Pro Tour Dominaria: *3rd!*

Owen once again proved himself as a world class pro player, but it didn’t stop there! This report straight from Pro Tour Dominaria will prepare you for the competition at SCG CON and beyond!

Since my return to writing, I’ve felt a little like I’ve had a chip on my
shoulder or a voice in the back of my head asking me if I’m really worth it
to the Magic community. The more information I would share, the more my
dedication to the game would grow and it became a bit obsessive for a
minute there. I’ve had periods in my life where my interest in Magic wanes
in and out. I’ve never quit the game, but I’ve had times where I don’t
quite feel the reward is worth the effort and that’s only exacerbated by

Catching a few too many losses in a row is one way to cause someone to lose
confidence in themselves and even question the basics. For a while, I had a
bad attitude and I took for granted what it means to work hard. I believe
that there’s simply a correct configuration of cards that gives you the
highest expected value against the range of decks you should expect to face
at the Pro Tour and my objective when I prepare is to get as close to a
perfect list as possible.

That was my goal for Pro Tour Dominaria.

With this Pro Tour being ten rounds of Standard and six rounds of Booster
Draft, I had to try my hand at solving two formats. I had one of the worst
performances in Limited ever leading up to the event, so I wasn’t exactly
confident in that area of things. I’ve had issues in the past where I
figure out which are the best color combinations and I draft them as often
as I can. And while that leads to a great win-rate in the short term, it
ultimately doesn’t give me the opportunity to play with as many of the
cards. One way to get a big edge in Limited, in general, is to find the
cards that can be quite strong but others may have overlooked.

Additionally, when I spend a great deal of time experimenting, it causes me
to win less since, on average, most cards aren’t going to be worth drafting
around, but I usually take a chance on them once just to be sure. Or, in
the same vein, if you find out which cards are overrated by the public at
large you can avoid them. The best example of this for me was The Mending
of Dominaria.

At first, I saw people calling The Mending of Dominaria a bomb rare, but
when I look at it, all I see is a five-mana Soul Salvage that only scales
poorly the longer the game goes. People seem to like it because it can
refuel your deck with all the sauce you already used once, but I would like
to remind you that you can’t even cast this spell if it’s in the bottom six
cards of your library. You’re excited about a card that prevents you from
decking, but it causes you to die from decking if it’s in your bottom six
of forty cards?

For clarification: you draw and cast it as your sixth remaining card,
it mills your five-card deck down to three cards. Next turn, you draw
down to two and it mills you to zero and you die before it can
replenish your library with all the sauce you used once.

I’m not saying that I would never play The Mending of Dominaria, but I am
saying I wouldn’t pick it very high and I would look at it in the same way
I look at Weight of Memory; it’s an expensive way to get value and it’s
generally slow and weak in aggro decks or against them. There’s a time and
a place for both cards, but they’re not something I’m excited about.

I would give you more of my hot Limited technology, but Dominaria
is the Draft format for Worlds, and I’m a huge favorite to be qualified
after my recent hot streak. That said, I’ll happily close the Limited talk
by saying that this format is incredible and showing you both decks I
drafted to a 4-2 record, which were instrumental in my making top 8.

As a member of The Pantheon, what we normally do is rent an AirBnB or a
bunch of hotels near the area of the Pro Tour two weeks in advance for
testing purposes. We usually prefer this to online play since communication
is faster, more efficient, and we like to acclimate ourselves to whatever
time change there may be. This time, though, was different, as not only was
the set out on Magic Online a month in advance (which is a new change), but
the Pro Tour was in Richmond, Virginia, a 90-minute drive from my front

With that in mind, I would like to take this moment to reiterate that I
think the timing of the Pro Tour was a bad change. I have said repeatedly
that the longer the format can be played on Magic Online, the more likely
it is that you will see polarized results like seven Goblin Chainwhirler
decks in top 8. I believe it’s best for the health of the competition–and
Magic, overall–if the players are given less time to prepare and make
decisions with less information. If you let the format run its natural
course, whichever deck has the highest win rate will usually reveal itself
and instead of preparation being about finding a sweet spot in the metagame
and showing up with an unconventional brew, it’s about playing a list
that’s game theory optimal.

I don’t have fun playing Goblin Chainwhirler mirror matches and I don’t
know if the fans at home enjoy watching it, but I feel obligated to do
whatever I can to give myself the best chance to win. If you only briefly
glance at what old Pro Tour top 8s looked like, there was significantly
more diversity, and some of that is the product of the power level of the
cards; however, lately it feels to me like it’s simply poor planning. If I
got to pick, I would have the Pro Tour be played on the day of a set’s
release with almost no time for previews, maybe a week or 24 hours in
advance. Let’s see who’s the best on the most level playing field.

I’ll leave this topic alone for now, but I want to close with a quote from
a Pro Tour player whom I respect, someone that touched on the topic
recently on social media. They put into words how I felt better than I

My final thought is that I really, really, really hate the PT being so
late in the season. I like the feeling of exploring the new cards, and
I enjoy playing high-stakes tournaments with decks that are, quite
frankly, not tuned very well. Since this PT was so late, I felt very
little motivation to test early on, since the returns will be so much
higher closer to the tournament when the decks are known, and I lost a
lot of the feeling of excitement I usually feel when testing for PTs. I
hope they switch back to having PTs only a few weeks after release as
soon as possible.”

– Benjamin Weitz

I recently moved to Arlington, Virginia and my roommates, William Jensen,
Brock Parker, and I all agreed it would be silly to spend a ton of money on
an AirBnB when we can host the team at our new home. Here’s a list of the
people who occupied my home over the past two weeks:

  • William Jensen
  • Brock Parker
  • Reid Duke
  • Jon Finkel
  • Paul Rietzl
  • Andrew Cuneo
  • Logan Nettles
  • Jelger Weigersma
  • Kai Budde
  • Gerry Thompson
  • Josh Cho
  • Gabriel Nassif
  • Jamie Parke
  • Shahar Shenhar
  • Ben Rubin

I apologize if there’s anyone I missed and there’s even some non-teammates
who showed up that I didn’t include. I saw Kyle Rose, Matt Linde, and even
Huey’s parents show up, which caught me by surprise. The front door of my
home was a revolving door of Magic pros, which I found quite funny and as I
write this article now from home at my desk, the place feels eerily quiet
and empty.

While I have some of the best results of the people on my team, I would
never claim to be better than greats like Kai Budde or Jon Finkel, but I do
feel some sense of obligation to impart whatever it is that’s causing me to
do well to new and old members of the team alike. I set up a standing desk
adjacent to the kitchen with a large monitor so at any moment someone could
walk up to my Magic Online game and see what cards or decks I liked or even
ask why I made a specific play. I felt like I was streaming my preparation
to only my living room and only my teammates. This proved to be a little
exhausting and I experienced burnout after only a few days. Add that to the
normal stress that goes along with the Pro Tour and added pressure I’ve put
on myself to not only perform but to set a good example for friends and
teammates and it should make a bit more sense now that I had a lot riding
on this tournament.

Ever since Dominaria has been released on Magic Online, I’ve been
playing a ton of Magic. Eating, sleeping, and playing Magic are the only
things I’ve been doing over the past month or so and I’ve even been
skipping the few hours I usually take off to go to pub trivia up the road.
Some of the days I even played Magic standing up for twelve hours
continuously and I’ll be honest, it was brutal. I even decided to
incorporate diet and exercise into my Magic preparation since that’s where
a lot of my focus has been nowadays. I believe that level of focus had a
positive impact on my finish this past weekend.

Once testing began, the first time I cast Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in a
playtest game I literally had to stop and say “Wow…” because it was
extremely stimulating. I got to use the -3 multiple times to remove
permanents and I got to draw enough cards with it to get to the ultimate.
It’s just an extremely powerful card and it’s fun to play with.

Strangely, I only played about fifteen matches with R/B Aggro before the
tournament, so maybe I wasn’t as razor sharp as I could have been, but with
the draws I had I would be surprised if anyone could tell the difference.
It’s unlike me to play that little with my final decklist before the event,
but my rationale was that I played Mono-Red Aggro at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation and I played Scrapheap Scrounger-based vehicle
decks at Pro Tour Aether Revolt and Pro Tour Amonkhet, so
I should take to it like a fish to water given that our build of R/B Aggro
was just a mashup of a Mono-Red Aggro deck and a vehicles deck.

We also had access to our secret weapon

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Kai Budde, but he’s won seven Pro
Tours and Player of the Year four times. I thought I was a decent
player, having won Player of the Year twice, but he puts me to shame. He
doesn’t play nearly as much Magic these days because of a full-time job,
but as a member of the Magic Hall of Fame he’ll always be qualified for Pro
Tours, and when he gets the itch he comes out and plays with us. It’s a
huge honor. Two weeks before decklists were due, he said it point blank:

I don’t think R/B has any bad matchups.”

All I could do was say “sounds good!” and try to stay productive with my
remaining time. As the days went on, R/B fever caught on in the house, and
more and more people started to gravitate towards the deck. One morning, I
woke up and came downstairs and I saw Reid Duke playing with a paper
version of the deck and I was shocked. All our preparation until that
moment was done online so I knew he meant business.

It’s a pretty simple process here on The Pantheon: when the winningest
player in the history of the game says to play a deck, you play that deck.
It’s not rocket science. Last weekend, Kai Budde was Bill Belichick and I
was Tom Brady.

I would also like to say that in exactly two Pro Tours have I copied Reid
Duke’s deck, card-for-card, and both times I made top 8: this time, and
with Jund at Pro Tour Gatecrash. Turns out sometimes it’s a good
idea to set your ego aside and trust your teammates, especially when
they’re the best players on the planet. I played the enemy side of a few
matchups and gave the best feedback I could, but I’ll be the first to admit
I didn’t have a ton of influence on the final, well-polished version of R/B
Aggro that we played.

The tournament began smoothly and after Day One I was 7-1, having lost
exactly two total games in Limited to Zhi Yimin from China, who told me he
wished that I would produce even more content since any opportunity to see
me play was considered “study material” by him and his friends/playgroup. I
never know the best way to respond to a compliment of this magnitude, so
all I do was smile, say thank you, and express my appreciation.

As the day went on, I was marching along, picking up 2-0 win after 2-0 win;
and once I felt comfortable that the cat was out of the bag on my deck
choice, I started to skip around the tournament hall spinning my arm around
my head pantomiming whirling a chain and repeatedly saying ” whisssh whisssh whisssh” and “I am the Chainwhirler!” I
wasn’t quiet about it either, and I would do it in front of friends,
teammates, and even competitors who don’t even speak the same language as
me. In a world where the standings now only show your table number but not
your opponent’s name to combat scouting, I’m willing to reveal my deck
choice to show that the Pro Tour is about having fun.

For as long as I’ve had Pro status, it’s been my goal to win a Pro Tour,
and as time passed I would see more and more friends and teammates win that
title. I almost felt like everyone but me had won a major title and it was
all people cared about. This is something that has weighed heavily on me
and I’ve felt I needed to win either Worlds or a Pro Tour for people to
respect me as a player. Now I see now that that’s complete nonsense. I’ve
dedicated my entire life to this game and by extension the Pro Tour, and I
can say without any doubt that it was absolutely worth it.

The figurative coin could have come up heads two more times in my favor and
I could’ve won the last two Chainwhirler mirror matches and held up that
trophy myself last weekend, but this time that’s not what happened. I don’t
mean to diminish the winner, Wyatt Darby, by any means, as he played
exceptionally well and probably had the best deck in the top 8, so
congratulations to him. He told me at the table he’s a fan of my articles,
so I know he’ll read this and I don’t want there to be any confusion as to
my tone:

Wyatt: You are absolutely a worthy champion.

For me, it was surprising to see the picture at the beginning of the
article of myself holding up Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, not only because
it’s a way to capture my incredible luck during the tournament but it also
shows me in a way I’ve never seen myself look before. I look fit, healthy,
and happy, and I haven’t felt that way in quite some time. My dedication to
diet and exercise probably played a large role in my ability to perform at
the highest level, and I’ve had issues in the past where I lose focus after
a long day.

Lately it’s been popular for Magic Pros to complain about the hardships of
maintaining status and the grueling travel, but for me, I view being a
member of the Magic Hall of Fame as an incredible honor, and I feel a sense
of duty and obligation to represent the game well and promote fair play. I
feel like when I’m on camera, I need to maintain a brisk pace of play to
make the game look enjoyable, and I even had a Limited feature match in
round 11 that I believe did just that.

That’s what competitive Magic is all about – the ups and downs over the
course of three games. I used to think of winning the Pro Tour as my life’s
work, but I can say with confidence that as long as I live I can always
point to this tournament, be proud of myself, and say with pride that Pro
Tour Dominaria really is a great look at my life’s work.

That statement might sound hyperbolic, but in a career with some regrets
and missed opportunities, I can look back on this event and say I wouldn’t
change a thing. I had a great deck, I worked well with my team, I treated
all my opponents with respect, and I played fair, honest matches. I used
the correct tokens, my Ultimate Guard Xenoskin Playmat, double-sleeved my
deck, and even had stamped versions of the new cards and the oldest
versions of the reprinted cards. I had a cool shirt on with an amazing
sponsor, a fashionable haircut, and not only did I win, but I did it in
style and I barely had to leave home to do it.

Before I go, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my teammates on
the Ultimate Guard Pro Team. This weekend was a smashing success, as we
were in first place going into the weekend in the Team Series and we walked

still on top of the standings

. Our top five finishers got 3rd (myself), 15th (Reid Duke), 22nd (Jon
Finkel), 66th (Paul Rietzl), and 72nd (Andrew Cuneo). It was a bloodbath!

If you want to get even more precise, you can look at the track record of
The Peach Garden Oath over the past few months. William Jensen won Worlds,
Reid Duke made Top 8 of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and Top 16 of
Pro Tour Dominaria, and I made Top 4 this past weekend. That’s the
kind of run that’s more than I could ask for, and we’re just getting
started. I’m hoping for an even stronger finish after the Pro Tour 25th
Anniversary and the culmination of the Team Series.

Reid Duke specifically impressed me this past weekend, and Calcano’s tweet
says it all. After starting with a record of 1-4, Reid winning eleven
matches in a row to finish 12-4 is a significant achievement and a record
I’ve only been able to manage at a Pro Tour a handful of times…and I’ve
been playing for ten years. It’s a testament to his hard work and
dedication to the game to not lose focus and to play to the best of his
ability regardless of what adversity he faces. It’s a popular trend I see
among new players to drop when they’re 3-2 in a Grand Prix because they got
“literally the worst Sealed pool ever,” but I’ve always admired the players
who stick it out until the bitter end and maximize match win percentage no
matter how unlucky they are. To me, that’s greatness. If you look at

Reid’s Pro Tour results

, you’ll see he has consistently been one of the top performing players for
years, and I cannot wait until he’s eligible for the Hall of Fame.

I will conclude by expressing a heartfelt thanks to everyone who reached
out to me with congratulations, words of encouragement, and support all
weekend long. I love what I do and I have the best job in the world. I
don’t know what it is that I did to deserve fans this generous and
positive, but you guys make it a pleasure to compete.