Three weeks ago, I was given a mission. An ordinary man in a freshly pressed suit approached me in a busy subway station and handed me a pair of
sunglasses. When I turned around, he had disappeared. I put them on and a message played for me. “Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to break
Siege Rhino. Find the winning Abzan deck for the Pro Tour. You have two weeks. Your opponents will self-destruct in three turns.”
After hearing the message, I took the pair of sunglasses and chucked them off in the distance where they exploded, causing a mass panic and paranoia among
the masses of people waiting to board the train. In the mayhem, a small package was slipped inside the left bottom pocket of my cargo shorts. Inside were
twelve Magic cards and my new identity. Four Sandsteppe Citadel. Four Siege Rhino. Four Abzan Charm. With it, a note: “You figure out the rest.” That was
my last point of contact.
It was time to go deep undercover. I looked at my new ID: “Brian Braun-Duin”. Damnit. Why couldn’t they have given me Brian Kibler or LSV one time? I
looked down at my high tech watch. It was made of pure silver. It’s time to work some alchemy. It’s time to turn that Silver into Gold. Maybe Platinum if I
play my cards right. Pun. Definitely. Intended. I had to get into character somehow.
Step One: I threw away the Sandsteppe Citadels. Nice try, scumbag. If I’m playing a land that enters the battlefield tapped in this format, it’s gonna be a
2/3 lifelinker. You’re not going to trick me with that one. Get to Sand Stepping. They were testing my intelligence, and I passed the test. Sandra S.
Citadel, your time just ran out.
Step Two: #SCGINDY. The first Open of the season. Everyone looks for information in the shadows. Everyone assumes ideas meant to be kept secret will be
preserved in the most secret of locations. Dark basements. Hidden alleyways. Secret compartments. Nobody expects the expected. Nobody suspects the
unsuspicious. Nobody hides in broad daylight.
I was registering Siege Rhino at this tournament, and I wasn’t keeping it a secret. You have to crack a few eggs to break a format, and in this case, those
eggs were baby Rhino eggs, and in this case, the only complication is that Rhinos are mammals and don’t lay eggs. They don’t call it Mission: Improbable
because it’s easy. It wouldn’t be fun if it was. I wouldn’t be here if it was simple. I thrive on the challenge.
Siege Rhino didn’t get there in Indianapolis. Aww, shucks. Maybe next time. This was just the dress rehearsal for the big performance. The Pro Tour was
coming up, and I aimed to nail that act.
Who even understands Siege Rhino anyway? It looks like one of those Abzan guy’s warbeasts. Its impact is just so big. Its playability is just…out there.
They only play it because it looks like a total format powerhouse.
If Abzan didn’t get things done, then what did? Jeskai Black, Atarka Red, and G/W Megamorph. Fast forward one week to #SCGATL and the story doesn’t change.
New week. New pilots. Same decks. Same story. Jeskai Black, Atarka Red, G/W Megamorph. I’m trained to notice patterns, and my notice-dar was going off with
blaring sirens. This was a puzzle that could be cracked. Just like Rhino Eggs if you apply enough force.
Jeskai Black. Atarka Red. G/W Megamorph. Repeat it with me. Memorize it. Say it to yourself ten times before you go to sleep and eleven times every morning
when you wake up. This was the enemy, and I was riding into battle on a war Rhinoceros. Doesn’t get more badass than that.
After #SCGINDY, I was able to rendezvous with the initial task force at a Comfort Inn in Indianapolis. Our mission team was named “Tight Goose.” Our job
was reconnaissance. Scope out the format, gather some initial reads, do some light testing. We needed to set the stage and understand the baseline of what
we were getting ourselves into before the rest of the team showed up. That’s when things would get real.
We all knew our respective jobs, and we all played them out like marionettes. Dance, Rhino, dance. I stuck to Abzan. Abzan Aggro. Abzan Megamorph. Abzan
with Rhino. Abzan without. Some of our teammates even tested Abzan Control. As much of a Smothering Abomination as it was, we needed to know. Abzan Control
It wasn’t long into our stay at the Comfort Inn that we suspected our cover might be blown. The coffee was different. The maid showed up fifteen minutes
late. To a normal person, these mean nothing. To a highly trained group of format breakers, these were like a whole loaf of bread leading up a brightly lit
trail. Why follow the crumbs when there is a whole loaf? It was obvious. They were onto us. We weren’t safe testing here anymore.
There’s nothing worse than a blown cover, and there’s never a moment to waste when it happens. Faster than you could turn around, we were out and on to our
next safe house. We arrived hours later at the Radisson Hotel in Madison. The Madison Radisson. Try saying that one time slowly. I know I did. And then I
never uttered those words again, lest another cover be blown.
It turned out that our hotel was right next door to a game store. Mox Mania. We were in enemy territory and we were right next to one of their outposts.
This job wouldn’t be easy. There was really only one thing we could do. Hide in broad daylight. Once again, the best disguise was none at all.
We infiltrated Mox Mania pretending to be players showing up to attend the Grand Prix that weekend in Madison. True as it was, it wasn’t the full story.
There was no reason to divulge the full truth of our mission. We were there to break a format. Whatever it took. Whatever measures became necessary. We
would break this format or die trying. There was no coming back from this mission if we failed. And with a mission as improbable as this one was…there
was at least like a 60-70% chance of failure. We knew the risks and we embraced them, like a baby momma Rhino embracing one of her young. Embrace for
We tested the rest of the week. We brewed, we built, we drafted. We wanted no stone unturned. Try as we might, we couldn’t crack the code. It was heavily
encrypted and every time we tried, the result was the same. Jeskai Black, Atarka Red, G/W Megamorph. The big three. The dominant. The supreme.
These three decks didn’t define the Standard format. No. They simply were the Standard format. No matter how much we squirmed, we couldn’t break their vice
grip from closing in around our collective necks. We couldn’t break it, and if we pushed too much harder, we might become broken ourselves.
That weekend, we took some time off to cool ourselves down and get fresh perspective. Grand Prix Ashley Madison. Battle for Zendikar Limited. The rest of
our team showed up to participate. They would be joining us later in a predetermined safe house large enough for the full seventeen of us. For now, though,
our focus was not on the Pro Tour, but rather at the task at hand.
I went 12-3 at the Grand Prix. 8-1 with U/R Devoid in Sealed day 1, and 2-1 in both drafts with B/R Aggro. I was one win shy of top 8, but I wasn’t unhappy
with my performance. Three Pro Points pushes me ever closer to locking up Silver for one more year and earning one more Pro Tour qualification. When you
sign up for this job, you give up your old life, your old friends, your old way of doing things. Your life becomes the grind, and the grind never stops.
I’ll take +3 grind points wherever I can get them. You never know when they’ll run dry and you’ll be left trying to go back to a life you forgot how to
After GP Ashley Madison, we met up at the new safe house. We were on the home stretch, and we still hadn’t figured things out yet. This was crunch time.
This is when we rid ourselves of distractions and focused solely on systematically devising a plan to take down the Pro Tour, one match win at a time.
My task was the same, Abzan. Break Siege Rhino. Find the Rhino deck.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t break Siege Rhino. Try as I might, I couldn’t beat Jeskai Black, Atarka Red, and G/W Megamorph. I took Abzan back up to my
room and put the deck box back into my backpack. It was over. I had failed.
No sooner had I put the deck away, my phone rang. That was interesting, as none of us brought phones to the safe house. It was a security risk–one not
worth taking. I looked down at a throwaway cellphone that had been slipped into my bag. The number was blocked.
“Hello?” I said.
“We had an agreement. We had a mission. You failed that mission. You know the price of failure.”
I turned around to see an unidentified teammate standing in the doorway of my room. He was wearing dark clothes, and I couldn’t quite make him out from the
shadows. “Sorry, Brian,” a muffled voice said. “You know it’s nothing personal. It’s just business.”
He pulled out a small pistol, pointed it at my chest, and pulled the trigger. I closed my eyes and awaited my fate, but nothing happened. The gun jammed.
What are the odds the gun jams? I’d say it’s about one in a million. So you’re telling me there’s a chance.
“Looks like fate has willed you to live. You’re off Abzan, but you’re not done here. There’s still a Pro Tour to win. Get back to work. They think you’re
dead, but you’d better prove your worth or else…um…or else you might have a subpar result and not make it back to the Pro Tour.” The door slammed shut,
and I was left in the dark room. I was left to ponder my own thoughts. I thought of Siege Rhino. I thought of my own ineptitude. I thought of my mortality.
I thought about the miracle that had just happened. But mostly, I thought about three things.
Jeskai Black. Atarka Red. G/W Megamorph.
Rhino was dead. Even I was considered dead. In reality, I had a second lease on life. It was time to get back to work.
The next week was a blur of preparations, yelling, and mayhem. It all started with G/W Megamorph.
We settled on a list of G/W Megamorph that was magnificent. We cut a lot of the bad cards from the deck and instead opted on playing Avatar of the
Resolute. What Avatar offered that other cards didn’t was a cheap and effective answer to Mantis Rider. People forget that Avatar has reach. They also
forget it has trample. We liked how G/W Megamorph stacked up against most decks, but it was definitely lacking against Jeskai.
Adding Avatar of the Resolute as well as maindeck copies of Silkwrap and Stasis Snare shored up that matchup. The easiest way to beat them is to exile
their creatures, as it turns off the value gained from cards like Ojutai’s Command and Kolaghan’s Command. Their easiest way to kill you is with Mantis
Rider. If you can keep a Rider down, you can grind them out and win a longer game, especially with how good Wingmate Roc is against them.
With a solid G/W Megamorph list in the books, we turned our attention to other matters. A R/G Landfall deck had come up in our testing, and it was putting
up huge results. The deck utilized the combo of Become Immense, Titan’s Strength, and Temur Battle Rage to one-shot people out of nowhere, even through a
lot of blockers and a high life total. Beyond that, it played aggressive landfall creatures, haste creatures, prowess creatures, and Atarka’s Command. The
What separated this deck from Atarka Red is that it had the ability to play a longer game. Thanks to 24 lands and Den Protector, it was possible for this
deck to grind out the opponent. It wasn’t locked into needing to win super fast. Instead it could apply small amounts of pressure, build up a bigger board,
and play a more resilient game.
The Pro Tour was on Friday. On Tuesday, I was on G/W Megamorph. By Wednesday, I had shifted gears. I was now on R/G Landfall. There was just one more task
that needed to be done. We needed to run R/G Landfall against the big decks and figure out what holes it had. This was a task even I could accomplish.
I was given the job of playing Atarka Red vs. R/G Landfall. We were very high on the R/G Landfall deck, but there was just one small, maybe meaningless,
complication. It couldn’t beat Atarka Red. Preboard. Postboard. Waterboard. Atarka Red was smashing it over and over again. It’s not like Atarka Red was
going to be a big deal, though, right?
Well, actually, I was pretty sure it would be the most popular deck. I hadn’t experienced a killjoy on that level since earlier that week when they tried
to shoot me in my own room for failing to make Siege Rhino a reality. Bummer.
I was off R/G Landfall. If it couldn’t beat Atarka Red, then I wanted nothing to do with it for the Pro Tour. I turned my sights to a different deck.
Atarka Red itself. The deck was doing quite well in our testing. Maybe our failure to consider playing the deck was just that…a failure. It was possible
that Atarka Red was just the best deck and we were all fools.
On Tuesday I was on G/W Megamorph. On Wednesday, R/G Landfall. By Thursday, Atarka Red. I couldn’t make up my mind, and each deck seemed powerful in their
own rights. It honestly felt like we had three good decks, and it wouldn’t matter too much which one we chose.
Alas, our time was up. We piled into our vehicles and began the trek from Madison to Milwaukee. About an hour into the drive, I could tell something was
fishy. A blue sedan was trailing behind me. It had been following me for 30 minutes. However, it wasn’t driving close behind. It stayed a car or two
behind, but at all times, it remained on my tail. This wasn’t chance. This was a real threat to deck security. If that car caught us and found out what
decks were in our deckboxes, the jig was up, and the mission was a failure. I had already failed one mission, I wasn’t about to fail another.
I took evasive action. Down side streets and blazing through alleyways I juked and jived through the not-so-bustling traffic that made up downtown
Milwaukee. I dodged an old lady carrying groceries, and at one point, I had to run a yellow light. After what seemed like minutes of a heart-pounding
mid-speed car chase, I managed to lose my tail. We slowly drove back to the Hilton we were staying at and found our rooms. We were safe here, booked under
our aliases. Mine was Stephen Rhinesoh. S. Rhinesoh. Siege. Rhino. It was foolproof. To the world, I was dead. Nobody would expect me back and to register
a suspicious sounding name like S. Rhinesoh. Hiding in broad daylight. Nobody expects the expected. Nobody expects Siege Rhino.
On the drive to Milwaukee, I had changed my mind once more. I was back on G/W Megamorph. That day was spent registering for the tournament and finalizing
the list. When the dust settled, this was the deck I registered. Roughly 1/3 of our team was on this deck.
- 2 Wingmate Roc
- 2 Warden of the First Tree
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 4 Avatar of the Resolute
- 3 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 4 Hangarback Walker
And here is the R/G Landfall list most of the rest of the team registered.
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 1 Zurgo Bellstriker
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Abbot of Keral Keep
- 4 Scythe Leopard
- 3 Snapping Gnarlid
The G/W Megamorph deck was great. There was nothing flashy about it. It was simply smooth, efficient, and consistent. I ended up going 8-2 with the deck,
registering my best PT Constructed performance of all time. Sadly, I went 1-5 in Limited, registering my worst PT Limited finish of all time. That meant a
9-7 finish, which netted me four Pro Points, slightly more than the baseline amount you get for playing in the Pro Tour.
Thanks to changes to the Pro Point system, I now have 15 Pro Points this year, and simply by showing up to Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, I’ll jump to 18
points. 18 is the new threshold for Silver, which means that I’ve already locked up Silver for one more year. That’ll also give me a qualification for the
Pro Tour after PT Oath, and I’ll just need to find one more qualification in order to play in all of them this year.
As I stepped out of the Pro Tour hall and started the walk back to my hotel, a fan came up to me and shook my hand. “It’s nice to meet you” he said, before
quickly jetting off. I didn’t quite get a good look at his features.
I looked down in my hand. In it was a small earpiece. I placed it in my ear. A recording began to play.
“You failed this mission, but it won’t be the last. Next weekend, the target is Quebec City. It’s home to a Grand Prix. Infiltrate the city, enter the
tournament, and figure out what it takes to win it. Your job is to find the winning deck. You have three days. You better get to it, Mr. Braun-Duin…or is
it Rhinesoh? Good luck…you’re going to need it.”
With that, the earpiece fried itself. I took it out of my ear, threw it away, and slowly continued my walk back to the hotel. This was the life I chose to
lead, and there was never a dull moment. You don’t succeed in every tournament. No, that would be improbable. You simply have to succeed often enough to
keep going. This was my life, and I planned to live it, one Rhino trigger at a time.
This was my mission in life. I choose to accept it.