I write this from a lounge chair in the backyard of the Skarren beach house in Virginia Beach, on the first real time off I’ve had in over a year.
Of course there’s some irony in writing my weekly article during my week off, but hey, my life is great and you won’t catch me complaining. I came from SCG CON, with a pit stop in Durham, NC for a Regional PTQ, and will be leaving shortly to head down to South Carolina to work on my fixer-upper new house in preparation for our move in two months.
Before we get started on the Magic stuff, I just wanted to give a shout out to the Skarren family for being gracious enough to host all of us for the week, as well as the great crew of Magic and non-Magic players here alike. It’s been a nonstop parade of gaming and relaxing: mini-golf, Codenames, an M25 draft, beer pong, Kirby’s Dream Course, Frank’s infamous Magic “Stack,” Werewolf in the hot tub, poker, sleeping until noon, BBQs, Super Smash Bros, hibachi, and hopefully some basketball later today. It’s been a well-needed break, and an important recharge for the month of house work ahead of me.
But enough about my vacation. There’s been tons of Magic to catch up on!
My Five Pro Tour Predictions
Ooh, yeah, my predictions. About that…
Before we get to those let me remind everyone that I did tweet this a few months ago…
Going on the record: Goblin Chainwhirler was a big mistake #MTGDOM @wizards_magic
— Jim Davis (@JimDavisMTG) April 22, 2018
…while also calling Goblin Chainwhirler “the best card in Dominaria” in my YouTube video that challenges viewers to change my mind on the subject…
… so when we get to my actual predictions, let’s at least remember I was on the money about Goblin Chainwhirler from the beginning. I just didn’t fully appreciate how dramatic it would be. As such, we didn’t do so well this time around.
“Prediction One: No Deck Will Comprise More Than 20% Of The Field On Day 1.”
Despite what Wizards of the Coast would have you believe (and I do thank them for trying to make me right), the Pro Tour metagame was almost one-third Goblin Chainwhirler.
R/B Aggro was basically just Mono-Red Aggro with a light splash for Unlicensed Disintegration, and while there were a few bigger R/B Midrange decks, for the most part they were just R/B Aggro decks that cut Bomat Courier and Earthshaker Kenrha to be better in the mirror.
Wizards of the Coast rightfully caught a lot of flak for trying to make them seem like different decks, and while, by the letter of the law of their own breakdown, maybe I could try to sneak this one, I’m not even going to try. It was even worse on Day 2, where the Goblin Chainwhirler decks just crushed everything.
I was right when I said Goblin Chainwhirler was a mistake, and it is a stain on what looks like it would be an otherwise great format.
“Prediction Two: There Will Be More Than 40 Mountains In The Top 8.”
So, yeah, we kinda undershot the mark on this one.
There were 102 copies of basic Mountain in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Dominaria, one of the highest amounts ever for a basic land in a Pro Tour Top 8. I knew red was good, but I didn’t think it was going to be this good. Still, I’ll take it.
“Prediction Three: At Least Two Decks In The Top 8 Will Be Playing Karn, Scion Of Urza And Treasure Map Maindeck.”
Karn, Scion of Urza was one of the most hyped cards coming into Pro Tour Dominaria, but ultimately fell somewhat flat.
I was really high on the combination of Karn and Treasure Map, but they ultimately fell flat. Karn was still seen occasionally alongside Heart of Kiran, but for the most part played second fiddle to Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. This makes sense, as the speed of the Mono-Red Aggro decks, coupled with the abundant copies of Abrade floating around, certainly makes life difficult for a slow card-advantage-based planeswalker that wants to play with a lot of artifacts.
Sometimes you take your shots and miss wildly.
“Prediction Four: There Will Be At Least One Mono-Black (Or Nearly Mono-Black) Deck In The Top 8, With Nary A Dread Shade Or Cabal Stronghold In Sight.”
Given that I felt Mono-Black Control was the natural home for Karn plus Treasure Map, I really doubled down by making this prediction as well. While I got properly punished, I wasn’t completely off the mark.
- 3 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
- 2 Noxious Gearhulk
- 3 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 2 Knight of Malice
- 4 Dread Shade
Willy Edel played this Mono-Black Midrange deck to a 7-3 Constructed record at the Pro Tour, and while it didn’t have Karn in it, it did have the Gonti, Lord of Luxary / Liliana, Death’s Majesty pairing I was high on as well. Unfortunately, Willy was also playing Dread Shade, which even further nixes my prediction, but at least I was in the ballpark.
“Prediction Five: There Will Be A Copy Of Metallic Rebuke In The Top 8.”
Another risky shot fails to find its mark.
Thankfully, I was in good company:
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Glint-Nest Crane
- 1 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Scrap Trawler
- 4 Walking Ballista
Sam Pardee and a number of other members of Channel Fireball all chose to play this pretty wild U/G Karn deck at the Pro Tour, to mostly disastrous results. Only Sam and Ivan Floch had good records with the deck, with many of the game’s best players playing the deck to poor finishes.
It’s good to know that, if you’re wrong, at least smart people were wrong with you.
Again, the aggression of Mono-Red Aggro plus the prevalence of Abrade makes life awfully hard for decks based around artifact synergies. It’s a shame, too, because this deck was one of the coolest to come out of the Pro Tour.
All in all, this was my worst set of predictions by a wide margin, but hey, at least I was ahead of the curve on Goblin Chainwhirler!
All Teferi, All the Time at SCG CON
Despite my poor performance in the Invitational, SCG CON was awesome.
It is amazing what a little rebranding can do, and despite being a similar event to the previous two Invitationals at the exact same location, SCG CON just felt awesome. You couldn’t help but wander over to the Vintage Power 9 Series or No Banned List Modern Open to just see what’s going on, and the Artist Alley and all the guests were great.
For the event itself, I went Mono-Teferi Aggro:
There was little doubt I was playing Jeskai Control at SCG CON; it’s the kind of deck I like to play, it has been doing well for a while, and I personally had done well with the deck at my recent events.
In fact, I spent almost no time preparing for the Modern portion of SCG CON because I’d already had so many positive reps with the deck in the previous few months. This is one of the huge benefits of picking a deck in Modern and sticking with it for a long period of time, and one of the things that make life easy for Modern “specialists” and their respective decks. The format never changes that drastically, which means all the experience and practice you get with a certain deck is constantly compounding itself.
I ended up going 5-3 in the Modern portion with the deck, losing a tough matchup against Owen Turtenwald playing Hollow One in Round 1 and losing on Day 2 against Ironworks Combo (which seemed difficult) and Humans (where I played very badly). People are more prepared for the deck than they used to be, but it was good, and with better play and sideboarding I could have done much better.
Standard is where I put my work in for the event, and where I’d ultimately end up falling short.
- 3 Syncopate
- 1 Negate
- 2 Essence Scatter
- 4 Glimmer of Genius
- 4 Disallow
- 4 Fatal Push
- 1 Forsake the Worldly
- 4 Vraska's Contempt
- 2 Search for Azcanta
I started the list Guillaume Matignon went 8-2 with at the Pro Tour, which was right up my alley after playing a ton of U/B Control in pre-Dominaria Standard. Black has much better removal than white in Standard, but of course Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is a huge draw, which leads you down the white path.
This deck simply shoots for the best of both worlds. The deck was light on maindeck removal and way too heavy on sideboard copies of Knight of Malice, so after a few Magic Online Leagues, I ended up here:
Going into the event I was very happy with the list, but I would only end up scrounging together a rather ugly 4-4 record to not cash the event. I lost to red decks three times, with my removal never lining up well and the games playing out very awkwardly. I was beating red decks consistently on Magic Online the week prior, so it’s hard to know if the list was to blame or it just was a small sample size, but I did find myself wishing for some mass removal spells…
Going Back to White for the RPTQ
Our turnaround was quick: about twelve hours after the Invitational ended, Dan Jessup, Andrew Jessup, Peter Ingram, and I were back in the car heading to beautiful Durham, NC for the RPTQ. I would be playing with longtime friends and former Team MGG teammates Andrew and Frank Skarren, as the format was Team Unified Constructed.
In Team Unified Constructed you can’t share any cards in your three decks, which makes deckbuilding awkward and sideboarding even more awkward because of the importance of cards like Negate and Duress. It’s also a pretty bad Standard format for Unified because of the absurdly high power level of some of the best cards in the format. You’re essentially priced into playing a Goblin Chainwhirler deck; a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria deck; and likely a green deck.
Here is where we ended up:
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
- 4 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Ahn-Crop Crasher
- 4 Soul-Scar Mage
- 3 Earthshaker Khenra
- 3 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 24 Mountain
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 1 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Ravenous Chupacabra
Unfortunately we would lose in the semifinals, one heartbreaking match short of qualifying. I would also leave the RPTQ wishing I had just played straight U/W Control at SCG CON.
It may have been a byproduct of Negate, Duress, and Field of Ruin being less prevalent because of the Team Unified restriction, but the deck felt great. Settle the Wreckage was a house, and I had no fear of aggressive red starts like I did with Esper. There’s also just no denying the power of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and U/W is a better Teferi deck than Esper.
Andrew’s Mono-Red Aggro deck was basically just a minor update to the Pro Tour-winning list, with the only concession being removing Aethersphere Harvester from the sideboard. Our biggest mistake, however, was Frank’s deck.
Frank has played the card Winding Constrictor many times successfully, and while we weren’t super-high on the deck, Jeff Cunningham has been loudly advocating for it on Twitter while also backing up his claims with many Magic Online League trophies and an 8-0 finish in the most recent Magic Online Championship Series.
We decided to run with it and were very unimpressed. Without any real removal spells, Frank’s deck struggled against Mono-Red Aggro and was extremely reliant on getting out ahead with good starts, as it had almost no way to get back into a game when it was on the back foot.
We had considered having Frank play U/B Midrange and just leaving green on the bench entirely, but sadly didn’t pull the trigger on it.
We registered 0 Green Cards 0 Ballista 0 Heart and 0 Scrounger
— Matt Costa (@mattccosta) June 10, 2018
Matt Costa’s team won their RPTQ with this exact configuration, omitting Heart of Kiran, Scrapheap Scrounger, Walking Ballista, and green cards entirely. It feels weird to leave some of the best Standard staples on the bench, but I wish we had run this configuration and I expect it to be the best choice for the RPTQs that remain.
Back to Work!
With my little vacation winding down and three weeks of house work ahead of me, SCG Atlanta is the finish line for this particular trip. I’ll likely sleeve up Jeskai Control once again, as it is nice to be in a place where I’ve got a Modern deck I can just run confidently without much preparation.
It sucks to do poorly at such important events as the Invitational and the RPTQ, but the beauty of Magic is that there’s always another event around the corner. I look forward to being all done with the house and the move and getting to focus entirely on trying to win the SCG Tour Season Two points race.
But for now, I’ll get back to enjoying the last bit of my vacation!