Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad *6th*

Brad and his team crushed it this past weekend! Brad Nelson now has yet another Pro Tour top 8 and wants to use his experience to help you get a jump on the #SCGMKE Standard Classic!

SCG Tour <sup>®</sup>Milwaukee Apr. 30 – May 1!” border=”1″ /></a></div>
<p>I never exactly know how to begin an article about a great finish. Do I try to stay humble or do I just come right out and say, <i>“I just got my third Pro Tour Top 8!”? </i></p>
<p>I think I’m going to stick to the latter for this one, since it’s been six years since I could say that I’ve done it. So long ago, in fact, that I feel like a different player. I have no clue how “that” Brad Nelson did the things he did, looking back after so many difficult seasons and the feeling that I just wasn’t as good as the game’s greats. For many seasons I always found myself finishing Pro Tour after Pro Tour right around 30th place. This was good enough for qualifications and even Gold, but I never got that rush of crushing a Pro Tour for some time. Luckily, at #PTSOI I got to experience it once again and have that feeling of dominating a tournament that I hadn’t felt for as long as I could remember. The reason?</p>
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I joined Europe’s most dominating group of Magic players, Team EUreka.

It might seem odd that the team took in one oddball American, given their name even capitalizes the “U” in Eureka for effect. There is no “but” in that last sentence. I was utterly shocked that the team wanted me to join, since I only knew a handful of them on a personal level and they won two of that last four Pro Tours without any of my “expertise.”

In fact, I thought I was the one to gain the most from my experience with the team, since Limited has always been my downfall on the professional stage and they were one of the best teams in the format. I came in with an open mind and a passion to do my best to break the Constructed for them, since I knew that my Limited game would get better just by being around some of the players on the team.

After countless days of blood, sweat, and tears, I finally cracked the code for a sinister concoction and broke the format for the fifteen members of Team EUreka.

Upon first glance, they noticed that the deck I was proposing was simply Bant Company; a deck everyone already knew about and would probably have the largest target on its head. I informed them that they didn’t say I had to make a new deck, but just find the best deck. I battled countess hours with the deck, trying to prove to them that we should just all play this amazing broken archetype since it was clearly powerful.

I must have sparked something in one of the teammates, because after a short break from Standard I was informed that we found a deck that beat Bant Company. Doubting this, I grabbed my trusty weapon and sat down across teammate Pierre Dagen with the smuggest of attitudes.

Goggles Ramp is exactly what it sounds like: a deck that uses the Pyromancer’s Goggles core as a secondary ramp engine for the powerful Kozilek’s Return / World Breaker combo. This brilliantly designed deck from by Pierre Dagen was designed to beat up on Bant Company and Human-based strategies.

It didn’t take too long into testing to realize that Reflector Mage strategies would make up much of the metagame, but what didn’t come easily was finding good answers to them. Idea after idea got discarded, so that even I was strongly considering playing Bant Company. It’s just too easy to get attached to the deck that keeps winning in testing, especially when it’s one you already liked in the past.

Pierre thankfully didn’t share in my love of Bounding Krasis and wouldn’t stop exploring. He eventually had a revelation and designed a deck that ended up being only one or two cards off the maindeck we played at the Pro Tour. I got to watch brilliance in the making as he took his newly created idea and proceeded to obliterate me playing Bant Company!

From that moment on, the team seamlessly fell in line wanting to play this deck at the Pro Tour. We were so invested in the idea in fact that we had already purchased the cards needed to fill out fifteen copies of the deck by the Monday before the Pro Tour. This was the earliest I had ever seen an entire team get behind one deck, making it have the highest retention rate of any deck I’ve ever played.

The unified team spent the rest of the week working on the finest numbers on the deck, and everyone had the same goal in mind, making it very easy to explore each and every possibility for the deck. We worked for as long as time would allow us until we had to enter the Pro Tour.

I was a part of the engine, but never felt once like I was irreplaceable. The team was just filled with too many great players and competent minds. I was just shocked at how great this group was and how lucky I was to be a part of it, extremely lucky because I felt ready for Limited at a Pro Tour for the first time that I can remember. The team does such a good job breaking down a Limited format for everyone that I was comfortable drafting any archetype and understood how to maneuver through any sort of draft. I was prepared!

The rest, you could say, was history. I finished 5-1 in Limited, only losing to the greatest of all time topdecking on the final turn, and took the Constructed deck to an 8-2 record to clinch my first Top 8 in six years. This locked me for Platinum and gave me an outside chance at making the World Championships for the second year in a row.

Team EUreka was everything promised and more, and I can’t wait to get the chance next time to pull my weight and help others experience the joy they helped me find this past weekend in Madrid. It was truly a magical weekend for me that I do not believe could have happened without their help. Thank you, guys!

Okay, that’s enough sappy stuff. You most likely came here for the nuts and bolts about the deck we played and that’s exactly what I’m going to give you. Goggles Ramp isn’t as easy to play as it would seem to be when looking at it on paper. Each matchup plays out differently, so the general gameplan is constantly shifting with this deck. That said, I think it will be more beneficial to discuss the intricacies of each matchup individually instead of discussing the deck in a vacuum. Let’s start with the deck it was designed to beat.

Bant Company

The appeal for playing Bant Company is that the deck has the ability to play Magic forever. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy; Duskwatch Recruiter; Tireless Tracker; Nissa, Vastwood Seer; Collected Company; and Lumbering Falls give this deck an absurd amount of card advantage. This makes the matchup against the deck rather difficult for many strategies, forcing them to be able to play Magic for a very long time, but also have to play cards more powerful than those of Bant Company.

Bant Company’s downside is that the cards don’t scale that well thanks to the restriction of Collected Company. The next big issue is that the opponent’s “powerful” cards have to be flexible enough to not lose to Bant Company’s impressive flash game. A balance must be found.

That’s exactly what Goggles Ramp is trying to accomplish. Pyromancer’s Goggles alongside Fiery Impulse gives the deck the ability to two-for-one Bant Company and then use cards like Tormenting Voice and Magmatic Insight to keep the hand size high enough to continue playing Magic against such a resilient deck.

Fall of the Titans, Kozilek’s Return, and Fiery Impulse also play an important role in this matchup since all of them can be cast at instant speed. Since we play four Nissa’s Pilgrimage and can combo Drownyard Temple with our “cycle” cards, we will oftentimes have five mana available when they pass on turn 4 with all their mana available. Our burn spells allow us to interact with them on our end step, negating any tempo advantage they are trying to achieve and forcing them to find a more difficult way to win the game.

They also play around Dromoka’s Command, which can become a major problem if we allow them to develop a battlefield position in the earlier turns. The threat of having so much instant-speed removal also gives the deck more play when holding up mana to return Drownyard Temples from the graveyard.

There are many combinations of cards we may have to interact with them at this stage in the game:

Kozilek’s Return + Fall of the Titans

This kills all two-toughness creatures and two three-toughness creatures by casting Fall of the Titans with X=1 on the two surviving creatures.

Fiery Impulse + Fall of the Titans

This kills up to three three-toughness creatures as long as there is at least one spell in your graveyard to trigger spell mastery. If there is only one spell in your graveyard, you can stack the Fiery Impulse targeting the first X/3 and then stack the Fall of the Titans targeting the other two X/3s. The stack will then do all the work for you.

So what happens when you don’t have Fiery Impulse or Kozilek’s Return to enable your Fall of the Titans? Well, that’s when the beauty of how the deck was designed comes into play. Traverse the Ulvenwald plays an extremely important role in this deck, but it’s very subtle.

On these crucial turns you will find yourself with five mana but needing to enable Surge without spending more than one mana. Magmatic Insight and Traverse the Ulvenwald fill this role when Fiery Impulse has already been cast or hasn’t yet shown up. Just cast Traverse the Ulvenwald, play the land found, and pass the turn, preparing for the end-step Collected Company.

The games become even more complex once we get past the earlier stages. Oftentimes you will find yourself with a World Breaker on an empty battlefield with your life total being anywhere between eight and fourteen. It’s important in these situations to not get too aggressive.

Even though it would only take four attacks from the World Breaker to win a game you feel are in control of, doesn’t mean you should. Inevitability is in your hands and a defensive World Breaker allows you to keep control of the game. Don’t be afraid to play draw-go with them for as many turns as it takes to take over complete control of the game thanks to Goggles Ramp’s powerful late-game.


On the Play and Draw:



Tireless Tracker might not seem like an intuitive sideboard card for this matchup. In fact, it took us a very long time in testing to discover how important this card is against Bant Company. What this little creature does is give us a chance to make them reactive on crucial turns of the game while also keeping us fueled up for the mid- and late-game.

Cards like Dromoka’s Command, Reflector Mage, and Bounding Krasis can all be used as positioning spells for them to get tempo advantages whenever they want them. Tireless Tracker flips the script and causes them to react when we want them to. For example, a turn 3 Tireless Tracker causes them to cast Reflector Mage earlier than they want to or cast a main-phase Collected Company in hopes of finding one, rather than trading their first aggressive creature.

On turn 5, this card gets us a Clue, plus we have reactive mana up for Fiery Impulse or Draconic Roar (a card added to the sideboard specifically for this matchup, thanks to it being an instant). Now they are stuck in a tough spot, since their reactive Dromoka’s Commands might end up costing them a two-for-one if we do in fact have a removal spell.

In the late-game, this card truly shines by allowing us to get card advantage, have a great defensive creature, or even be the attacker we need to force them to play a less reactive game.

We trim on our cyclers so that we don’t draw too high of a density of them, forcing us to play into Negate or Invasive Surgery. Chandra, Flamecaller might seem serviceable in the matchup, but it is actively bad thanks to Lumbering Falls and all of the flash elements.

W/U Humans

This matchup is much more straightforward. Game 1, their high density of removal hurts them significantly in the matchup. They are not as aggressive as Mono-White Humans, which makes it almost impossible for us to lose to anything but Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. That said, it is very easy for us to lose to a turn 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar when on the draw. The only true way to beat the card is to have not been dealt much damage in the earlier turns and to have a Fall of the Titans ready.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is by far the scariest card for this deck. We didn’t expect many Gideons to be played over the weekend and believed there to be very few decks brave enough to play four of them. Magic is a numbers game and W/U Humans having access to them doesn’t mean they will have Gideon often enough to be afraid of the planeswalker.


On the Play and Draw:



The most impactful card in this matchup outside of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is Negate. That’s the reason for shaving on Pyromancer’s Goggles and bringing in Goblin Dark-Dwellers. This “Snapcaster Rage” plays an important role in not only pressuring Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but also punishing them for leaving up Negate mana, especially when you are “flashing back” Rending Volley. Nice counterspell!

Just keep the battlefield clear and develop your mana.

Mono-White Humans

This might be the deck’s best matchup and one we were thrilled had a breakout performance at the #SCGINVI in Columbus. Their deck is so low to the ground that it’s almost impossible for them to play around Kozilek’s Return or Chandra, Flamecaller. Game 1 is very easy as long as we have interactive spells, and the only thing to fear post-sideboard is the limited numbers of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar they may have.


On the Play and Draw:



We board out a Nissa’s Pilgrimage in this matchup over Hedron Archive, since it is sometimes difficult to take a turn off to ramp. That makes Hedron Archive a much more powerful card thanks to its ability to get us to seven mana at the cost of only one turn taken off to accelerate.

G/W Tokens

Team F2F did something no other team did at #PTSOI and that was go to Level 3. I categorize decks into levels before each Pro Tour to get a better example of what we should not only be doing, but also what to expect. For #PTSOI it broke down like this.

Level 1: Reflector Mage

Reflector Mage is clearly one of the best cards in the format. It’s just a good card in general but also is fantastic against certain cards in the format. Two of the best cards that Reflector Mage preys on are Hangarback Walker and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The best homes for Reflector Mage are Bant Company and W/U Humans, making them the level 1 strategies going into #PTSOI.

Level 2: Beat Level 1

This involves playing decks that ignore cards weak to Reflector Mage strategies and instead focus on cards that should be good against them and the cards surrounding them. These strategies were visible in some of the other major teams’ decks. Team Pantheon brought to battle the power of Languish backed up by card advantage. Team Ultra Pro wielded its own Collected Company deck that gave other Collected Company strategies a tough time thanks to a high density of synergistic creatures.

Level 3: Beat Level 2

Play cards that are weak to Reflector Mage, like Hangarback Walker and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, to then be good against strategies ignoring these cards to better beat Level 1 strategies.

What shocked many of us was that the G/W Tokens deck was just good against everything. It shouldn’t be too surprising, since it’s stuffed full of powerful mythic rares, but it caught many of us off-guard thanks to how powerful these planeswalkers would be. No one on EUreka was happy to hear that a major team was on a deck full of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but at that point it was too late.

This is Goggles Ramp’s worst matchup. We are setup to interact with creature decks on the micro level with cards like Fiery Impulse, but G/W Tokens has eight planeswalkers that continuously keep the battlefield full of creatures, which then fuel their Westvale Abbeys that we don’t have a true answer for. The only successful strategy worth trying to execute is the deck’s ramp plan: accelerate quickly to Pyromancer’s Goggles or World Breaker and get the game over as quickly as possible.


On the Play:



Tireless Tracker is actually very good in this matchup given how little removal they have and few resources to protect early planeswalkers. It might not win the game all by itself, but it keeps the battlefield small enough and the hand large enough to keep us in the game for a long time. That doesn’t mean the plan changes. Get to seven mana as quickly as possible and try to get enough pressure on the battlefield.

On the Draw:



Tireless Tracker is too weak on the draw and therefore isn’t a reliable strategy to execute.

Seasons Past Control

This is the type of matchup that our sideboard was designed to counteract. We knew reactive-based strategies would be prevalent at #PTSOI, which is why we wanted our sideboard to be filled with as many sources of card advantage as we could fit into it. These would also have to be creatures, since we would need access to more angles of attack if they were packing Infinite Obliteration (a card many decks would be playing alongside Dark Petition) for our World Breakers.

The biggest issue with this matchup compared to other midrange strategies is that Team Pantheon were playing Infinite Obliteration in their maindeck, making it much more difficult to easily defeat this specific matchup Game 1 with the synergy between World Breaker and Drownyard Temple.

The best way to win this matchup Game 1 is to get Pyromancer’s Goggles onto the battlefield as quickly as possible and try to keep up with card advantage; get some chip shots in with Chandra, Flamecaller; and finish them off with a massive Fall of the Titans copied one or two times with Pyromancer’s Goggles. Remember, you can tap Goggles for red mana, use five different mana sources to cast a second Pyromancer’s Goggles, and then cast Fall of the Titans with the fresh Goggles to get three copies of it.


On the Play and Draw:



The way this matchup plays out post-sideboard is very similar to many of the other midrange matchups. Instead of differentiating between all of them, I will just post how each matchup sideboards independently and then discuss the general strategy against midrange decks as a whole.

Esper Dragons

On the Play and Draw:



Esper Control

On the Play and Draw:



There are many other midrange based decks that were played at #PTSOI, making it difficult to write up a sideboard guide for them all. Just keep in mind how much removal you should have in the deck after sideboarding; it should be minimal, since they will most likely be trying to contain you more than you trying to control them.

The most surprising aspect of Goggles Ramp against midrange decks is that you actually have more card advantage than any other deck in the format. Nissa’s Pilgrimage might just be a ramp spell in any other deck playing it, but here it almost always gets three Forests out of the deck. This level of card advantage might not seem that powerful when you consider three Forests don’t win games, but they often turn into more powerful spells thanks to Magmatic Insight, Tormenting Voice, and Chandra, Flamecaller’s zero ability.

Traverse the Ulvenwald gets turned on in these games as well, being a great card to help out consistency issues in the early turns but helping find any creature you want very early on in games. Once active, this card allows you to chain Den Protectors and Goblin Dark-Dwellers to always have something on the battlefield.

This deck is so resilient in these configurations that coverage was a roller-coaster for my friends and family back home, hearing about all of the bad spots I would be in, only to learn that I won the game within minutes of them turning away the cameras. The deck just doesn’t stop casting spells in the mid- to late-game thanks to all of these cards and no deck out there can keep up for that long. Just look back at Game 2 against Jon Finkel in Round 12 if you need reassurance!

G/B Aristocrats

Nantuko Husk is the biggest concern of ours in this matchup. Without this card, they will have a difficult time putting up anything that resembles pressure and we will easily dispatch the rest of their battlefield with our high density of sweepers. With Nantuko Husk around, we will have to sequence our spells in a way which can kill the problematic creature, often involving us throwing away a Chandra, Flamecaller to deal four damage to two creatures.

One thing to remember in this matchup specifically is that Kozilek’s Return’s ability to be cast from the graveyard is, in fact, not a spell that gets placed on the stack. It is simply a triggered ability that you choose to use upon resolution. This means that, when you cast World Breaker, you can choose to not exile a Kozilek’s Return in your graveyard if they sacrifice everything to Nantuko Husk in response to the trigger. It makes life difficult for them sometimes and is something to keep in mind when playing this matchup.


On the Play and Draw:



You can try to get cute in sideboarding for this matchup, but the most important cards are already in the maindeck. Just try to get to seven mana without too much sticking to the battlefield.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. The deck was absolutely amazing for me at #PTSOI and I hope it is for you as well in whatever events you will be playing this weekend.

I also have to say, before, I go how deeply touched I was for anyone who got involved with #paythepros. I didn’t get too outraged about the whole incident, since the people around me were doing that enough, but I did feel slighted by those in Organized Play. It wasn’t until I heard the kind words from many of you expressing your mutual dislike about the whole ordeal that I realized just how much of an impact I have on some of those in the community.

You revitalized me in my pursuit of producing great content wherever it ends up, and validated the choices I made to strive for Magic greatness. $11,000 doesn’t even come close to comparing to the feeling of bliss you all gave me this weekend as you stood behind me and the others who join in my journey. I might play this game for myself, but wouldn’t continue without you. Thank you.

SCG Tour <sup>®</sup>Milwaukee Apr. 30 – May 1!” border=”1″ /></a></div></p>
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