Pretend you have the biggest tournament of your career coming up, except a new set came out ten days before the tournament. Now pretend that you
aren’t pretending anymore.
With the whirlwind that was GP Atlanta, I hadn’t put in as much time as I wanted to into preparing for my first Pro Tour. I had a pretty good
grasp on what Standard looked like before Mirrodin Besieged, but with all the new toys that were available, I felt as though the format could stand
some real innovation.
The problem was that there just wasn’t enough time to try all the things that I wanted to. Kyle Stoll and I had just come out with a breakout
Extended deck in Atlanta and now had our backs against the wall for Standard. There were fewer than two weeks to innovate and test any deck
that we were brewing. Our goal was nothing short of trying to break another metagame, but we didn’t really have a clue about how we intended to
Testing is good; we knew that much, so we rounded up two other Minnesotans who were qualified for Paris and started to grind out games with the known
contenders. We needed to find out where we stood in the current metagame and what we wanted to try.
From the StarCityGames.com Open in San Diego, we knew that RUG, Valakut, and U/B Control were all pretty real and that Boros and Vampires dominated the
aggro side of the metagame. There was also Elves, which we presumed got an upgrade with Green Sun’s Zenith, but none of us were really impressed
with the deck before Besieged, so we would wait to see if it posted any results at the SCG Open in Indianapolis.
In two evenings, we got in ten-game sets with most of the decks of the format paired against each other. That data would form a baseline to tell us
which decks were good and which matchups needed help.
Once we had our gauntlet, we began to brew with the new cards and throw them at the best decks in the format. The first, and in the end most promising,
deck that we tried was a U/B Tezzeret Control deck. When a new planeswalker comes out, I feel like you need to get a grasp on how powerful it is
because planeswalkers are almost always among the best Constructed cards in the format. In our case, we learned that when you put him in the right
deck, Tezzeret can rival Jace on power level. The downside, however, was that the artifacts we had to put into the deck were consistently the worst
cards in the deck. Nonetheless, the deck was performing well in control mirrors and was passable against aggro, so I went to the Prerelease intent on
acquiring at least four copies of the Agent of Bolas.
The list was pretty rough, but we still had a week to figure out which of the two- and three-ofs should move up to four and which should drop to one or
zero. Kyle and I were going to be staying with Mat Marr in Paris, so we shipped him the list for some input. He was also at the time brewing Tezzeret
decks, but reported that the decks were average at best. There was talk of a Tezzeret list based in red for better board control, but we weren’t
sure if that idea could be tuned in time for Paris, and in the end we just didn’t get around to it.
Then all our plans fell apart. GerryT was testing at the Prerelease with a mono-red battle cry deck that was killing on turn 3 or 4 game after game. We
had a notion that the deck existed but hadn’t got around to trying it out. So we tried playing against it and… the matchup was bad. Even with
two Zeniths and two Ratchet Bombs in the main, we just weren’t keeping up with the aggro, and it started to put everything in question. Our U/B
Tezzeret build only had slight edges in control matchups and was now falling apart against aggro. It wasn’t where we wanted to be, and we had
about 48 hours before our plane left for Paris, so the choice was between audibling and trying to revamp the Tezzeret deck in the hope that it could
shore up some of its weaknesses.
I don’t really like switching decks close to a tournament. If you ask a girl to the prom, then you should dance with that girl. If you decide to
dance with someone else, then you’re just asking for trouble. In Magic terms, familiarity with a deck is more important than having an ideal 75 cards.
The rest of our testing group switched to Valakut. It was going to be hated, to be sure, but it was the only deck that we knew would be solid
post-rotation due to its addition of Green Sun’s Zenith. One of them even made the Top 8 of SCG Indianapolis with the deck, so we knew it was a
Kyle and I were a little hesitant. It’s not that I don’t like combo decks; in fact, I usually gravitate toward them, but rather I
didn’t want to play the deck that would have a bull’s-eye on it if I didn’t feel I had some advantage. I didn’t have an
above-average list of Valakut, and I didn’t have a large number of games under my belt with it. I wanted to try and find another option, but if
worst came to worst, I’d run Brandon’s list (though I wanted to add more Zeniths).
It was at this point that Kyle suggested we just play Boros. Local ringer Pat McGregor had recently Top 8ed a SCG Open and the SCG Invitational with
the deck and was convinced that the deck was a top-tier choice. Not only that, but between Bonehoard and Sword of Feast and Famine, it had significant
gains from the new set. I was receptive. Boros was my deck of choice before Jund became dominant last year, so I was seasoned with the deck, even
though this version didn’t have Ranger of Eos in it. We met the Saturday night before Paris and started grinding out ten-game sets of Boros
versus everything else.
The deck wasn’t a dog to anything and was putting up good numbers against Kuldotha Red and Jace decks that weren’t U/B. The Valakut matchup
was a coin flip that we might have been on the wrong side of, but we figured that if we had all four Marks of Mutiny in the sideboard, we would be
fine. Bonehoard was ridiculous against all sorts of board control, as you could put it into play counter-free with a Stoneforge Mystic and proceed to
equip it on an ever-growing stream of Squadron Hawks. When a Valakut build with Lotus Cobra placed second in Indianapolis, we decided that we could
afford to switch our maindeck Journeys to Nowhere to an Arc Trail and a Forked Bolt to shore up our aggro matchups. As it turned out, the control deck
of choice in Paris also had a few targets for those sorts of spells…
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 4 Plated Geopede
- 4 Steppe Lynx
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 2 Spikeshot Elder
- 1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
Despite a first-round loss from Martin Juza at the hands of a U/B Tezzeret build that I had failed to come up with*, the deck choice ended up being
great. I managed to pilot it to a 7-3 record and 31st place, going 2-0 against Valakut and 2-1 against CawBlade. Kyle, playing the same list, finished
four spots ahead of me in 27th. The hero of the tournament definitely came from Oxid Ridge, and I’d play a second one in the maindeck if I were
sleeving up again. Seven of my ten matches went to three games, including all three of my losses, so I feel safe in saying that Boros isn’t
really cold to anything in the metagame. That said, here were some of the more interesting rounds:
Round 3 versus Noah Swartz, Mono-Black Vampires
Noah was the first of two Vampires opponents I played in the tournament. The second opponent was playing R/B Vampires, but both matches ended up 2-0 in
my favor. After Vampires won the SCG Open in Indianapolis, I figured that this deck would rise in popularity.
Maybe it did, but I don’t think I would run the deck when two of the top contenders in the format play four Stoneforge Mystics and a Sword of
Feast and Famine. The Mystic/Sword package allowed me to play a largely defensive role here, and as long as I saved removal for Kalastria Highborns, I
felt as though he were drawing to very few outs. Bonehoard was great here because it let me take over the attrition war that happens in post-sideboard
Round 13 versus Luis Scott-Vargas, CawBlade
I played this matchup against Luis, Brad Nelson, and Corey Baumeister. Each time, I felt favored in game one and a bit of a dog in subsequent games. In
game one, resolved Bonehoards were key to getting there, especially because I could sneak them by counterspells with the help of Stoneforge Mystic. LSV
had access to Divine Offering in the post-board games, which was pretty crucial, but most of the time, I still felt as though I were racing Gideon
Jura. The four-drop hasty threats (Hero and Koth) ended up being more important than the bulk early drops, which surprised me. The CawBlade player
almost always stabilized from my early attack with the help of his Hawks and Mystics, and it was up to the cavalry to try and bring it home.
Round 16 versus Francesco Hugony, Infect
When I sat down for the round, I noticed his deck box said “Infect” on it, and I made a joke about it (I hadn’t watched the deck tech videos
yet). And then I got killed on turn 3 when he played Smoldering Spires, Assault Strobe, and Groundswell on his Necropede.
While Francesco gets my hugest respect for sleeving up Infect at the Pro Tour, I don’t think it’s ready for prime time. In games two and
three, I was able to use Lightning Bolt, Cunning Sparkmage, and Squadron Hawk to effectively become a control deck and make his deck look like a bunch
of 1/1s and pump spells — which it is, I guess. I think the best lesson I learned from this matchup is that Necropede is actually a pain against
Boros. In game three, I curved a Steppe Lynx into a Plated Geopede, only to stare down a Necropede and realize that all my plays were really subpar. If
I were trying to board against a Boros metagame, then I might try the insect out.
The Grand Prix the following day was good, though far too large. At 11-4, I ended up playing Dustin Faeder in the last round in the finals of the
second draft. Had I won, I would’ve ended up in 65th place, which is out of the prize. Dustin took the match, and he too ended up with only honor and
rating as his prize. While I understand that Wizards can’t — or doesn’t want to — increase the prize payouts at Grand Prix, I
feel like they should at least do us the courtesy of extending the one Pro Point to anyone finishing X-4 or better. 12-4 is a really good performance
and deserves something more.
Also, the tournament inexplicably reset
everyone’s tiebreakers at the beginning of Day Two. The best (and only) explanation I have heard for why this occurred was that DCI
Reporter cannot handle tournaments of more than 2000 people, as it did not happen at either Atlanta or Denver. If that’s the case, then it needs
to be fixed. In the slotted prize system that is a Grand Prix, people fight very hard to have good tiebreakers and deserve the benefits that come with
it. I understand that it might be a matter of software programming, but if you’re expecting Grand Prix attendance to exceed 2000, then the software
should be ready for the task.
All in all, it was a great first Pro Tour, and the Top 32 finishes by myself, Kyle, and Mat mean that the train will keep running for at least one more
stop. Before crashing Day Two at GP Atlanta, I made the mistake of claiming to Brad Nelson that I was going to bring the Rookie of the Year title back
to the United States — which he then passed on to Patrick Chapin, who was standing next to us. With six points from Paris and three more recently
acquired from GP Denver, I suppose it’s time to make my intentions official. The trophy will be crossing back over the Atlantic for the
first time in many years. Hopefully, you’ll follow along while we make it happen.
*It’s a lesser-known fact that Martin Juza went 5-0 in Standard with his deck before mucking it up in the drafting. His deck posted some amazing
results and certainly is in the discussion about which build of Tezzeret is the best.