Flow of Ideas – Stories, Adventures, and Decklists from Pro Tour: Austin Part 1

Read Gavin Verhey every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, October 22nd – My adventure to Texas was an exciting one. Four and a half days of playing Magic, having fun, and spending time with some of my favorite people in the world is exactly why I love this game so much. If you’ve never been to a Pro Tour, it’s not always about how you actually do in the tournament(s) you play in, but the adventure along the way.


My adventure to Texas was an exciting one. Four and a half days of playing Magic, having fun, and spending time with some of my favorite people in the world is exactly why I love this game so much. If you’ve never been to a Pro Tour, it’s not always about how you actually do in the tournament(s) you play in, but the adventure along the way. Every cent I spent in Austin, and every second of class I had to miss to be there, was well worth it. It’s really impossible to encapsulate over four days of pure Magic into one article: the only way to know what it’s like it to do it yourself. Regardless, I’ve dug through my experience this past weekend and pulled out the highs, lows, decklists, results, and, of course, stories to hopefully give you a flavor of my experience. While I normally don’t like doing segmented articles, I decided to split this article up into two parts because I feel like too much would be lost if I crammed everything into one article. That means this week will be part of one Austin, next week will be part two of Austin, and in two weeks will be my Grand Prix: Tampa report.

I’d like to thank everyone I spent time with over the course of the weekend, and each and every reader that came up to me and told me how much they enjoy my articles. You guys rock, and I really do appreciate your friendship and support. Without my friends and fans, none of this would be possible.


LCQing with Pyromancer’s Ascension, Why the Bird Really is the Word, the Quest for the Cakelord, and other Stories, Adventures, and Decklists from Pro Tour Austin

Part 1

I step out of the airport door, and the consumptive grip of humidity alongside the stench of sweat grips my senses. I take a breath in, close my eyes, and slowly breathe out, opening my eyes and slowly acclimating myself to my surroundings. “Welcome to Texas,” says a sign alongside the road, as unnecessary as it is bright with red hues.

Texas. My home for the next four days.

I wheel my suitcase by my side and shrug my backpack into place over my shoulders, as I head toward the bus stop. Ari Lax had given me the heads up that there was a .75 cent bus that went straight downtown I could take instead of shelling out $20 for a cab ride. As some might say, “mise.”

I stood waiting for the bus, which came in short order, and boarded, allowing myself to take a seat and let my mind return to where it had been the entire flight to Texas: a land of Sprouting Thrinaxes and Bloodbraid Elves, or as it was formerly called, Standard.

This is what I knew: Jund was the best performing deck, not close. It took five of the eight slots at the previous weekend’s StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open, and was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. As far as I was concerned, I had to either play a deck that beat Jund, or play Jund. On one hand, Jund is clearly a very powerful archetype full of very strong cards. Casting Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning is one of the most powerful plays available in Standard, and cards like Putrid Leech alongside the ever-frustrating Sprouting Thrinax provide both a quick clock and a strong long game plan.

On the other hand, just about anyone who had worked in the new format at all knew Jund was the deck to beat. I knew there was a control solution in the format somewhere, and I predicted the better players would find it. Going further into the LCQ rounds, I wanted to be able to beat the control decks I predicted would rise to the top.

On the plane I had been testing Ben Jackson and Adam Prosak U/R Runeflare TrapPyromancer Ascension deck.

4 Scalding Tarn
8 Mountain
8 Island
4 Crumbling Necropolis

4 Jace Beleren
4 Howling Mine
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Runeflare Trap
4 Ponder
4 Pyromancer Ascension
4 Into the Roil
2 Font of Mythos
4 Time Warp
3 Burst Lightning

4 Dragon’s Claw
3 Sphinx of Lost Truths
2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
3 Flashfreeze
1 Mind Spring
2 Swerve

They were big fans of the deck, and after thoroughly testing the matchup on the plane, the Jund matchup seemed about 50%. Previous testing with the deck showed that it smashed control decks and could even go toe-to-toe with the R/W deck, only having major problems with the Mono Red deck. Still, a 50% Jund matchup wasn’t what I was looking for; I wanted to play more than a bunch of coin flip matchups throughout the LCQ.

Sometime between finishing up writing a newspaper article on zombies on the flight to Phoenix and getting on the flight from Phoenix to Austin, I came up with the idea to hybridize Ben and Adam’s list with the Japanese UBR Pyromancer’s Ascension deck and my Sphinx Control list. Ben and Adam’s deck was missing a finisher and a card you could cheat up to with Time Warps, and what better way than Cruel Ultimatum? Additionally, I got to add Wretched Banquet, because another removal spell is desperately what the deck needed.

Still, I had a lot of other things I wanted to test out. Mike Bennett and I had brewed up a Bant list we thought would probably be advantaged against Jund, and my updated Sphinx Control list was doing pretty well. The issue, as always, was time; the less than 24 hours before the LCQ, not resources, was my enemy.

My focus returned to the present, as the thought of time caused me to wonder how long I had been on the bus. Everyone else had long disembarked, and I had no idea where in Austin I should get off. I asked the bus driver, to which he replied that the stop I wanted was about four blocks back. I thanked him and got off the bus, then began to stumble aimlessly around Austin.

Eventually, I just gave up and called Ari. He informed me that I was in a very bad part of town and that, since it was 9pm, I should just cab to the hotel. Instead, I put gum in my mouth, put my best “I’m a street tough Austin native, yes I do always carry a backpack and suitcase,” face on and marched toward the hotel. It really wasn’t that bad of a walk besides the fact that multiple people asked me if I had, quote, “good stuff” in my bag, and a group of teenagers that crossed the street toward me who I overheard one saying to another, “we’re going to have to go back, I left my switchblade at home.”

After a good half an hour of walking through seedy neighborhoods, I made it to the fabulous La Quinta Inn, where I met up with Ari and Rich, whom I affectionately began to call Redbeard since Ari introduced me to Rich as “the guy with the red beard.” Ari claimed to have broken Standard, as he often claims to do, and tossed me a Jund decklist which had Masters of the Hunt and Mind Rots. The Masters looked terrible, but Mind Rot was interesting, giving Jund access to two more Blightnings.

I quickly began to establish contact with the people that were in Austin, and headed out to eat dinner and do some Standard testing. We all went to the Hilton so we could meet up with Zaiem Beg for dinner, and when we arrived at the Hilton we found Todd Anderson and Andrew Temple playtesting in the lobby. It wasn’t hard to rope them into eating delicious Italian food and a scrumptious dessert that even Charles “Aceman” DuPont showed up for.

Afterward, we went up to the Hilton lounge on the tenth floor where we met up with Mike Bennett and a few others. The qualified players went off to draft, while Redbeard, Mike, Zaiem, and I played some games of Standard. Zaiem built up the Bant deck while I continued to game with my UBR Pyromancer Ascension deck. Redbeard played Jund against all of us, and Mike’s current top deck was the R/W Boros Bushwhacker deck. We tested until about 2am, finding that Bant and UBR Pyromancer Ascension was slightly favored against Jund, while Boros was disadvantaged against Jund.

Redbeard, Ari, and I walked back to the La Quinta to turn in for the night. I fortunately had one of the two beds, but was quickly dismayed to find that there were both pee and blood stains under the covers. I shrugged and tossed the sheets back over the pillows, opting to sleep on top of them. Good thing it’s not cold in Austin…

I awoke to the sound of my phone alarm screeching at me. It was 10am, a mere seven hours before the LCQ. I immediately rattled Redbeard awake and had him play some games with Jund against me with RBU Pyromancer Ascension while I was still in my pajamas. We played 20 games, and it ended up 12-8 in my favor. At this point, I locked myself into to RBU Ascension. The Bant deck Mike and I built that Zaiem was testing the night before had thoroughly piqued my interest, but I felt there just wasn’t enough time to refine it considering we didn’t even have an inkling of a sideboard.

Around 1, we decided to head out to go eat breakfast and meet up with Zaiem and Mike to test some more Standard. Breakfast quickly turned into buying a container of orange juice and a muffin at a local convenience store, but it left us with more time to test. We hammered out some more games, this time against a few different archetypes, including Calosso’s Planeswalker control deck. I smashed all of the control decks unless they got Luminarch Ascension active, so I cut the two maindeck Flashfreezes for some Into the Roils so I could deal with noncreature permaments, and then headed over to the tournament site. I spent the last hour or so refining my build, debating Into the Roil versus Grixis Charm, and eventually submitted in my decklist for the LCQ.

Round 1 — Jund

Alright, the matchup I knew I had to be ready for. Game 1 I assemble an Pyromancer’s Ascension quickly by burning his Putrid Leeches and Bloodbraid Elves, and a Howling Mine to counteract his Blightnings. I end up in a position I feel I am safe in: Nine life, active Ascension, Jace in play, plenty of mana, and Time Warp in hand versus his no creatures and one card in hand. I literally draw nothing but Howling Mines, Pyromancer Ascension, Jace, and lands over my two Time Warp turns and my next two regular turns, and he kills me with Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning followed up by a Lightning Bolt.

Game 2 I mulligan and have an awkward mana situation where I have to tap my red to Bolt his turn two Putrid Leech when he attacks, then can’t Swerve back his Blightning. Two Goblin Ruinblasters later, and I only have two lands left and, even after dispatching them with Bolts, am at a precariously low life total. I try and get back in the game, but he casts a Bloodbraid Elf and beats me with it.


Round 2 — Boros Bushwhacker

Game 1 I dispatch his guys in a systematic fashion, set up Pyromancer’s Ascension, Time Warp for a bunch of extra turns, then kill him with back to back Cruels. Wasn’t close.

Game 2 he gets stuck on three lands and is forced to run a Ruinblaster out there unkicked. I figure that means he’s holding another Ruinblaster and make sure to keep Flashfreeze mana up at for the rest of his turns, slowly setting up with Jace. He hits four mana and casts not Ruinblaster but Manabarbs, which I slam down a Flashfreeze to counter. I stem his tide of threats, and eventually draw Cruel Ultimatum, which finds me the cards I need to seal the game.


I rush away from the table because someone was looking for me, only to find that I left one of my two bags, my travel bag — the one I am not used to carrying around with me while I play — behind. Fortunately, Morgan Chang had the heart to turn it into lost and found, which I am highly grateful for.

Round 3 — Naya Zoo

Ironically, I end up facing Morgan, the kind man who turned in my bag. I consider conceding in gratitude, but end up deciding that I invested so much to come out to Austin that I can’t just give up, no matter how thankful I am.

Game 1 he beats me up with creatures while I have a slow draw. Game 2 and 3 I have Flashfreeze to mitigate his speed and deal with his larger creatures, and am able to set up Time Warps into Cruel Ultimatum and active Ascensions without much difficulty.


Round 4 — Boros Bushwhacker

Game 1 I do the same exact thing I did in the early matchup: trade my cards with his guys, then set up Ascension into Time Warp into Ultimatum. Games 2 and 3 I mulligan and have slower draws, and, although close, he is able to deal just enough damage to take me down before I can cast Cruel Ultimatum.


I sign the slip and drop, opting to go eat a late meal, check in with brad Nelson, Steve Sadin, Conley Woods, and others who are preparing for the Pro Tour, then head back to Zaiem, Charles Dupont, and Noah Weil room to say hi. Noah and Max are playing Hypergenesis, but Charles staggers into the room and declares he is playing Mono Red Burn. We tell him not to waste his Pro Tour opportunity, and he says that he spent a good twenty minutes thinking about it and that it has to be a good choice. We all laugh him as off, as Charles is the most ridiculous Magic player of all time, and head back to our room.

Our room has acquired two new people: Seattle compatriot Max McCall and someone I had never met named Kurtis. For some reason I was unable to remember Kurtis‘ name, so I decided to follow suit with Redbeard and nickname him Glasses, since he was the only person in our room who wore glasses.

Kurtis was planning on playing a B/W deck at the Pro Tour featuring cards like Ghost Council of Orzhova, Smallpox, Thoughtseize, Duress, Jitte, Hand of Cruelty, Gatekeeper of Malakir — you get the idea. We try and talk him out of it, and Ari asks to play a few games with a deck he has broken Extended with. Ari shows me his deck, and for once, I think he may have actually broken the format.

Ari opens his first game with a mulligan to six, and, after a hard decision to keep, passes without playing a land. Glasses plays a tapped Godless Shrine and passes. Ari draws a card, furrows his brow, and passes once more. Glasses, ever curious, untaps and casts Thoughtseize.

Ari goes into the tank. None of us were sure what the right play was looking at his hand. We could only wait to see what happened next. Ari just looked up and smiled.

“The bird is the word!” he proclaimed, revealing his hand and flipping his deck onto the table then spreading it out, revealing 61 bird tokens “The bird is the word!” Ari continued to shriek amongst our laughter.

We settled down for the night, and went to bed.

Friday was Sealed PTQ day. While the people in the Pro Tour were starting to play in the last Pro Tour of this season, this was my chance to qualify for the first Pro Tour of next year.

I register an insane pool including double Chandra Ablaze, Day of Judgment, Luminarch Ascension, Terra Stomper, and two Harrows to make sure you can cast your white bombs, then pass and receive this pool:

2 Quest for the Holy Relic
1 World Queller
1 Kor Outfitter
1 Kabira Evangel
1 Makindi Shieldmate
1 Narrow Escape
1 Pillarfield Ox
1 Steppe Lynx
1 Shieldmate’s Blessing

2 Caller of Gales
1 Kraken Hatchling
1 Hedron Crab
2 Reckless Scholar
1 Lullmage Mentor
1 Sea Gate Loremaster
1 Shoal Serpent
1 Spreading Seas
1 Spell Pierce
1 Trapmaker’s Snare
1 Whiplash Trap
1 Into the Roil
1 Paralyzing Trap

2 Desecrated Earth
1 Soul Stair Expedition
1 Vampire’s Bite
1 Bloodghast
1 Grim Discovery
1 Crypt Ripper
1 Nimana Sell-Sword
1 Guul Draz Vampire
1 Bog Tatters
1 Giant Scorpion
1 Disfigure
1 Ravenous Trap
1 Sadistic Sacrament
1 Vampire Hexmage
1 Hideous End

3 Plated Geopede
2 Demolish
2 Zektar-Shrine Expedition
2 Murasa Pyromancer
1 Seismic Shudder
1 Spire Barrage
1 Molten Ravager
1 Goblin Shortcutter
1 Shatterskull Giant
1 Geyser Glider
1 Punishing Fire
1 Ruinous Minotaur
1 Fire Mongrel

2 Oran-Rief Survivalist
1 Timbermaw Larva
1 Beast Hunt
1 Baloth Woodcrasher
1 Zendikar Farguide
1 Harrow
1 Frontier Guide
1 River Boa
1 Turntimber Basilisk
1 Savage Silhouette
1 Cobra Trap
1 Grazing Gladehart
1 Relic Crush
2 Vastwood Gorger

1 Blazing Torch
1 Explorer’s Scope
1 Expedition Map
1 Carnage Altar

2 Turntimber Grove
1 Teetering Peaks
1 Soaring Seacliff

I quickly identified Red as a color I wanted to play. It had good creatures, the highlight of which is three Plated Geopedes, and removal in Spire Barrage and Punishing Fire. It was just a matter of which color to pair Red with. White I eliminated fairly quickly, as after World Queller there was very little. I toyed with Blue but it simply did not contribute to my aggressive strategy, leaving either Black or Green. I felt my Green gave me a better curve and overall power, albeit forcing me to leave two pieces of removal on the bench. I ended up with a fairly aggressive G/R deck, which is just what I’m looking for in this format.

1 Soaring Seacliff
1 Teetering Peaks
8 Forest
8 Mountain

3 Plated Geopede
2 Oran-Rief Survivalist
1 Geyser Glider
1 Ruinous Minotaur
1 Shatterskull Giant
1 Molten Ravager
1 Goblin Shortcutter
1 Grazing Gladehart
1 Baloth Woodcrasher
1 Territorial Baloth
1 Timbermaw Larva
1 Vastwood Gorger
1 Turntimber Basilisk
1 River Boa

1 Explorer’s Scope
1 Blazing Torch

1 Harrow
1 Punishing Fire
1 Spire Barrage

Round 1

My opponent is playing G/W and has some pretty weak cards in his deck, like Noble Vestige. Game 1 he just needs to cast three cards to beat me, though: Kor Sanctifiers, Conqueror’s Pledge, Beastmaster’s Ascension. Alright, next game?

Game 2 I roll over him with an aggressive hand full of two-drops while he stumbles on mana. He casts Conqueror’s Pledge to try and stabilize, but I have the boarded Seismic Shudder to deal with the tokens. Game 3, I mulligan and keep a two land hand. I don’t find my third land until turn 5, but fortunately my barrage of two-drops has been able to hold down the fort and get in some damage. I use Blazing Torch and Punishing Fire to remove his Quest for the Gemblades target, manage to stabilize, and end the game with Baloth Woodcrasher.


Round 2

He has a very good R/B deck, which basically outclasses me at every front. He has very similar Red cards, but his Black cards like Vampire Lacerator, Vampire Nighthawk, Disfigure, Surrakar Marauder, Quest for the Gravelord, and Hideous End both cap off the big creature advantage I have and provide him with a quicker clock. I quickly lose in two games.


Round 3

Round 3 I play against the brother of Marlon Egolf, Grand Prix Boston champion. We have very similar decks, but I simply have faster starts and get to my fatties while he doesn’t find his in both games. Afterward he shows me his deck and I can’t help but feel like I escaped this match, as he flashes a bunch of fatties that would have halted my offense, including double Baloth Woodcrasher.


In between rounds 2 and 3 I show my deck to Mike Gurney and Noah Weil, and ask what colors they would have played. They both think I should have gone with Black over Green, and now that I’ve played some games, I definitely agree with them. We decide the sideboard plan is to take out all of the Green cards and the Molten Ravager and bring in Hideous End, Disfigure, Bloodghast, Crypt Ripper, Soul Stair Expedition, Giant Scorpion, both Zektar-Shrine Expeditions, Vampire’s Bite, and Nimana Sell-Sword. After that, I could choose to bring in Guul Draz Vampire or Grim Discovery depending on my opponent’s deck.

Round 4

Round 4 I have to unfortunately play against Mike Bennett. He’s playing an aggressive R/B deck with double Lacerator, Crypt Rippers, good removal, and three Plated Geopedes of his own. Game 1 we are both get in our beats early, leaving him with two Vampire Lacerators and a Crypt Ripper at four life, and me with a Territorial Baloth equipped with a Blazing Torch. He attacks me with the Ripper, brings me to three, then passes. I attack, he tries to block, and I point to the Blazing Torch.

Game 2 I run the switch and have an excellent start while he mulligans to six. Just when he begins to stabilize I alpha strike and have the Vampire’s Bite needed to deal the final three.


Round 5

My opponent shows up late and is given a game loss. He draws only Forests, and my aggressive deck quickly takes him down.


Round 6

Round 6 isn’t much of a round. I, once again, have an aggressive start as my deck is supposed to. Game 1 he gets mana screwed on two lands, and Game 2 he gets immensely mana flooded.


Round 7

He is also G/R with numerous Nissa’s Chosen. Game 1 it looks like he is winning, but I bring him from 20 to 0 with Soaring Seacliffs on my Ruinous Minotaur backed up by a Harrow with Baloth Woodcrasher in play. Game 2, my Geopedes and Zektar-Shrine Expeditions do a good job at fighting his slower hand.


Round 8

Round 8 I’m up against G/W. Game 1 he draws a lot of lands and I roll over him. Game 2 I get mana screwed and am unable to recover while he outcreatures me, and Game 3 I see four non-land cards all game.


I was disappointed to not make Top 8, and wandered over to go check out the last round of the Pro Tour. Charles DuPont comes over and informs me he went 4-1 with his Mono Red Burn deck, beating Rhox War Monks and Primal Commands for Kitchen Finks alike, and that I should play it in the PTQ tomorrow. I consider it, and seek out other players to talk about Extended with. Eventually, I find a dejected Steve Sadin shaking his head and heading out of the building.

“Hey Steve, how’s it going?” I call out after him. No response. “What do you think I should play in the PTQ tomorrow?”

Without looking up, he heaves his deckbox at me and I catch it, and then stuff the deckbox in my bag in case I decide to play Dark Depths.

Eventually I get a dinner group together, and a massive group of us goes out to eat at a Barbecue place called Stubbs. We order all-you-can-eat for all of us, and talk about Extended. Chas Hinkle recommends Lucas Siow’s Thopter FoundrySword of the Meek-Gifts-Dark DepthsVampire Hexmage concoction, whilst Adam Prosak recommends dredge or Ben Rubin Zoo deck. Steve Sadin still thinks his Dark Depths deck is the deck to play. I head back to the hotel, unsure what to play for the Extended PTQ, the next day of events looming ahead…

Next time: A PTQ, two Grand Prix trials, Question Mark, the Epic Quest for the Cakelord, and more!

Gavin Verhey
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else