so well in Limited, and just a privilege to be a member of. Thanks for having me, team!
● Missing Eidolon triggers. :(