I’ve never had a good deck for a Pro Tour before. I’m reasonable at tweaking and metagaming existing archetypes, so I often have good decks at
Grand Prix. But Pro Tours require making decks for entirely new formats, which is much harder. This is especially true of Block Pro Tours, since the
format sees very little play outside of the event.
Billy P and Sharfman actually figured out Caw-Blade (well, almost) for Paris, but I decided to play Valakut instead for some reason. I did not want
that to happen again. I was determined to test with them and actually have a good deck for once. You’ll see later that this preparation had
little to nothing to do with the deck we played. But hey, at least I tried this time.
Starting about a month before the tournament, I was emailing back and forth with Orrin, Billy, and Sharfman talking about deck ideas. Billy and
Sharfman were doing most of the actual testing, since they both live in Orlando. I did spend one weekend there testing, with Antonino De Rosa (Ant
hereafter) coming as well.
We tried various three-color concoctions using cards that seemed like they had to be good. We had a RUG deck with cards like Beast Within,
Thrun, Karn Liberated, and Consecrated Sphinx. We built Esper, BUG, Naya, U/B, and generally any combination of cards we could think of that let us
play Sphinx. The problem with all of these control decks is that the answers were conditional, and there was no good card draw or card selection in the
format. Also, you had to play a lot of cards that did nothing late in order to fix your mana and get to the late game, such as Mycosynth Wellspring or
Viridian Emissary. It was not uncommon to still lose games after Sphinx resolved and lived.
We knew Tempered Steel was good but figured it had to be beatable with enough hate. And based on Magic Online results, it was certainly the most played
and known deck. So we were not really interested in playing it, if avoidable. Mono Red also seemed good, if unexciting.
When I left for the Invitational, I had no idea what I was going to play. I was leaning towards Mono Red, but I told myself I would play whatever Billy
and Sharfman said to, since they had tested much more than I had.
We got off the plane from Indianapolis to head to Nagoya and found Sharfman standing there with a sign reading “Star City Superstar Patrick
Cox.” The first thing Billy said to me was, “We are playing Tempered Steel; nothing beats it.” I was not happy to hear this and hoped
we could come up with something else in the next few days.
Orrin and I tested for 5-6 hours on the plane and figured out that the U/W Control deck that had been doing well on Magic Online was just as terrible
as every other control deck. We still thought Red might be all right, and obviously Tempered Steel was still performing. We were staying in a different
hotel than the other guys, so we parted ways for the night after arriving in Japan.
By the time we met up with Billy and Sharfman in the morning, Ant had arrived. He was playing Mark Herberholz’s Puresteel Paladin Equipment deck
against them. Billy had told me how much Ant liked the deck a few weeks prior, but he said he couldn’t win a match with it, so I didn’t
even ask for a list. We had previously tried to build a Puresteel Paladin deck of our own but quickly dismissed it since it was losing to Tempered
Steel. Our list was very slow and did not easily achieve metalcraft, though. And we were certainly not smart enough to come up with playing Mortarpod.
Ant’s deck seemed to do well against whatever we threw at it, most importantly Tempered Steel. I suggested adding back in some slower cards, such
as Elspeth and cutting “do nothing” cards like Memnite. Ant correctly called me an idiot. The only suggestion I made that was correct was
to go from three to four Heroes of Bladehold. I didn’t know much, but I knew that guy was really hard to remove and killed your opponent with
little to no help.
The deck was doing well, but it seemed so bad. Everyone but Ant was reluctant to play it. Billy got up at 3 am the night before the PT and
played every deck he could think of on Magic Online, in a vain attempt to try to find something else. Thankfully, we ran out of time, and all decided
to play Ant’s deck, since it was the best option available to us.
Here is the deck we played:
I won’t go into the details of card selection, since Mark already did that in his article. Besides, the decisions on what cards to play were made mostly by
Ant and Mark, with the rest of us really only working on the sideboard.
I did a deck tech on the deck, but I’ll talk
about it a little here as well. Obviously Puresteel Paladin is incredible in the deck, but he is not quite as important as people seem to think. I
heard several other pros say things along the lines of, “What if they kill Paladin? Your deck does nothing.” That is not quite the case.
The card draw off Paladin is great, since it allows you to overextend into mass removal while being able to refill the board if they have the Slagstorm
or Black Sun’s Zenith. And the free equip ability leads to turn 3 Sword and equip sometimes, which is essentially the end of the game. The same
ability also allowed me to burn several opponents out with Mortarpod, which they did not see coming.
However, I won probably half my games on the back of Hero of Bladehold alone. Our deck ran more lands than the average Tempered Steel deck, so we could
more reliably cast Hero on turn 4 (and I even cast him turn 3 off of Mox Opal once). As I said previously, Hero is one of the best threats in the
Sword of War and Peace also won me a ton of games, even without Paladin. Casting Sword and equipping it on turn 5 was often good enough, especially if
it was following up turn 4 Hero. Giving your creature protection from almost everything in the two most popular decks is of course huge. But even
against the multicolor control decks, Sword was great. They always have a million cards in hand, so one hit will take a huge chunk of their life total.
On the morning of the PT, it turned out everyone had the same problem as we did. No one seemed to actually have a deck. Most of the people I spoke with
were playing Tempered Steel or Mono Red. And we ran four Sword of War and Peace. I was starting to feel like Ant might actually be onto something. I
only had a handful of games under my belt at this point, though. So I was still a little nervous sitting down for round one.
Day 1: Block Constructed
Round 1 Alex Ledbetter playing RUG
After seeing his lands, I more or less know what is in his deck, since I tried quite hard to build a RUG deck myself. Game 1 I have turn 2 Puresteel
Paladin and start going to town playing Equipment and drawing extra cards. I’m having a lot of fun cantripping Equipment. Unfortunately, this
isn’t accomplishing much, except giving him time to get into the late game. I have a Hero of Bladehold in hand that I should have cast turn 4 to
quickly end things, but instead I fart around with Paladin.
He ends up with a Koth of the Hammer and a Consecrated Sphinx in play. The Sphinx blocks an Inkmoth Nexus with Sword of War and Peace on it, and I sac
two Germ tokens with Mortarpod to finish it off. I sac another creature to keep Koth from ultimating. I pass the turn, forgetting to reequip everything
to my Puresteel Paladin, even though I’d used the free equip ability about five times that turn already. He casts Slagstorm, and I lose a game
that I should have won handily.
Games 2 and 3 I figure out that I should stop being cute and just kill him with Hero of Bladehold. Hooray!
Round 2 Jake Hart playing Mono Red (with Kuldotha Rebirth)
Game 1 I have an early Sword of War and Peace. He is unable to answer the Equipment, and he is dead a couple of turns later.
Game 2 I attempt to race two Kuldotha Phoenixes but lose by a turn. If I had been on the play or had one of the Dispatches that I sided out, I would
A note on sideboarding with the deck: many of our sideboard plans involved taking out Memnite, since he makes you more vulnerable to mass removal.
White Sun’s Zenith and Kemba avoid Slagstorm, so they came in here. But without the Memnites, metalcraft was much harder to achieve, so the
Dispatches were taken out as well. Based on game 2, I figured out that even tapping a Phoenix would likely be good enough to win. So I brought the
Dispatches back in.
Game 3 is another race. I have two Heroes of Bladehold in play, with him dead on board next turn. He has a Phoenix, and I’m at eight life. I have the
Dispatch in hand to tap the Phoenix and leave a Glint Hawk back to chump in case he has the second Phoenix. He ends up not having anything, but the
Dispatch definitely put me in a position where it was nigh impossible for me to lose.
Round 3 Jonas Köstler playing RUG
Game 1 on turn 5 I have Hero of Bladehold in play and two more in hand, against his Thrun, the Last Troll. I also have two other creatures in play. I
decide I can go ahead and start attacking into Thrun since even though Hero will die, I’ll play another on each of the next two turns, and he should be
dead from the extra creatures and battle cry. This does not take into account the possibility of Slagstorm or Arc Trail, though. He has Arc Trail, and
I end up with a nearly empty board when I untap with my second Hero. I decide I need to wait to attack with both at the same time, but he now has a
Consecrated Sphinx in play, and I am too far behind. He casts another Sphinx, and I am dead.
If I had just waited to attack with all three Heroes at once, the game would have been over on the spot. There are not a lot of realistic ways he could
stop me in that situation, pretty much just Slagstorm and Arc Tail in the same turn.
Game 2 I mull to five and eventually end up with two Swords and a Vault Skirge in play. But he does not have enough cards in hand for this to just kill
him, and he has a Karn to remove the Skirge.
Round 4 Bertil Elfgren with B/G Poison
Game 1 he has a Batterskull that I don’t have an answer to, and I lose the game with him at a very comfortable 21 life.
He has Molten-Tail Masticore game 3, which I certainly did not see coming. Luckily, I have Hero and Crusader in play by the time he casts it, and he
does not have a creature to discard to Masticore to kill either of my guys. I end up attacking in such a way that for him to live he has to lose his
Masticore and Viridian Corrupter, while I’ll still have my Hero in play. He blocks differently, accidentally letting me get through for exactly lethal.
Round 5 Masaya Kitayama with Esper
I apologize, but I’m drawing a blank on most of this match. I do remember that game 3 he tapped out for Consecrated Sphinx against my two creatures,
one of which had a Sword of War and Peace equipped. I drew another Sword, and the two cards he had drawn from Sphinx were enough to make one guy
getting through with a Sword exactly lethal. Masterful, I know.
Day 1: Draft
Prior to this draft, I announced to Orrin that I was going to open Karn Liberated. So obviously, I flip to the back of the pack, and there he is. In
case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been running pretty good lately.
My general draft strategy in this format is U/X control decks that aim to get to the late game and win with expensive, powerful spells. Karn certainly
fits into this category.
Here is the deck that I ended up with:
1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
1 Spined Thopter
1 Trespassing Souleater
1 Oxidda Scrapmelter
1 Rusted Slasher
1 Rotted Hystrix
1 Melira’s Keepers
2 Sky-Eel School
1 Fangren Marauder
1 Brutalizer Exarch
This deck isn’t insane or anything, but it is about where I want to be after opening Karn. I should get to the late game with the help of cards
like Oculus, Oxidda Scrapmelter, and Rotted Hystrix. Even if I do not draw Karn, I have a reasonable number of fliers and can win that way. This is
actually how I win most of my games, since I only cast Karn in one match. Flayer Husk is unexciting (unless it’s in your Constructed deck!), but
it actually is decent here. It acts as a chump blocker early on, then can be put on one of the many evasion creatures to speed up your clock.
Round 6 Christian Kitayama
Game 1 he is stuck on two lands, and on turn 6 I have a Brutalizer Exarch in hand. I read it to make sure it hits lands, since this has never come up
before. It does. Brutal.
Game 2 I believe he mulligans to at least six, possibly five. The game goes on for a while, but my hand is pretty stacked the whole time, so I’m never
in much danger of losing. When I cast Victorious Destruction, he has to read it and seems pretty incredulous that I would play such a card. What,
everyone doesn’t splash five-mana artifact destruction spells?
Round 7 Roy Oever
I just looked at my notes from this match, and the only thing I have written down is “Karn you.” I think that sums it up rather succinctly,
but I suppose I should go into a little more detail.
I have Karn on turn 7 both games. Game 1 it follows my countering his Thopter Assembly with Psychic Barrier. Game 2 I am actually a little behind on
board when I cast Karn so the game goes on for a while. Karn loses loyalty to attacks a few times, and I have to wait to start going on the offensive
because he has Slash Panther in his deck. I win the game with five or six cards exiled by Karn, since I alternated adding and subtracting loyalty every
turn. No wonder I wanted to open this guy!
Round 8 Yong Han Choo
I lose game 1 to a Sword of Feast and Famine being active for a million turns. If I ever draw Karn, Oxidda Scrapmelter, or Victorious Destruction, I
can probably get back in the game, but I never find an answer.
Game 2 I have Karn in my opening hand, which is pretty exciting. Then he casts Despise and takes it. He ends up stuck on four lands while I attack him
with fliers. But man, did I want to cast that Karn.
Game 3 I again win with fliers, casting two Sky-Eel Schools in successive turns.
So I enter Day Two with only a single loss. This is by far my best start ever at a PT. Previously, I always sweat the last rounds trying to make it to
Day Two at 5-3. So needless to say, I am pretty excited at this point. Sharfman is also 7-1, with Billy at 6-2, and Ant and Orrin at 5-3.
On top of the great start in the tournament, it’s my birthday so we get to go eat real food at Outback. Japan is pretty sweet in general, but I’m not a
huge fan of their food. We went to one restaurant where the chicken section of the menu had things like “gizzard” and “used chicken
neck.” What did they do with the edible parts of the bird?
Day 2: Draft
Sharfman is in my pod. This is bad because: a) it means we both cannot still be X-1 after round 11, and b) Sharfman is much better at drafting than I
am. I declare that I am going to open Karn again, but I guess that only works once. I instead first-pick a Lashwrithe that I don’t end up
playing. I cannot remember what else was in the pack, but taking such a huge color commitment card first was probably wrong. Here is the deck I end up
Why is Apostle’s Blessing in my sideboard? I don’t know. Several people asked me this question, and my not playing it definitely shows my
inexperience with the format. It’s certainly a very solid card; and after playing with it, I can’t imagine many decks where you would not want
such an effect.
Round 9 David Sharfman
After game 1 he tells me that I must have Kuldotha Flamefiend, since I passed him Into the Core. He then tells me everything the guy next to him took.
I simply shrug when he asks what’s in the deck of the guy next to me. As I said, Sharfman is much better at drafting than I am (and most people).
Round 10 Donal Murray
Game 1 ends up with him at low life and a stalled board. I spend his turn trying to figure out how to best go about winning, and then topdeck
Game 2 I have a couple of fliers, but he has a ground force that I’ll likely not be able to race. I have a Steel Sabotage that I plan on bouncing his
Dross Ripper with to hopefully buy enough time. He casts Triumph of the Hordes; a Steel Sabotage on Dross Ripper plus a chump block puts me at exactly
nine poison. He has no actual infect creatures in play (or in his deck as far as I know), so this essentially gains me life and allows me to win the
Round 11 Pascal Maynard
Wizards covered this match with far more detail than I could possibly recollect here.
Day 2: Block Constructed
Round 12 Martin Lindström playing Architect/Birthing Pod
I’m not sure what to call this deck, but those were the two cards it revolved around. Several times he uses Birthing Pod to find a Treasure Mage,
which then tutors up a seven-drop artifact. Game 1 I have a large board presence, and he uses this interaction to find and cast Contagion Engine. A
double proliferate later, I’m out of the game.
Round 13 Yuusuke Iwasaki playing Tempered Steel
Well for being the most played deck in the tournament, Tempered Steel took long enough to get paired against me. Our testing showed the matchup was
good, and everyone else had played and beaten it once in the tournament so far.
I skillfully draw Mortarpod and Sword of War and Peace, i.e. the two best cards in the matchup, both games. The first time I cast Sword, his eyes
literally widen. After the match he tells me how cool he thinks our deck is and seems genuinely in good spirits despite the somewhat lopsided games.
Round 14 Lucas Florent with U/B Control
Game 1 I have a very fast draw involving Sword and am able to kill him before he does much. Game 2 he stops my initial assault with Black Sun’s
Zenith, but his second Zenith isn’t enough to kill my equipped Kemba, Kha Regent. After the games he tells me that he thinks this is a bad
matchup for me. I agree with him, since Ant, Billy, and Orrin have already lost to the deck earlier in the tournament.
Round 15 Francesco Cipolleschi with R/B Removal
Francesco only has two losses, so he asks for the draw. He says he cannot just give me the win because he has bad tiebreakers. But I do not really
expect him to, since we do not know each other. There is no real point in my drawing here, since I would then just have to win the next round instead
of this one.
This is probably an unfavorable matchup for me, since his whole deck has ways to kill creatures and artifacts. My main hope is that he has the wrong
answers at the wrong times, i.e. artifact removal in hand facing down a Hero of Bladehold.
I take game 1 and get him to 10 life game 2 before he resolves a Karn Liberated. I have no answer (as if my deck has a lot of ways to interact with
Karn) and lose to a few attacks from Oxidda Scrapmelter.
Game 3 he resolves Karn at 10 life again, which means I am in trouble. I can play Hero of Bladehold, but I know he will just -3 Karn to kill it, so I
pass the turn. At the end of his turn, I cast White Sun’s Zenith for two and attack Karn. He kills one of the Cats. I cast Hero, hoping he will
have to use Karn to kill it. He does, and Karn is now at two loyalty. I attack Karn with my remaining Cat and two Inkmoth Nexuses to kill him. The
following turn, I only attack with my Cat token, leaving my Nexuses back, and pass the turn. I wonder what I drew? I end of turn Zenith for three or
four guys and attack him for lethal.
Sharfman beat the only other X-2 this round, so we cannot be paired up against someone who might attempt to dream crush. Neither of us gets paired
down, so we are both able to draw. And just like that, Sharfman and I are in Top 8! We have no idea what to do with ourselves and wander around
grinning like idiots until the round is over.
After doing the requisite coverage stuff, we head to dinner. Lucky for me, Sharfman doesn’t really care where we go so I choose Outback for
edible food again. There are no matchups to test, so we head back to our respective hotels to get some sleep.
Top 8 Draft
3 Alpha Tyrranax
1 Blind Zealot
2 Dross Ripper
1 Melira’s Keepers
1 Molder Beast
1 Moriok Replica
1 Necrotic Ooze
1 Nested Ghoul
1 Phyrexian Rager
1 Porcelain Legionnaire
1 Shimmer Myr
1 Tangle Hulk
Thanks to the draft viewer, I have talked to Ben S about this draft at length. And while a couple of mid/late picks were incorrect, I think my overall
strategy was quite good. I did my best to stay open in pack 1 and even pack 2, and then moved into dinosaurs at the end of pack 2 and start of pack 3.
The most glaringly incorrect pick to me was Dementia Bat over Mutagenic Growth. I was improperly evaluating Growth. I do not think it would have made
my final deck, but it certainly ends up in a lot more decks than your typical green pump spell.
A less obvious mistake was Molder Beast over Bellowing Tanglewurm. The cards are comparable, but I did not consider how important four toughness could
be over three. The Tanglewurm can more effectively block your opponent’s early drops when it comes down on turn 5, whereas Beast might just
trade. I did not take into account how high my curve was and should have taken the Tanglewurm for this reason. As you’ll see, this comes back to bite
me since Beast does not even trade with Porcelain Legionnaire.
The most questioned pick of the draft was Alpha Tyrranax over Arrest at the start of pack 3. I had a few cards of each color at this point, so this is
pretty much where I had to decide whether I wanted to be white or green. Obviously Arrest is a much better card, but I already had plenty of removal
and almost no win conditions. I had a couple of decent green creatures from the end of pack 2, and pack 3 has a lot of large guys for the dinosaur
archetype. I figured that my cheap removal should get me to the late game, where cards like Alpha Tyrranax could then dominate the board.
I think it is a tossup between Sharfman and me as to who had the best deck in the Top 8. My deck was fairly slow, but powerful. I figured I should be
able to easily beat any normal, comparably slow draft deck. I knew that very fast/aggressive decks could be an issue, since I could not establish an
early board presence. But I did have a lot of cheap removal to buy time.
Quarterfinals Eli Pichon
Coverage of my quarterfinals match can be found here. Basically, I end up facing a very fast
deck. I never have removal for his turn 2 Legionnaire and can rarely effectively block or trade thanks to cards like Mutagenic Growth and Viridian
Claw. Overall the match was fairly frustrating, but I knew my deck was slow, so I cannot complain too much about losing to a hyper-aggro deck.
On the plus side, Sharfman won the whole thing! He didn’t even drop a game. I told you he was good at booster drafting. Orrin and I went to Osaka
Castle after I lost and unfortunately failed to find Sharfman and Billy after his victory. But we reconvened in Kansas City a few days later and went
to celebrate then.
We spent the rest of the week sightseeing in Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara, before heading to Grand Prix Kansas City. I got 40th in the GP, bringing me to 19
points for the season; certainly a very comfortable spot to be in with two Pro Tours left.
Thanks again to Antonino De Rosa and Mark Herberholz for the awesome Block deck. It felt great to actually have a good deck at the PT for once. I went
8-1 in Constructed and feel as though I could have just as easily 9-0ed.
And thanks to my friends for all of the support; it means a lot to me. I especially want to thank Orrin and Megan, since they have to listen to me more
than anyone else, and I’m sure I was insufferable at times in light of my recent success.
It has certainly been a great month, and it will be hard to top this trip. I am glad to be home, but I’m sure in a few days I’ll be wishing
Nationals wasn’t so far off. Kurt Vonnegut once said, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at
some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”
If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.