Learning and Losing at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx

Shaun McLaren’s Pro Tour title defense didn’t go according to plan. What did he learn from his PT Journey into Nyx experience, and how can those lessons help you?

Pro Tours really just aren’t quite as fun when you don’t end up winning them.

I ended up 3-5 at Pro Tour Atlanta, marking my first bad finish at a high-level tournament in quite some time.

You obviously can’t win ’em all, so what’s the best way to handle a failure? For starters, introspection along with examination of what mistakes were made
is a great way to improve for the future. Look back and examine the big picture with what you know now.

So what went wrong?

Tackling Block

Block is my favorite format for deckbuilding. It’s one of the last pure, untapped Constructed formats for innovation. With the rise of Magic Online and the
Open Series, formats are being figured out very quickly. This isn’t to say that there isn’t room for unique ideas and strategies, but it seems like Magic
is more figured out now. It’s just not like the days of old where no one knew anything.

But you can throw a lot of that out the window for Block. It’s about venturing into the unknown wilds of deck crafting. Block is slower, clunkier, with
less room for surprises, but the right surprise can still hit hard. There are usually some funky combo decks hidden in Block along the lines of Miracles,
Maze’s End, Epic Experiment, or Pyxis of Pandemonium.

I was surprised how balanced this format felt. It didn’t seem like any deck was ridiculously overpowered and there was actually a very diverse metagame.
Wizards has been doing an excellent job tackling these aspects of the game lately in all formats, especially considering how hard people work to break

Theros Block Constructed

I found deckbuilding very frustrating the entire time and struggled to find a deck that I was happy playing.

The mana fixing, or lack thereof, sucked. The mono-colored aggro decks seemed to be the most consistent style of deck. Building two-color decks didn’t
really work since you might as well just jam in a third color and get to run eight more Temples and have about the same quality of mana base.
Don’t get me wrong, Temples are awesome, as is Mana Confluence, but it just wasn’t quite enough to not have games be decided by mana problems regularly. In
Standard, there’s usually a core set adding extra fixing along with the other major sets. One of the main mechanics being Devotion further pushed the
mono-color aspect.

The first deck I started working on was BUG Control, knowing that Temple of Malady would be coming and Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix would be
powerhouses. My main problem building this deck was that I didn’t abandon Dissolve. Instead of being B/G splashing blue, I just kept trying to fit
everything together and would end up with a mess each time. It just wasn’t realistic to be casting Hero’s Downfall, Courser of Kruphix, or Dissolve
consistently on Turn 3. Trimming the Dissolves is obvious in retrospect after seeing the Super Teams’ BUG lists. Despite the excellent finishes from many
excellent control pilots, the cards just don’t exist to stop super draws from aggro decks. You kind of had to hope they stumbled.

The Deck

After waffling back and forth, out of time and out of ideas. At a certain point you have to lock into a deck and stop worrying. I finally settled on this:

I ran 3 Gilds and 2 Silence the Believers because Gild actually works well with Silence, ramping you into the strive, fixing mana, and ramping to Elspeth.
I never got to side in my Dakra Mystics. I’m surprised not many people ran them, since I found they were an excellent card advantage engine for little

I feel like control decks in this format were generally underpowered and lacked many tools necessary for success. The big omission would be that there
wasn’t any powerful Wrath effect. Elspeth and Drown in Sorrow did their best imitation but were not able to replace the efficiency and power of a good
Wrath. Mana consistency was hard to come by and the card draw was below acceptable thresholds. Sylvan Caryatid helped with mana and Courser of Kruphix
helped with the mana and card draw (kind of), which Esper was sorely lacking. There was a lack of good two-drops, as comparing Feast of Dreams to Doom
Blade is laughable.

Prognostic Sphinx was no Sphinx’s Revelation and certainly no Aetherling. It’s slow, doesn’t actually provide card advantage, easy to race, and easy to tap down. It
was hard to ever kill, but there were many ways to beat a resolved Prognostic Sphinx.

On the plus side for control, Hero’s Downfall and Thoughtseize are incredibly powerful and the entire format is slowed down and weaker. It just didn’t feel
that way when you get stuck with a glut of removal spells and very few ways to refill your hand.

The basic premise of my Esper deck was to avoid opponent’s enchantment or creature removal spells. It didn’t work out in practice since the threats of the
format were more powerful than answers. For example, even if I Deicide an opponent’s Courser of Kruphix, they would still get a chance to virtually draw a
land off the top of their deck.

There is nothing wrong with not having perfect fixing, or not printing the next Sphinx’s Revelation; it’s actually nice to have different types of formats
where different strategies can flourish. I just didn’t fare too well in this format.

The Tournament

I was very comfortable drafting any combination of Blue, Black and Green. I preferred to be in Black and was happy to pair it with White as well.

Naturally, I started the draft by opening Iroas, God of Victory. This was actually A-OK, since if I wasn’t going to be drafting BUG I was fine going all in
on RW heroic.

Next pick I had the choice between Harvestguard Alseids and Pin to the Earth. I consider Pin to the Earth a much stronger card and prefer to be blue over
white, but I’d just picked Iroas. I decided I was fine taking the Pin and staying open. I ended up happy, as I got passed another Pin followed by Sigiled
Starfish and Scourge of Fleets over nothing particularly spicy. I got a late Stormchaser Chimera and a few other red cards, not seeing much Green, Black or

I stuck to the plan of drafting what I felt was open, even getting a third-pick Shipbreaker Kraken, and ended up with this:

I think my deck would’ve been slightly stronger if I had taken every aggressive White and Red card I saw, but I was more comfortable with this style and
liked my deck.

Round 1:
Andrea Mengucci, U/G Tricks

The first game, we cluttered up the board. I kept pecking away at him and usually had a favorable board position.

He made a strange attack that left himself dead to my swingback later in the game. If I topdecked a land, I could attack with my team and threaten to
Monstrous my Wildfire Cereberus if he had anything to kill most of his board. Unfortunately, I didn’t draw a land and attacked conservatively, fearful of a
trick that I had no response to. His next turn, Andrea topdecked an Aerial Formation and paired it with the Colossal Heroics he was holding to fly over for
exactly lethal. The Heroics would’ve blown me out if I had swung all-in so I don’t think I could’ve won.

Game 2, I chose to draw and Andrea landed a Swordwise Centaur on Turn 2 while holding Nullify with one land in play. I failed to draw any action until I
attempted to land a Thassa’s Devourer, which got countered by Gainsay. By then it was much too late to catch up.

My title of King of the Hill was immediately usurped, but Mengucci put it to good use and ended up making Top 8.

Round 2:
Tzu-Ching Kuo, R/W Aggro

Game 1, he played a bunch of minotaurs and bashed my head in. This game also featured one of the biggest misplays I’ve made in a long time, where I cast
Retraction Helix on one of my dudes that had summoning sickness for no reason.

Game 2, I stabilized and Monstroused my Shipbreaker Kraken to crash over for the win.

Game 3, he mulliganed to five and failed to find a second land, leaving me at 1-1.

Round 3:
Trey Van Cleave, W/B Aggro

Game 1, he mulliganed to five on the play and I was already thinking the game was a write-off. Instead, he started off with an Oreskos Sun Guide followed
by Harvestguard Alseids and loaded them up with all sorts of auras. I managed to bounce most of his stuff with Scourge of Fleets, but it fell victim to the
anti-combo of Nightmarish End and I ended up dying eventually.

Game 2, I got run over as well.

I was 1-2 heading into Constructed and felt fine. I knew if I played well and my deck was decent, I could turn things around.

Round 4:
Hank Mead, Mono-Black Aggro

I immediately hit a snag when I counted 59 cards in my decklist. I quickly figured out I had forgot to add my third Elspeth. My opponent was a good guy,
though, and a judge let me run and buy one from the dealers. I was once again ready to battle.

Game 1, he curved out but I had a Drown in Sorrow and he eventually flooded out. Game 2 was more of the same, as my deck was humming.

Round 5:
Daniele Cutuli, U/W Heroic

Game 1, he was short on Gods Willings and I killed everything he played. Game 2, Brimaz ran me over. Game 3, he came out the gates fast and managed to pop
a couple of Ordeals of Thassa. I knew I was in trouble if he found multiple spells to protect his big creatures, and it turned out he did.

My deck stopped humming and started clunking.

Round 6:
Pedro Pappaterra, Mono-Black Aggro

He did what Mono-Black does. His deck didn’t stutter and mine did. Defeat was swift and brutal. I was 2-4 with my back against the wall, and at this point
I just wasn’t feeling the killer instinct.

Round 7:
Takimura Kazuyuki, Junk Blossoms

I won the first one after a topdecking war that saw me draw Prognostic Sphinx first. Game 2, he played a bunch of Brain Maggots along with Ajani and buried
me in card advantage. Game 3, I got an active Ashiok going after Thoughtseizing his Downfall, but the game still went very long and I eventually ultimate’d
Ashiok and decked him with it right before time was called.

Round 8:
Aquilino Joseph, Mono-Black Aggro

We split the first two games, and Game 3 I kept a two-lander with all the fixings for victory but failed to find a third one. I was comfortable and ready
for the Mono-Black matchup heading into the tournament. I just wasn’t heavily favored and ended up on the losing end.

And just like that, I was out of the tournament.

Afterwards, I settled for casting my most successful Drown in Sorrows of the weekend. Something was just off all day and I kept making mistakes. I got over
it pretty quick, thankfully, and was quick to turn my attention back to the good stuff rather than dwelling on the bad stuff. I had a great time testing
with Team MTGCanada. For the most part, the team lived up to our red shirts and didn’t end up with any spectacular finishes.

There are a bunch of moving parts in Theros. Tokens, triggers, scrying, top cards being revealed, hands to be written down, actions on upkeep or draw step.
It’s difficult to find the right balance between a fresh, interactive format and just a vomit of things happening on the battlefield. This format was very

Take Round 13 of Finkel vs Rietzl. There were a ton of little mechanical changes happening every
turn. To play at a reasonable pace they would need a spotter to update their life totals and handle the top of their decks. This can put a great strain on
a match, leading to sloppy play or abuse of the clock. They ended up drawing while playing at a reasonable pace (Finkel is a deliberate-pace-of-play kind
of player).

Dealing with Failure at the PT

It sucks when you play badly and it sucks when you lose.

The entire tournament felt like I was falling down a set of stairs in very slow motion. You try to stop it but it just keeps happening. I knew I wasn’t
playing at my best, but no matter how hard you will yourself to just play better, that never seems to work. The best way to succeed is always by being
relaxed and prepared.

I’ve gone 0-5 at a Pro Tour. I’ve started 3-0 only to lose my next three matches. I’ve gotten a game loss for misregistering my decklist. Mistakes may seem
like a big deal when they’re happening, but really they aren’t in the grand scheme of things. You don’t owe anyone a good finish. It won’t change the
outcome of a match, no matter how much you think you deserve to win. We place so much pressure on ourselves when we imagine that all eyes are watching and
judging, but in reality you’re your biggest critic and nobody else is going to blame you if you fail. Give yourself a break when you don’t perform

Ask yourself beforehand if you can see this deck winning the tournament. Ask yourself if you feel like you’re preparing enough for the draft format and are
confident you will put up a strong showing. I wasn’t confident in either of these areas. I should’ve given myself more time to prepare or prepared more
efficiently. Every so often, ping your subconscious about how it feels about what you’re doing. It will often know more than your conscious mind.

Take responsibility when you scrub out. There are always many things you could’ve done differently, so never focus on bad luck. A very high number of
talented mages flourished in this format, along with every format in existence, so blaming bad luck can only get you so far. Getting your body in shape
beforehand and keeping it comfortable during the tournament is still one of the most important things you can do to improve your focus during a tournament.
The smallest mistake or card choice can ripple out and affect your entire tournament. Focus on what you can control and fix for the future.

Let it Go

Can you feel good about a loss? Well, not really, but it’s not that hard to feel less bad.

The loss itself really isn’t so bad. It’s your mind that carries it away, heaping on more pressure, shame, and unknowns. 0-2 at PTQs. 0-3 at GPs. 0-5 at
the Pro Tour. The numbers of death. Those are the scores we fear. Those are the records that prove we are bad players. This just isn’t true. This is just
the voice of fear making up stories saying “You will never get another chance. Everyone is better than you. You are a flash in the pan. A has-been. A

That voice is never useful. Those thoughts are never useful. Watch them and smile. It better to focus on the things you can change. This is a painful route
but not nearly as painful as denying what happened. It sucks admitting your mistakes, but it will make you a better player.

So what am I going to do when I lose? Maybe I’ll mope for a few minutes. Then I’m going to put on a smile and stop worrying about it. Sometimes you pick
the wrong deck. Sometimes you make a bad play.

You can only control your response to what happens next.