A Pro Tour Retrospective

GerryT made a deep run at #PTOrigins playing good old G/R Devotion in Standard and practicing a ton of Magic Origins draft, and this is the story of the Pro Tour through his eyes.

Act like you’ve been there before.

At various points during Pro Tour Origins, I was 4-0, 6-3, 10-3, and 10-5 before finally finishing 11-5 to clinch my next Pro Tour invite. I was the lucky person in 26th, good for $1500 and some tiebreakers short of an extra $1000. The money would have been nice, but ultimately irrelevant. At that point, the invite to Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar was the only thing I cared about and I had it.

When I escaped from the Limited portion still alive for Top Eight, I was charged with all the same nervous energy I felt at Pro Tour Gatecrash when I was 10-1. Walking around the event hall, I alternated between wanting someone to talk to me, hoping it would calm me down, and wanting everyone to leave me alone so I could attempt to focus on my own. In between rounds, I hid behind staircases listening to music, hoping no one would find me and hoping that it would be enough to keep me sane.

I had no idea how my body needed me to handle the situation. My body wanted me to keep moving, I had to pee every half hour, and I didn’t know if I actively wanted to engage in social situations or not. I was nervous, shaking, and on top of it all I was riding high on adrenaline. Our team only had one person left in contention and I didn’t want to let them down.

Nothing made sense. And if I could have frozen that moment in time, I would have.

Act like you’ve been there before.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Prep

This tournament was my first Pro Tour back and also the first time working for a Pro Tour with Mike Sigrist lookalike Brad Nelson. The rest of our squad included:

Ari Lax

Chris Fennell

Brian Braun-Duin

Austin Bursavich

Tom Martell

Seth Manfield

Steve Rubin

Brad Nelson

Brian Kibler

Ross Merriam

Michael Majors


For this Pro Tour, most of us decided to ignore brews, although that certainly created some conflict among the rest of the team. Some still held onto the notion that we had to “break it,” while Brad and I held onto the notion that playing the most powerful thing was probably for the best. We were trying to win, and we don’t get extra points for playing unnecessarily difficult games or handicapping ourselves by playing weaker cards.

Hangarback Walker, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Abbot of Keral Keep, and Tragic Arrogance are all fine Magic cards, but if we’re being honest, they aren’t more powerful than Elvish Mystic. We built several decks with Hangarback Walker or Jace but they couldn’t stand up to our sideboard plan. The Abbot of Keral Keep / Exquisite Firecraft deck had a difficult time with G/R Devotion, so it seemed pointless to pursue, as there isn’t much you can do to fight that matchup outside of Roast.

Ray Tautic’s Abzan Rally deck looked sick and was another deck that obliterated Abzan Control, but it couldn’t actually race G/R Devotion. The only times they could ever win was when they Fleshbagged you a bunch, which slowed you down. Cards like Crater’s Claws and Nissa, Worldwaker proved difficult for them though.

We found our deck.

Ari explained the genesis of the deck in his article yesterday, but I’d like to add a couple things.

  • Courser of Kruphix is entirely mediocre and the incremental value isn’t relevant when you’re only trying to hit seven mana, but it would have been a godsend against the field of Mono-Red Aggro. Shaman of Forgotten Ways was supposed to be great but never really did anything for me. The Deathmist Raptors also went against our game-plan, but they were a reasonable road block, added to Devotion, and went with our sideboard plan against control.
  • Trail of Mystery did fine work against any grindy matchup, particularly those with Disdainful Stroke. We’d hit our land drops despite our mana creatures being caught up in sweepers and eventually work them over with Den Protector loops, possibly ending with a large Crater’s Claws. That said, our sideboard was meant for an entirely different metagame, so I don’t recommend it going forward.
  • See the Unwritten is what I’d likely explore. The plan is to find Dragonlord Atarka and smash them, and while See the Unwritten isn’t always Dragonlord Atarka + Friend, sometimes a six-mana Whisperwood Elemental buys you enough time to get there.

I went 5-4 in Standard, losing to the basically unwinnable W/U Heroic (although I probably punted Game Two), Mike Sigrist playing U/R Thopters (with early 5/5 fliers in both the first and third games), Tommy Ashton with Mono-Red Aggro (my draws were pretty bad, Tommy is great, and I went 3-0 in my other Mono-Red matchups), and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa with Esper Dragons, which I’ll talk about later.

In the last round, I was paired against Luis Scott-Vargas, who conceded to me, locking up my next Pro Tour invite and bumping my Constructed record to 6-4 overall. While everyone seemed to think the U/R Thopters matchup is bad for G/R Devotion, Brad went 3-0 against it. When they didn’t have a turn-two 5/5 flier attacking you, the matchup didn’t seem bad at all. If you have any sideboard hate, I can’t really imagine you losing either.

The Travel

For a while, I had a nice streak going. I left the country three times in a row and each time, the airline managed to lose my luggage. Now, Canada isn’t quite as far as Europe or South America, but apparently it’s far enough that the airline couldn’t figure out how to make my bag arrive at the same time I did.

Now, I’d like to think I’m a responsible traveler. Sometimes I leave my cell phone charger in a hotel room or I forget to pack socks or something, and that’s become increasingly common as I’ve gotten older… but I try to keep it tight when I can.

This time, I decided to be a responsible adult and pack anything I might need in my carry-on, knowing full well they would probably insist I gate check my large suitcase. When I was deciding what to put in my carry-on, the thought of leaving my G/R Devotion deck in my suitcase on purpose popped in my head.

“How sick would it be if the airline lost my bag and I was ‘forced’ to play the only deck I had on me? Conveniently, it would be the deck I wanted to audible into.” I decided not to tempt fate and was promptly punished anyway. Devotion it was.

Friday morning, I strolled into the convention center wearing Ari Lax pair of lucky knee-high socks and the same clothes I had traveled in the day before, ready to make glorious battle.

The Tournament

My tournament had a few defining moments.

Round Three VS. Josh Utter-Leyton

First, the match:

Josh thought I made a pretty big mistake here by not using Unholy Hunger on the Totem-Guide Hartebeest once I hit five land, which made him think the coast was clear for his Chandra’s Ignition. However, if I do that, I put him to one with two creatures on the battlefield that can attack on my side and a Guardian Automaton on his side. He thought he would have to trade away the Automaton as well (or perhaps he felt he needed to in order to gain three life), but that wasn’t the case, which is why I didn’t make that play.

In the end, I ended up blowing out his Chandra’s Ignition and winning the game without even having to show him Languish. The second game wasn’t particularly noteworthy, as my 5/5 flying Chris Pikula ended him.

This match was pretty big for me for two reasons. First of all, Josh basically always beats me. I think I’ve defeated him a single time (at Grand Prix Orlando) but he typically has my number. He’s just one of those dudes that always knows what I’m up to and always seems to have the perfect answer, but it’s only because that’s how he scripted the game to play out.

Defeating him, especially in Limited, is something I need to be able to do if I’m ever going to make a deep run.

Round Nine VS. Lee Shi Tian

This match was covered here.

What the match report doesn’t tell you is that, in Game Three, I bluffed through thirteen points of damage.

On turn two I drew and immediately jammed my Cleric of the Forward Order into his Stalwart Aven. He thought for a bit and I marked his life down to 18. He blocked, I used Enshrouding Mists, marked his life back to 20, and played a third land and Throwing Knives.

He reloaded with a Charging Griffin, but I spent my turn using the Throwing Knives to get it off the table (18) as I didn’t want to face down a Knightly Valor that early in the game. His next turn was a Patron of the Valiant, and I jammed the Cleric into that too, which he ultimately let through (16). My followup was a Prickleboar aka Sir Pigglesworth. He did indeed have the Knightly Valor and attacked me down to 16 as well.

I drew Enthralling Victor for the turn, used it to take his Knight token, and attacked with everyone, leaving WW open. He took it all (7). On his turn, he sent with his two creatures, and I traded Enthralling Victor for the Knight token because it gave me more outs. I had a Rogue’s Passage, but couldn’t play around Celestial Flare anyway, so I sent in the lone unblockable pig. Of course, he had it and I died to the enormous flier.

At the end of the match, I showed him my hand of Plains and Chandra and jokingly calling him a coward. After I pointed out how he was half playing around Celestial Flare but not really (since I could have blocked down his Knight token and Celestial Flared in combat but still after damage, when the Patron is still considered an attacking creature), he insisted that he wasn’t playing around Celestial Flare because he didn’t pass any. I went through my deck and showed him the Flare that I did indeed have. At that point, he said he playing around Mighty Leap, but then why not block my 2/2 with his Patron?

I lost the match but won the psychological battle I suppose. Given that now he knows what I’m capable of, when I make a similar attack in the future, it’s going to be because I have it. If he’s reading this article, then maybe not. Here’s hoping for a rematch at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. It should be fun.

Despite that, I think I made a mistake. I was so focused on not letting him get a Knightly Valor active that I didn’t stop and think about my other possibilities. If I don’t use the Throwing Knife on Charging Griffin on turn four, I think I can beat Knightly Valor on the Griffin, but that’s basically only because I drew Enthralling Victory and Rogue’s Passage toward the end. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to beat the Knightly Valor on Patron of the Valiant if he also had a Charging Griffin, but I would have had a Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh pinging him the entire time.

I think the play I made was correct given the information I had, but now I’ll always be wondering what if…

Regardless, the main point here is that when Patron of the Valiant came down, I could no longer win by conventional means. Sure, maybe he snaps me off at some point and I lose the game, but I wasn’t going to win anyway. In that moment, I’m free of conformity. I don’t have to be scared of making a risky play and looking foolish because it’s the only play I have.

I’m freerolling and, win or lose, it feels glorious.

Round Fourteen VS. Guillame Wafo-Tapa

Wafo and I have a history.

At Pro Tour Valencia, I had a decision. I could sacrifice all of my Invasion sac lands to cast Enduring Ideal into the open four mana of his U/G Heartbeat of Spring combo deck, or cast Duress, play Boseiju, Who Shelters All and pass the turn. His deck had four copies of Remand and four copies of Cunning Wish that I assumed he could use to get a copy of Envelop.

In the end, I decided on Duress, took a combo piece, but he drew a copy of the card I took on his turn and killed me. He didn’t have the Remand in hand, and he didn’t even have an Envelop in his sideboard, so perhaps I was wrong. If the Boseiju weren’t there, I probably would have jammed the Enduring Ideal.

At Pro Tour Berlin, we played Round One, and I think I had a distinct deck advantage despite my deck being horrendous overall. I had a turn-one Dark Confidant and turn-one Bitterblossom in two of our games (against what was obviously a control deck), but lost the match. Mistakes may have been made.

When I saw the pairing for Pro Tour Origins, I smiled.

That was another change in my demeanor, but not one that I noticed until after the fact. Previously, I might be somewhat scared to play against someone who typically has had a pretty easy time defeating me. Much like Josh Utter-Leyton, I often felt outclassed when I played against Wafo, and I can’t say that about very many people.

Instead, I welcomed the challenge. I wanted to make Top Eight of the Pro Tour and I didn’t want it to come easy.

I won the all-important die roll and started with Sylvan Caryatid. He Thoughtseized my Shaman of the Forgotten Ways, leaving me with Whisperwood Elemental and Genesis Hydra. I drew a Deathmist Raptor and deployed that face up, looking to get my beats on. He passed back with Temple of Enlightenment, Temple of Deceit, and Polluted Delta open.

On my turn, I attacked for three, then had the option of playing Whisperwood Elemental or Genesis Hydra into Wafo’s open mana. I settled on Genesis Hydra, preferring to use the Whisperwood Elemental as a followup to his looming Crux of Fate. It worked out well as I hit a Rattleclaw Mystic and was able to get in some damage before my board was swept away. My Whisperwood Elemental manifested a blank and he dropped Dragonlord Ojutai.

I decided to send both, assuming he’d block the Whisperwood Elemental, which he did. The only spell I had left to play was a Shaman of Forgotten Ways, but I was quite a ways away from activating the Biorhythm ability. In the end, I could only get him down to five life before Haven of the Spirit Dragon brought Dragonlord Ojutai back from the dead. In the interest of time, I conceded once he resolved a Dig Through Time.

Second game, our sideboard plan came to fruition. Trail of Mystery allowed me to hit my land drops, I was able to sneak some planeswalkers onto the battlefield under countermagic, and when Rending Volley killed his attacking Ojutai, we went to a third game.

I mulliganned to five.

On the bright side, I had a Trail of Mystery, but Wafo wisely chose to counter my morph creatures. I stumbled a bit on mana, and despite using Rending Volley on Dragonlord Ojutai, he masterfully crafted the game in such a way that we would both be attritioned out except for his last card in hand – Dragonlord’s Prerogative.

I couldn’t power through the avalanche of card advantage and eventually I succumbed. The dream of making Top Eight of the Pro Tour ended. At least it was to someone who I could root for, but unfortunately he ended up going 0-1-1 in the last two rounds.

How To Devotion At Grand Prix San Diego

I could see playing something like this:

Again, I might want to try See the Unwritten, but this is a “safe” list with a sideboard that actually has some stuff for popular decks. It’s worth noting that I expect a sharp decline in control, so unless your opponent is Andrew Brown, you should be alright.

The format appears to be a mix of Abzan Midrange, G/R Devotion, Mono-Red Aggro, and U/R Thopters, and I like my chances against each of them. That said, I’m looking for something new to play, so will likely only play G/R Devotion as a last resort. I wouldn’t fault anyone for playing it though.

Going Forward

Overall, I didn’t feel like I had much of an edge in Constructed despite my wins being rather easy. Oddly enough, the feeling of “I can’t really lose” came from the Limited portion of the tournament, which was a welcome change. I guess that’s what 25+ drafts and frequently conversing about the format will do for you.

In the matches of Constructed that I lost, I felt like I had a bad matchup or was lacking in sideboard cards, which is definitely something we could have done better. I may have been nervous in between rounds or during the physical drafts, but not when I was playing Constructed. Not when the supposed pressure should have been the greatest.

Clearly my subconscious knows where I’m lacking.

Tournaments like the StarCityGames Invitationals will always be important to me, but they’re attainable. At no point did I have a doubt about whether or not I was capable of winning one of those tournaments and it shows in my results.

However, in my lengthy Pro Tour career, I have been live for Top Eight with three rounds left to go a grand total of four times. Pro Tour Magic Origins was one of those times and it was a result of me cracking down on my mediocre Pro Tour performances and trying to right the wrongs I’ve made in the past.

For the longest time, major Pro Tour success alluded me. I consider Pro Tour Gatecrash an outlier, but I know the reasons why I’ve been struggling and I’ve been working my ass off in order to do things better. The Pro Tour appears to be something that I’ve once again placed on a pedestal. Perhaps the defense mechanism I put in place starts to fade once I’m actually at the top of the standings. I’m smart enough to realize that I shouldn’t care, but too stupid to figure out a way to make that a reality.

There have been Pro Tours where I didn’t care and was free. Those feelings, or lack thereof, elevated my results… but by making the Pro Tour a priority, I made it into a thing again. Despite that, I persevered and won my invite to the next one, which is perhaps another outlier.

I’m not trying to hit Silver, Gold, or Platinum, nor am I aiming for the Hall of Fame. While any of those things would be nice, I’m simply trying to string together invites so I can continue to compete at the highest level. The vast majority of my previous Pro Tours have been utter wastes and I know I can do things right. Going 5-1 in Limited at Pro Tour Magic Origins is a start.

As I told Michael Majors in our post-Pro Tour discussion, in each of these tournaments you make a series of decisions, both during games and before the tournament even begins. Sometimes you do certain things right but do others wrong, and typically the times when you make the most correct decisions is when you have something you can truly be proud of. Maybe you don’t end up winning the tournament, but you end up a finish that is respectable. That’s all I’m striving for and Pro Tour Magic Origins was the first step.

This wasn’t a near-miss – it was a success.