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My Best Pro Tour Finish

Gerry Thompson put up his best finish yet at Pro Tour Dark Ascension. Find out how his Esper Spirits deck helped him book a ticket to Barcelona, and how it can help you find similar success in Standard.

Last weekend was Pro Tour Dark Ascension and shame on you if you missed it. Personally, it was my best individual Pro Tour finish to date, and one of the most memorable weeks of my life. On top of that, I’m qualified for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored thanks to my top 25 finish, and it looks like I’m back on the train again.

I was sort-of testing with Patrick Chapin and company, but wasn’t able to make it out early and spend time in the beach house. Instead, I set up a forum online, which was much better for communication than an email list. A few days a week, I play-tested with Roanoke locals like Todd Anderson, David McDarby, Kenny Castor, and Brian Braun-Duin.

The StarCityGames.com Open in Richmond was something I was looking forward to, but it was clear that I couldn’t play one of our best decks so I didn’t even bother going. Instead, I played in a couple Modern PTQs on Magic Online. I didn’t end up needing that invite, but there’s Grand Prix Lincoln next weekend for which I needed the practice.

I arrived in Hawaii and wasn’t sure if I was playing Esper Delver or a Five-Color Control variant. When Chapin first threw out the idea of Delver splashing Lingering Souls, it looked amazing. It was the deck in the back of my mind during the entire testing process. Faithless Looting in the Five-Color deck was the only other thing that seemed remotely good.

I didn’t know how hard to go on Unburial Rites, but figured that Five-Color Control would be a solid option regardless. There was the chance that my deck would be off by a few cards, and as a result, be lacking in certain areas, but it seemed like a worthy gamble.

The other option, Delver, was also going to be solid no matter what. B/W Tokens was a problem, but I didn’t expect many to show up. The real breakthrough came when Sam Black shared his new list with everyone. He had Drogskol Captain and Phantasmal Image, which seemed great in the creature mirrors. Traditionally, the deck with the most Anthems is favored in the creature mirror, and Sam’s deck had plenty.

Sam didn’t have Lingering Souls, but there was no way I was playing without them. I was always the guy playing Darkblade; there was no way some three-color manabase was going to stand in the way of me playing the best Spirit card in my Spirit deck.

I had assumed that the rest of the squad was set on Sam’s deck, so I didn’t even try to convince them to run Lingering Souls. Forty-five minutes later, they all returned from a hotel room and declared that they were playing Lingering Souls as well. That didn’t take long…

Here’s what I played.


 

Humans can be a tough matchup, but if you get two Drogskol Captain into play, everything gets a lot easier. Even a Captain plus a Dungeon Geists on their best creature will give you a solid chance of winning. The Captains help a lot in the mirror too, but only if you can dodge Sword of War and Peace. Because of that, members of our team played at least one Disenchant effect maindeck, and usually two.

We didn’t play Swords ourselves because we figured that others would take the same approach that we would, at least with the maindeck Disenchants. We also didn’t want any more three-drops. They were super slow, and our deck was already slowed down a lot.

We liked our matchup against all the different creature decks but didn’t prepare much for decks like Wolf Run Ramp. Ramp didn’t seem well positioned against good Delver or Human decks, but that didn’t stop everyone else from playing it. I doubt they thought they were leveling everyone who decided to play slower Delver decks, but it just ended up working out that way.

I liked the deck a lot, although Tokens and Ramp were tough opponents. A third Ratchet Bomb and some additional counterspells in the sideboard would have fixed all of those problems.

Round One: Wolf Run Blue

My opponent’s deck was interesting. Take a look.


It doesn’t look like there’s any rhyme or reason to his deck, but that didn’t stop him from beating me. In game one, a Gitaxian Probe revealed a maindeck Ancient Grudge and a Ratchet Bomb, which he quickly ramped to three. It was clear that he was very scared of Swords.

Both games I was flooded and didn’t have much action. First game I lost to a myriad of planeswalkers, and in the second I lost to the second Thrun, the Last Troll plus Kessig Wolf Run.

0-1, 0-2 in games

Round Two: G/W Tokens

For some reason when I sat down, I knew this guy was playing G/W. I’m not sure what exactly gave me that impression, but when something inside you is screaming like that, you should listen. It’s probably right.

I won the die roll and opened with a Gitaxian Probe. He fanned a hand of five land, Overrun, and Oblivion Ring…

Drogskol Captain lived for a turn, so I took that opportunity to play another Captain, basically locking the game up. My opponent commented that he learned his lesson: those Captains should be killed on sight.

Second game, I had another Captain and then Dungeon Geists for his Hero of Bladehold. He thought for a second and then attacked with Strangleroot Geist. If he had a Mutagenic Growth, my Dungeon Geists would die, but I’d still likely win. If I took the damage, and he played another Hero or something as good, I could potentially lose to an Overrun.

There was also the option that he didn’t have it, which is what I thought, so I blocked. He said that he didn’t think I’d block and then binned his guy.

Winner!

1-1, 2-2 in games

Round Three: Mono-Red Splashing Daybreak Ranger

We shuffled up and drew our openers, but then got called for a feature match. My hand was awesome, but I figured that since neither of us had mulliganed, although it looked like my opponent was going to, we should just shuffle up again.

There’s some potential for abuse here though. If my hand were bad, obviously I would want to shuffle it back in. I feel like the only way to avoid potential abuses is to always shuffle those hands back in.

Anyway, I had no idea what my opponent was playing. When he opened on Mountain plus Faithless Looting, I was pretty pumped. Either he was Mono-Red or some sort of Unburial Rites thing, but no matter what, I thought I had a good matchup. If nothing else, I was playing against a bunch of sweet decks, which is what I like seeing.

He discarded a Mountain and a Volt Charge, and I knew I had already won. I cast a Gitaxian Probe, as even if I Probed into a Delver, playing it wouldn’t put me very far ahead. It would likely die, and I’d be down a couple life which would probably be valuable.

Next turn, he Gut Shotted me and played a Stormblood Berserker, while I Pondered and Vapor Snagged it. He made the same play, and I cast Lingering Souls. He attacked and played another Berserker, while I attacked, flashed back Souls, and double Snagged him. The next turn I played another Souls and flashed it back.

He couldn’t find an answer to my Spirits and packed it in.

My biggest sideboarding decision was whether or not I wanted the Dismember. As long as I can kill all of his creatures, he wouldn’t have enough burn to deal me twenty. The main reason I didn’t bring it in was because I didn’t know his deck very well. Had I known that he was playing Daybreak Ranger, I definitely would have brought it in, but that’s what game threes are for.

Game two was close, but a lot tougher because of the Daybreak Ranger he got to keep in play for several turns. It gave me a lot of problems, and I was never able to find a Vapor Snag.

Third game was much like the second. I had to constantly throw away resources to force through damage against his Daybreak Ranger. Eventually I found a string of Ponders that allowed me to find Dungeon Geists and some Snapcaster Mages. He burned through most of those, but I was able to end up with the following board state:

Me, low teens

Plenty of lands, Snapcaster Mage, Faith’s Shield in hand

Him, three life

Four land, Grim Lavamancer, Chandra’s Phoenix, three cards in hand

He started his turn by playing a land and Shrine of Burning Rage, then Lavamancered my Snapcaster. I used Faith’s Shield to protect it and prayed he had nothing. I flipped the top card of my deck, a Vapor Snag that I knew because of Ponder, and attacked for lethal. His last card in hand was a blank, and I won one of the toughest matches I’d played in recent memory.

2-1, 4-3 in games

After this round, I got a celebratory hot dog and pink lemonade Snapple.

Snapple Fact #242: 2nd St is the most common street name. 1st St is the 6th.

I was chatting with Matt Nass, Josh Utter-Leyton, and Sam Black. Sam was 0-3 with the same deck and explained how he lost one of his previous matches.

“It was against Humans, and games one and three he had turn one Champion, turn two Thalia. In game three, he even had two Oblivion Rings to back it up.”

Now, one might take that story at face value, but in his words, I heard a different story. I don’t think that Sam would likely be complaining if his opponent also had cheap answers. The fact that Oblivion Ring was the card he was specifically referencing meant that it probably wasn’t cast for three mana.

“Sooooo Sam, were those three or four mana O-Rings?”

“… Dammit!”

Round Four: W/B Tokens

I was not happy to see a turn one Isolated Chapel. However, I put on my best game face and managed to turn it all around. I stabilized with double Drogskol Captain and a Dungeon Geists and was able to mount a comeback.

Then he cast Day of Judgment.

It’s the weird situations like this where I always want to call a judge but don’t want to look like a dick. I mean, maindeck Day of Judgment in your mono creature deck might not be the best idea, but it’s something that people do.

Honestly, the fact that my opponent was Japanese, and therefore more likely to be innovative and less likely to be shady meant that I wasn’t calling a judge. I was simply applauding him for manipulating the game state well and crushing me with his maindeck technology.

After the Day, I was out of gas, and he had a few spells sandbagged, so I died quickly.

Delver of Secrets is a very powerful card, but W/B Tokens is the matchup where it gets sided out. They have so many ways to make it irrelevant, plus your whole plan against them involves Ratchet Bomb. It’s just worse than your other cards, and isn’t likely to make much of an impact by itself.

Second game was a repeat of the first. I stabilized behind some Captains, but it was probably all a trap for his Day of Judgment in the first place.

2-2, 4-5 in games

Round Five: Wolf Run White

This was another one of those rounds where I sat down and could tell what my opponent was playing. My brain or heart or intuition or whatever it was kept telling me “Ramp! RAMP!” As such, I mulliganed double Snapcaster Mage, Gut Shot, and land, which is otherwise a fine keep against Delver and Humans.

My six card hand was all spells, and my five wasn’t much better. He didn’t have an early Titan, but I lost all the same.

I assembled an air force in game two. He had a couple Ratchet Bombs in play and a Primeval Titan that was locked under my Dungeon Geists. A Garruk, Primal Hunter gave him plenty of cards to work with, and Timely Reinforcements, a terrible card against my deck, gave him another turn to live.

With no countermagic, I was at his mercy, but he had nothing to stop me from beating him in the air.

In the final game, I played Delver of Secrets into Drogskol Captain, and could only watch as he slammed Primeval Titan. Dungeon Geists locked it down again, and a few turns later, he was dead.

This story is actually a little interesting though.

After my Geists stuck, I got to attack him for three. With eight land including an Inkmoth Nexus and Kessig Wolf Run, a Sphere of the Suns with one counter, and a Solemn Simulacrum, he went on the offensive. Solemn attacked and he pumped for five.

I was more than happy to trade seven for seven in my spot, especially since I had a Phantasmal Image on Dungeon Geists to follow it up with. He decided to keep his Nexus back, and I attacked with just the Imaged D-Geists. He tried to Wolf Run it, but I reminded him that it was hexproof. After a little thought, he decided to take it, which left him at six life and dead on board next turn.

He drew, tabled the Wurmcoil Engine that was of no help to him, and extended the hand!

3-2, 6-6 in games

While 3-2 isn’t the most glorious record, it meant I was still alive for the draft portion. To celebrate, I purchased another hot dog, and of course, another Snapple.

Snapple Fact #758: Flamingos can only eat with their heads upside down.

After that, it was time to draft! I had done exactly four drafts leading up to that point, so naturally I didn’t have a perfect understanding of the format. Going in, I experimented with the idea of forcing Self-Mill. Zvi used a similar strategy during Pro Tour Nice, although that didn’t go so well. I talked to the resident DI judges, such as Nicholas Sabin and Riki Hayashi, to get their input.

Apparently I could wear a shirt that indicated I wanted to draft Self-Mill but would probably want to check with the head judge first. I checked StarCityGames’s shirt inventory, but apparently there wasn’t much in the way of Armored Skaab or Spider Spawning.

Some suggested that I tape cards to my shirt, but that’s borderline. Apparently judges don’t like it when you bring outside cards into the draft area…

Naturally, in my first draft, I had a Japanese guy on my right who moved into Self-Mill very early. Everything worked out because I got passed two Stromkirk Captain pretty early though. During packs two and three, I didn’t pass a single Bloodcrazed Neonate. That card got much better.

Round Six: Self-Mill

This should be a horrible matchup for me, as proven by game one. I won the die roll and started with two Bloodcrazed Neonate. I suited each of them up with a Skeletal Grimace and Furor of the Bitten and started going to town, but I was stuck on two land with a Stromkirk Captain in my hand. A turn five Ghoultree halted my offense and tied up my mana.

Soon, he dredged into a pair of Gnaw to the Bones, putting him over 30 life. I died to a flipped Chalice of Life, heh.

Second game went much better for me. He was stuck on two land, and even Mayor of Avabruck couldn’t hold off my first striking Neonate.

I started strong in the third game, but a pair of Armored Skaab shut me down. To say that I was jealous would be a huge understatement. I was able to Death’s Caress a Grizzled Outcast before it got out of hand, but did I have anything for his follow-up Ghoultree?

Why yes my dear reader, yes I did.

I untapped, cast Traitorous Blood, and attacked with everyone. He thought for a bit, put Armored Skaab in front of Ghoultree, and took the rest, which would put him at five. We went to damage, and I said, “Trample.”

He picked up the Ghoultree to read it, expecting to see a very important keyword that he somehow managed to overlook, but I showed him the Traitorous Blood. Embarrassed, he conceded.

Phew!

4-2, 8-7 in games

Round Seven: U/W

I honestly don’t even want to talk about this round. If Michael Jacob weren’t sitting right next to me, it’s possible that I wouldn’t have told anyone. I had the option to sit on the other side of the table so that MJ couldn’t bird me, and I really should have.

You see, I have a history with punting while MJ is watching. It makes me wonder why we have a lifetime 10% split seeing as how he know exactly how badly I can play.

At Grand Prix Pittsburgh, I Volition Reinsed my opponent’s Sun Titan and attacked into his Mystifying Maze. Later in that GP, my opponent cast an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and I conceded, despite having a flier in play and having him dead next turn. During Worlds, I didn’t cast a Thirst for Knowledge which could find me a game-winning Pact of Negation, and it was on top.

This round was just as bad as all of those, if not worse.

My opponent played first and had Chapel Geist to my Bloodcrazed Neonate. I was thinking back to how frustrating it was to play Neonate because stuff like that can happen, but I had Stromkirk Captain in my hand with the mana to cast it!

I just blanked in that moment, and attacked without casting it. I was thinking that it just gave my creature first strike for some reason, and threw away my creature. Post-combat, I Harvest Pyred his Geist, but the tempo loss was too much. MJ could only look on, shaking his head.

Second game wasn’t very close. He crushed me, and I got what I deserved.

4-3, 8-9 in games

After this round, MJ moved to 5-2 while I was a paltry 4-3. I considered calling off our split, but decided against it. I needed a reason to tighten up!

Round Eight: U/B

I was passing to this fine gentleman during the draft, so I knew he was likely U/B—him taking some blue and black transform cards also helped. During pack one, I passed some solid black cards over the Captains and other aggressive red cards I was taking, so we fought a little bit, but it didn’t matter much. We were interested in different cards.

Both games were decided by Stromkirk Captain. His Rotting Fensnake and Typhoid Rats couldn’t deal with my first striking squad, and despite some more misplays on my part, I won pretty easily.

Just an FYI kids, Undying Evil on a Bloodcrazed Neonate with a +1/+1 counter on it doesn’t do much.

5-3, 10-9 in games

I had made day two, and my quest for Barcelona was still alive. At six AM, I couldn’t sleep anymore, so I had to wait a while before I could finally draft. It went alright, but not great.

I tried doing the whole Self-Mill thing, but ended up in U/B Zombies. There was a chance to audible with a couple late Faithless Looting, but I didn’t take the plunge and regretted it. Pack three was ripe with Self-Mill stuff, including three Burning Vengeance. My deck would’ve been insane!

Instead, I moved in on Zombie Apocalypse very early but passed a second copy. I figured at the very least, it would give me a bye versus a nut white deck and if I got enough Self-Mill stuff, being able to reanimate all my guys would be sick. In the end, I didn’t get what I deemed to be enough mill, so it was relegated to the sideboard. All of my opponents had Humans though, so it always came in.

Round Nine: U/W/R

My opponent’s deck wasn’t very good, but I was having trouble killing him. His army of Headless Skaab and Riot Devil held off my zombie horde. I desperately needed a Silent Departure, but passed the only one I saw for a Forbidden Alchemy I thought I needed. In the end, I decked myself.

He was furiously sideboarding in between games, but I couldn’t imagine what was going on. After a turn two Shriekgeist and turn three Chill of Foreboding, it all became clear. I had mulliganed and was lacking blue mana, so I got decked again, this time the turn before he was going to die.

It’s hard to be upset about getting decked twice, and my opponent certainly made the best of a bad situation.

5-4, 10-11 in games

At this point, I’m thinking, “How the hell am I allowed to play in day two with a 5-4 record? I haven’t even won 50% of my games! I better tighten the hell up.”

Thankfully, my next matches were very easy. Both of my opponents were green, and I crushed them both. The last game was in spectacular fashion though. It was one of those games where you look around, hoping that someone is watching. This time I was fortunate enough to find young Christian Valenti railbirding my match.

I picked up my hand and slowly slid one of the cards up so that he could see what was coming…

We each had five creatures in play, and he was attacking me for eight, half my life total, with a transformed Gatstaf Shepherd pumped by Elder of Laurels. Much to his confusion, I cast a non-morbid Tragic Slip on it. At the end of his turn, I flashbacked Forbidden Alchemy (turning his two werewolves over) and cast Zombie Apocalypse!

I turned around and Christian had vanished. He was so unfamiliar with the new cards that he had no idea what card I was showing him and walked off. Unreal!

7-4, 14-11 in games

After that rush, it was back to shuffling 60 cards.

Round Twelve: Wolf Run Black

This match was pretty easy, as it should be. He flooded out while my gas kept flowing thanks to my low(ish) land count. Maybe he made a mistake in running out Massacre Wurm on an empty board, but I probably would have won anyway.

8-4, 16-11 in games

Round Thirteen: U/B Heartless Summoning

My best draw of the tournament was game one of this match. I had turn one Delver of Secrets, casually flipped it on turn two, and basically countered every spell he played. Wheeee!

Sadly, Massacre ate my entire team in game two, and then me. There wasn’t much I could do, and the fact that he had Heartless Summoning in play made it all the more difficult. Thankfully, I was able Mana Leak his Heartless Summoning in game three, and I rode that advantage to victory.

9-4, 18-12 in games

Seeing as how I salvaged my draft and was mounting a comeback, a celebratory hot dog and Snapple were in order.

Snapple Fact #417: All polar bears are left-handed.

Round Fourteen: U/W/R Control

It probably goes without saying that I liked my opponent’s deck a lot. He had every sweeper in the book, Sun Titan, Phantasmal Image, sideboard Hero of Bladeholds, and even a Venser, the Sojourner / Stonehorn Dignitary lock.

I didn’t know what he was playing, but thankfully Gitaxian Probe let me know what was up. Unfortunately, my matchup in game one was pretty bad, and even worse after mulliganing. He swept my board multiple times, and eventually killed me with Sun Titan.

Second game was his turn to mulligan and get super flooded. The third game was supposed to be our “real” game, but this time he was kind of mana-screwed. Still, he was fighting back by test-spelling me every turn.  

Eventually, it got to a point where he was casting an Oblivion Ring, and I had the choice between casting a Negate or Mana Leak. If he drew a land that turn, and drew another on the next turn, it was possible that he could play a Whipflare or Ratchet Bomb around my Leak.

I decided to Leak it, and looked like a genius when he played a land afterward. However, all that changed when his next play was Stonehorn Dignitary. Not only did that give him a turn, but it took away part of my clock. Luckily, he didn’t have too many of those or any Sun Titans, and I was able to kill him with a Negate to spare.

10-4, 20-13 in games

I was getting so close to Barcelona that I could smell it. Clearly I needed a cool beverage.

Snapple Fact #2: Animals that lay eggs don’t have belly buttons.

Round Fifteen: G/R Aggro

I knew my opponent, Jason Schouseboe, back from my Minnesota days. He’s an up-and-comer who had already won a PTQ for Barcelona. Seeing as how we were friends, out of contention for top 8, and he was already qualified, I shamelessly asked for the concession. After a few moments of consideration, he accepted.

11-4

Round Sixteen: Esper Spirits

My opponent this round was Sam Black, who started 0-3. Let his finish be a testament to never dropping. Intentionally drawing into top 25 was clearly the play, so we did it.

Final finish: 21st place

I’m sure I could be happier with my finish, but it’s hard to imagine it when it’s your best Pro Tour finish to date. On top of that, I’m qualified for the next Pro Tour, which is the most important thing. I would also gladly sleeve up the same deck, and I don’t say that very often.

I bet y’all want an updated list, though, so here ya go.


Maybe the sideboard could use some more tinkering. Hero of Bladehold actually sounds pretty awesome against the Slagstorm decks, but it might be a little greedy. If I were playing in the StarCityGames Open in Charlotte this weekend instead of Grand Prix Lincoln, I would definitely run something similar to this.

Thanks for the support during the Pro Tour everyone! It means a lot.

GerryT

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