Pro Tour Theros: Lessons Learned

Learn more about Standard before SCG Open Series: Indianapolis featuring the Invitational this weekend by reading about what Frank learned at Pro Tour Theros.

The following took place in the Team Luxurious Hair testing house in Dublin, Ireland between 11 PM and midnight on October 10th, the night before Pro Tour Theros.

Teammate A: This is it! This is the answer!

Teammate B (while pointing at A): Genius! Pure genius!

Teammate C: For sure. I definitely want one or two somewhere in the 75.

Teammate B: Are you kidding?! I’m playing no less than four maindeck.

Me (holding back vomit): This is just some sick joke, right?

Teammates A, B, & C: No way; you just don’t understand.

At this point I retreated to my room and fell asleep, hoping I’d wake up to find out the entire conversation was a nightmare all along. I’ll get to what happened when I woke up a little later. Spoiler Alert: It was not a dream.

What was the card in question? The so-called answer to our prayers?

Ok, to be fair, there is a sizable amount of backstory that led to this unfortunate moment in time. To put it simply, we dropped the ball as a team when it came to testing. Our biggest pitfall definitely was that we didn’t do enough effective information gathering. Don’t get me wrong; we jammed a ton of games in a pretty wide variety of matchups, but we didn’t actually do anything productive with it. We never really recorded how matchups felt or why one deck was winning or losing. We certainly played a lot during our week in Dublin, but we learned very little.

As a result, no deck we had ever became properly tuned or felt like the deck to play. Everyone just had their own pet deck that they would play and maybe make minimal changes to. As our week of testing came to a close, everyone started to panic. No one really liked the decks we had. Everyone was looking for an easy out. Then the idea of Mogis’s Marauder came seemingly out of nowhere (I’m pretty sure someone noticed it sitting on top of a pile of commons/uncommons left over from draft). Our team was very enamored with the Falter effect of Brave the Elements, and what is Marauder if not Brave the Elements on a stick? After a few Gatherer searches and theorycrafting, most of the team was sold on the idea that this was the deck to play:

Ari already talked about this deck last week, so I won’t go too into it. To be honest the deck isn’t as awful as I’m making it sound. Against the right metagame it could actually be a force to be reckoned with. Any reasonable draw from this deck should crush any control deck playing a ton of tap lands and relying on Sphinx’s Revelation and Supreme Verdict to bail it out.

Unfortunately it’s matchup against any deck playing Voice of Resurgence is pretty abysmal, which was the whole reason the Shadow Alley Denizen conversation started in the first place. Your opponent could mulligan to four and play first-turn Soldier of the Pantheon into second-turn Voice, and you’re most likely losing that game. The thing that bugs me the most is we knew this going in and went for it anyway due to lack of a better option. The fact that the breakout deck of the tournament was playing Frostburn Weird and Omenspeaker just compounded our error. I’m confident with a better process we would have come up with a much better deck. On the bright side we learned a lot about what went wrong and won’t be making the same mistakes again.

One thing I did love about the deck is just how good Tymaret, the Murder King is. Having access to his sacrifice abilities allowed me to win a few games not many other cards could have. Against a B/W opponent I was able to beat a Blood Baron of Vizkopa by swinging my entire team in and sacrificing the creature blocked by Blood Baron to return Tymaret to hand and negate lifelink. Against a B/R/W player I was able to fade the usually backbreaking life gain from Warleader’s Helix just by having Tymaret in my graveyard. That combined with the natural reach gained by chucking creatures at my opponent’s dome made Tymaret the standout card of the deck for me.

At this point you’re probably asking yourself why I played this deck if I felt so adversely towards it. To answer that question we’re going to need to take a look at what happened when I woke up the morning of the Pro Tour.

When I went to sleep the night prior following the Shadow Alley Denizen conversation, eight of the twelve people on our team were locked into playing B/R Aggro. Upon waking up it was as if the world had gone back in time a few days. Four of the eight people who were going to play the deck panicked and decided to audible to their pet decks from earlier in testing. With only four people left in Camp Shred-Freak, my confidence in playing the deck was certainly shaken. The only upside available was everyone decided that Shadow Alley Denizen was indeed terrible after a good night’s sleep. I had been testing an Esper Control list all week, and when I arrived at the site half an hour before deck registration, I almost caved and audibled to my pet deck like some of my teammates.

For reference, here is the list I would have played:

The main reason I didn’t end up playing this deck can be summed up easily—Merciless Eviction was way too good. Wait, what? How can a card being too good be a reason not to play a deck?

In so many of our testing games, I would get to a point where my only possible out to survive would be Merciless Eviction. Either my opponent would have multiple planeswalkers in play, creatures that are hard to deal with like Voice of Resurgence beating me down, or a card like Whip of Erebos or Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] demanding an answer.

The point I’m trying to make is there were just too many different types of threats that needed to be answered. No matter how many times I switched it up, I was never truly satisfied with any particular removal package. There was even a point where I switched to U/W Control so I could play multiple Planar Cleansings main. Unfortunately with that route I could no longer play Detention Sphere and had to rely on the much weaker Renounce the Guilds to try to answer early problem permanents. At least with Doom Blade you can kill Voice of Resurgence end of turn to set up for Supreme Verdict. Ever try to do the same thing with Renounce the Guilds?

Let me tell you, it ain’t pretty.

That being said, if a lot of people decide to play Mono-Blue Devotion variants in the upcoming weeks, Supreme Verdict decks are well positioned to deal with them. I do think Esper Control is poised to be good deck; I just think you will need to take a different approach with it. Clearly being reactive isn’t working out, so I think taking a more proactive approach is best. My teammate Brian DeMars is a master Esper player and wrote about that last week.

Now that we’ve gotten the heavy stuff out of the way, I’d like to take a look at a more casual deck that I built during testing. One of cards that really impressed me out of Esper was Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. There would be games where a turn 2 removal spell into Ashiok would end things before they began. I decided to try to utilize the idea "the best defense is a good offense" and build an aggressive U/B deck focused on Ashiok.

I’ll tell you right up front that this deck didn’t exactly work out as planned. Ashiok, Lifebane Zombie, and Duskmantle Seer were all very powerful, but the rest of the shell was definitely lacking. Neither Thrill-Kill Assassin nor Blood Scrivener are exactly all-star two-drops. However, I did like the feel of how the deck played quite a bit and am going to try to tune it up a bit in the future. If nothing else I know I’ll be sleeving it up for Friday Night Magic at least once or twice.

All in all, I have to say my trip to Dublin was a net positive. Sure, I didn’t do nearly as well as I would have hoped in the Pro Tour, but I did get to meet a bunch of awesome people and make a lot of new friends. Spending an entire week with the members of Team Luxurious Hair was a blast, and I hope to be able to work with them in future. I know we all learned a lot from this experience, and I aim to get a chance to apply that knowledge to testing for the next Pro Tour. For now it’s back to grinding PTQs for me.

As they say in Dublin, cheers!

Frank Skarren