Learning from the Pro Tour and Looking Towards Regionals

Fresh from the trenches of Pro Tour Prague, Jeroen shares some of the tricks he picked up when drafting RGD with some of the strongest players in the world. He also turns his eye toward the approaching Regionals, imparting advice on gauging your local metagame, and sharing some tips on focusing your deckbuilding process!

I am back from Prague, and back from another disappointing event. I know I am good at this format, as during most of our test drafts, with some of the best drafters in the world, I did very very well. This means that during the PT something must have happened that made me choke, or at least saw me make wrong decisions. I can only blame myself for this, and the fact that there wasn’t enough time to test, and I shouldn’t have made assumptions about the format so quickly. Finding what went wrong when you lose is a good thing at least, so I’ll try and draw strength from that. There’s always the next PT.

I’d like to start this week’s article with the stuff I learned from the format, and then answer a couple of questions after that. I have been getting a fairly steady amount of emails – thank you all for that. By all means, keep sending them in.

Things I Learned From the PT:

The format isn’t as slow as it used to be.

Back in RRG, the format was focussed on getting card advantage and setting up for the late-game. With the new set, three new aggro guilds have been inserted in the format, adding great cheap aggressive creatures and spells… and making the games a lot faster. This means that though bounce lands are still your best mana-fixers, they lose a little of their power. Signets become better, and Ogre Savant has become a true bomb. Before he was clearly behind Steamcore Weird and Izzet Chronarch… but now, I feel he is the better card.

Guilds are not as important as you would think.

As guild-based as the format looks, many a good player will often tell you that it is more important to just take the best card out of every pack, and pick up some fixing to run them. Especially in the Ravnica pack, the mono-colored cards are all so good that it is often the correct play not to pick a guild from that pack, leaving you open for better cards in later packs. The popular GRU combo is actually based on that strategy.

I was wrong on a bunch of the cards in my set-review.

This always happens when you put yourself out there after little testing, and you can misevaluate cards in a vacuum. I feel it’s my responsibility to touch on the cards I underplayed (in Limited, as I still feel my Constructed reviews were fine).

The Eidolons. Despite the fact that I said they weren’t all that bad, the fact that they come back from the grave means that most of the time it doesn’t really matter what their abilities are. I will never be disappointed if I have to run one or two in my deck.

Kill-Suit Cultist. This guy is a lot better than I gave him credit for, due to his great synergy with pingers. This still means that he’s a poor man’s Orzhov Euthanist, but even then he is a passable addition if you have a pinger or three.

Kindle the Carnage. A bad Savage Twister is still a Savage Twister, and the fact that this is random (meaning you can’t really set it up as well as the Twister) doesn’t mean that its effect doesn’t win games. Still not an automatic first-pick, this is a fine card in a control-heavy Red deck.

Whiptail Moloch. Still a pretty bad guy by itself, this card does serve a purpose in the Wall draft deck, where a bunch of Benevolent Ancestors will often mean that he will not kill any of your guys yet still be a decent threat. Not for every deck, admittedly… but this guy does have a home in some draft decks.

That’s most of them, though I am sure the future will show more cards that are better or worse then I initially thought. That’s what makes this format so much fun!

I learned a number of other, non-Limited things in Prague. I learned that Craig Krempels is indeed an Infectious Host; that John Fiorillo hates Osyp and Ruud more than anything, for hurting his chances with the ladies at every turn; and that Ant finally got what he deserved… a top 8. I also learned that drinking Absinthe all night, getting back home and going to bed at 7am, and then getting up at 10am, is not a recipe for a great travel day. I’m still plenty sick, let me tell you that.

On to the questions!

The first question this week comes from Samy Younis, regarding Regionals.

Dear Jeroen,

With Regionals just around the corner, we all find ourselves swimming through the gauntlet trying to find the optimal deck, and it seems that one deck is radiant: Flores R/W.

The deck has only one unfavorable match (G/W), and has the ability to dominate many top decks (Heartbeat and Vore). The deck seems to be even money, or maybe a slight favorite, against the rest of the field.

This is a prelude to my question… Is my analysis correct? Does this make Flores R/W the optimal deck choice for Regionals?

The most important part when asking yourself this question is are you comfortable playing this deck in the current format. It seems like you are well prepared, and you’ve tested every matchup, and your results have been good. Of course, there can be problems… maybe the people you have been testing against aren’t the best (skill-wise), or you haven’t been testing against optimal lists.

Being even money against the field means that you will have to assume that, in most matches, you will need to be a better player that your opponent to actually post a winning record instead of a 3-3. If this is the case, then yes, Flores R/W (or a similar even money deck) might be the deck for you. If this is not the case, maybe you should be looking for a deck that has a bigger edge in the metagame, a deck that can also beat decks that you aren’t expecting but might show up.

The last thing you need to think about is this: What is the current metagame in your local area? You mention that G/W is a bad matchup for Flores R/W… is that going to be played a lot or very little? And is there a way to make your sideboard work to beat this deck?

You should answer all of these are questions before reaching a final comclusion. It may well be that Flores R/W is the best deck for you… but without asking these important questions, I can’t give you an honest answer.

Next, another Standard question for the coming Regionals. This one’s from Jay Hollingworth:

Hello Mr. Remie,

My name’s Jay Hollingworth. I have been a great fan of your articles as of late on StarCityGames. Your insight has been intuitive, and I stand behind your thoughts on the Simic Sky Swallower. With that in mind, please take a look at this list.

(Back in Mercadian Masques, Cowardice was a fun and competitive deck. I really liked the idea for the current metagame: however Mortify and Kami of Ancient Law worry me. Here’s my list:)

4 Birds of Paradise
3 Spell Snare
4 Coiling Oracle
2 Mana Leak
3 Plaxcaster Frogling
4 Wood Elves
3 Carven Caryatid
2 Voidslime
2 Icy Manipulator
4 Cytoplast Root-Kin
4 Cowardice
3 Kodama of the North Tree
2 Ursapine
2 Simic Sky Swallower
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
4 Breeding Pool
4 Yavimaya Coast
6 Island
7 Forest

The permission suite is scatter-brained, I know… Well, actually the whole thing is scatter-brained, but the idea of Graft with untargettable guys gets me going. You had mentioned the Oracle being great, especially if you can abuse his “comes into play” ability. This deck can do that. Ursapine can bounce anything for one Green, and the Frogling can bounce anything with a counter on it. The Root-Kin makes any North Tree or Sky Swallower that already was grafted even bigger when he comes down. Cowardice trumps Moldervine Cloak, Faith’s Fetters (to an extent), and spot removal (other than Mortify). Even the Jitte is silenced. I’m having a problem in testing with severely inconsistent draws. One hand is all gas, the next is three five-mana spells and lands. Other than shuffling, or scrapping the whole deck, I’m not sure where to go. That is why I’m here bothering you. In all honesty, I know there are a lot of cards I could/should be playing with. Also, I should for consistency sake be playing with more 4 ofs. I was just trying to take advantage of the CIP effect creatures, and of course North Tree and Sky Swallower.

I was seriously thinking of playing something along these lines for Regionals. If I throw away points so be it. I’m only at 1850.


Jay Hollingworth

P.S. I’ve also attempted to email Mr. Flores this list. I’ve used his decks in the past, and appreciate a lot that he has to say.

This is the kind of decklist I see a lot from less experienced players. The biggest problem it has is something you mention yourself: it is scatter-brained. You’re trying to concentrate on a lot of things at once, and the Cowardice combo you say you want to build your deck around is only a minor part of the actual deck you end up with.

While constructing, it seems like you became distracted by the cool new graft mechanic. You want to add this to the deck, meaning that now you have a Graft/Cowardice/Counter/Big Creature deck.

Do not adjust your set

In order to make this deck work, you need to get it focused. Just take a look at the Cowardice deck from the Mercadian Masques era… they were focussed control decks that used the Cowardice with a cheap recursive targeting effect to maintain board control. Translating this, you would end up with a deck full of countermagic, the Cowardice, and then the recursive bounce effect. The good thing about cards like Rhystic Deluge and Jolting Merfolk was that they were close to unkillable, whereas your engine is based around Ursapine, which dies easily… and you only have two!

It seems to me like this deck wants to be a graft deck first, and that’s probably the area on which you should concentrate. Also, when playing a deck like this, throwing in a couple of cards just because they are “good” doesn’t help. Sure, Simic Sky Swallower and Kodama are good cards, but they don’t support your deck. If this is what you really want, then build a deck around those guys… just not everything combined. The deck doesn’t have a consistent plan… which is why you are getting those inconsistent draws.

Best of luck with any changes you make!

Next, something more esoteric. I received the following question from Mark Schmit, via email ([email protected]):


When discussing draft with other pros, how often do you talk about it in the abstract, and how often do you discuss an actual draft? Do you find it useful to record your MTGO drafts? I’ve been trying to improve my draft game, and have difficulty when trying to discuss situations in which a normally-suboptimal pick is in fact optimal.

The reason I ask about draft recording is that I’ve developed a program that can help make draft recording easy. Would this be a useful tool for fostering discussion or at least highlighting weird draft picks?


Whenever we do drafts, they will be mostly held on Magic Online. MTGO has completely changed how most Pros prepare for tournaments, and has raised the general level of competition across the world. Whenever I myself am on MTGO, I will also be on IRC most of the time, chatting with such people as Anton Jonsson, Rich Hoaen, and Jelger Wiegersma about what is going on, and asking what they would pick in my situations. I have been using such a draft-recording program, and it has, in fact, been a good tool in communicating draft choices with people… meaning that you can get a lot more feedback on your drafts, and quickly discover where you’re going wrong.

I think that if you are an aspiring player you will learn most from recording drafts and then showing them to better players, asking them what they think you did wrong in most situations.

[Watch this space regarding Draft Recording, folks… – Craig.]

Connecting to that little question, we have one from Charley Grevers on the same email address:

Hey man. I really enjoy your column and have enjoyed your writing before that.

I was wondering if you could address two issues…

Mulligan to three: the sign of a TRUE professional

1) How does someone go about living as a professional Magic player? How do you spend your days? How do you approach a tournament or prepare for an event knowing that you get your meal ticket from it?

2) I just started drafting and I’m playing in 4-3-2-2 MTGO queues. How exactly are they different from 8-4 queues? What is the difference between drafting with skilled opponents as opposed to unskilled ones? Are there things I can do outside of the drafts, besides learning the print runs? On pack one, pick nine, what information should I be gathering? Anything else I can do to improve my game?

I’ll start with the second one, and then go on to the first one. The 4-3-2-2 queues on Magic Online are worthless as far as tournament testing is concerned. The general level of the drafts is much lower, and they are also filled with rare drafters most of the time, making it impossible to actually simulate a tournament situation. If you enjoy beating relatively bad players, or just enjoy drafting for fun, the 4-3-2-2s are fine… but if you are looking for competition you really have to be running the 8-4s.

As far as the difference in drafting, there really isn’t one, other than the fact that you simply know you will be getting more of one color and less of another (the 4-3-2-2 crowd loves Red/White right now, and doesn’t like Blue so much), and thus you can get better cards as late picks. Print runs and signals are overrated as far as tools go, as they can mostly only be used to gain minor edges. Making sure you stay flexible and watching your curve during a draft are much more important, and these factors should be your main focus.

Like everything else, the best way to improve is through practice, practice, practice.

My life as a professional player is mostly defined by one factor: I play Magic as much as I can. I play MTGO drafts during the day, and review results from premier events just so I know what is going on in current formats. This helps me stay on top of my game. I also write a lot, and generally try to read every article that is out there. Then, when a tournament comes around, I will search out my playtest partners and we will go on testing sessions that can last anything from 8 to 36 hours. It’s here where you put in the time and the work.

By using Mailing Lists and Net Forums, I then try and communicate all I have learned with my testing partners. That way, we try and form the best decisions come tournament day. This past year I have been putting more pressure on myself to do well, as I have been in a little losing streak of late, and this hasn’t been helping.

All I know is I’ll try and hang in there and relax. After all, there’s always the next one…

Well, that’s it for this week. Jeff Cunningham is at the Invitational this week, so I’m rather low of ffeJ quotes…

Please keep sending me those questions, at [email protected], and I’ll be happy to keep answering them. Next week’s article will be concentrating on Standard, in time for Regionals, so be sure to get your Standard questions to me soon!

Until next week,