I would guess that most people reading my columns have never played on the Pro Tour – simply because the great majority of Magic players have never played on the Pro Tour. I would also guess that many people reading my columns would like to play on the Pro Tour and compete regularly or semi-regularly in their area’s PTQs. The unfortunate news is that when you finally qualify and go to your first PT there is a very good chance that you will fail to make Day 2 and be back on the PTQ circuit again.
That said, it’s all worth it. Playing on the Tour is a tremendous experience.
My first Pro Tour was made all the more fun by the fact that Your Move Games was at or near the height of its power. Rob Dougherty had qualified by winning the only PTQ within driving distance that he hadn’t organized, and he had designed The Utility Belt, a R/U Tinker deck, built for maximal utility and hate-resistance. Sure, we had Colossus and Phyrexian Processor to Tinker for, but we also had Citanul Flute and our most common first Tinker move was to get a Flute, activate it for one and then smile as our opponent asked to read the Goblin Welder we played with our last point of mana.
Later in the game, of course, we might Flute for Avalanche Riders or Karn, Silver Golem. We might Tinker for Lifeline, another card that a lot of people had to read. The deck could play out so many ways, involved tons of decisions and was probably the most fun constructed deck I’ve ever played.
Story one: deciding to play the deck
I’ve always liked to build my own decks, and naturally I built some decks for our team to test. One was like the Tolarian Academy/Wildfire deck that ended up winning the Pro Tour except that my version played fair. I wasn’t even running Tolarian Academy – instead, I used Worn Powerstone to ramp up to Wildfire on turn 4. That deck didn’t exactly make the cut, although it actually performed fairly well against the field.
My next deck was a B/W attempt to abuse two “sleeping” enchantments with some obvious synergy – Lurking Evil and Opal Avenger. Both were undercosted for what they did, and the life loss cost of Lurking Evil would turn on the Opal Avenger. Depending on the opposing deck, this might mean you were presenting a three-turn clock or you might be offering up a slower clock with a great blocker. Radiant’s Dragoons helped shore up the ground and recover lost life, and the rest of the deck packed a lot of removal. Once again, it wasn’t in the league of the final decks but it was doing well against most of the early decks we came up with, and I really liked its resistance to Wildfire strategies and the fact that a deck that was quite capable of sacrificing half of its life to turn on a couple of cheap fatties (no pun intended) was crushing any beatdown decks we managed to come up with.
Then I got a chance to play against the Utility Belt. Darwin was Batman and he was facing some problems. He’d gotten off to a slow start and my deck was doing what it was supposed to do. I had two active Lurking Evils swinging hard in the air, and two 2/5s on the ground – one a Dragoon on which I hadn’t paid echo. This last was significant because Darwin’s only way to stay alive was via Lifeline, Karn and Claws of Gix, which allowed him to turn his artifacts into creatures and sacrifice them for life without losing his board. Naturally I wasn’t going to pay echo if the Dragoons were going to keep coming back, so essentially Darwin was taking eight in the air every turn while I was gaining five life and had the ground pretty well protected.
So I won, right? Naw, Darwin didn’t even need Pikula’s help.
First he got out enough permanents that he wasn’t losing life anymore and actually started gaining some. He also put himself into play so I was losing two lands a turn (one during his EoT and one during mine). That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we like to call, “Gaining control of the game.” Once I was out of land and Darwin had stopped the life-loss he sacrificed Lifeline and Fluted up a Crater Hellion to clear my pesky flyers out of the way. The Dragoons didn’t come back the next time I couldn’t pay echo and at that point the board was a 2/5 on my side facing land, artifacts and a 6/6 on Darwin’s side.
I don’t think I ever seriously considered not playing the deck from that point on.
Quick aside on Crater Hellion. One of my favorite things is helping less experienced players get better, so at various points in my “career” there have been people who go over their drafts or sealed deck builds with me. One of them (sadly I forget which one) was feeding me in an Urza Block draft. I won the draft and afterwards we went over what had happened and I was quite surprised to find out that we were both Red. I naturally asked him what he had taken over Crater Hellion – expecting him to say that at that point he was forcing some other color – and found that he took some Red spell like Heat Ray over it. My reaction was something like this:
“You don’t pass Crater Hellion, let alone for a Red card. You know how Wrath of God is good in draft? Well Crater Hellion is better than Wrath of God, he’s Wrath of Guy. You play him and it’s like Wrath of God except you still have a 6/6 guy!”
That brings us to our next story. My opponent was, I believe, Manuel Bevand – playing the mono-G deck that was designed to beat the artifact decks. Sometimes the foil deck beats the best deck but as often as not it seems like the best deck simply wins – and PT:NJ seemed to be of the latter situation.
Manuel dumped his hand against me fairly quickly, putting a bunch of creatures and two Hidden Guerillas into play. I was quite happy to turn them by playing out a mana artifact which I Tinkered into a Phyrexian Colossus – after which I cast Wrath of Guy.
If you thought that sounded unfair, you may not know what Rob Dougherty did that same event. His opponent was playing another foil deck – R/U control – but Robert had powered through in game one. After sideboarding, Rob’s opponent was full of everything hateful from Annul to Rack and Ruin and more, and apparently his playtesting had shown that it was best to draw.
So he says to Rob, “That was a pretty good start you had that game. Let’s see if you can do better this time. You can play first.”
This isn’t quite as insane as it sounds. But it’s close – unless you have Annul in your opening hand, there’s a major risk that we’ll put out way too many threats for you to deal with. Rob didn’t disappoint.
Academy, Claw, Claw, tap Academy for UU, Grim Monolith, tap Monolith for 3, Voltaic Key, untap Monolith (one floating), tap Monolith, Phyrexian Processor, pay ten life, go.
Rob’s opponent thought for a moment and then showed Rob his hand, which had at least one Annul in it. If he’d gone first he could have countered the Monolith (or the Processor if he felt he could risk leaving Rob with that much mana) and there was a good chance that when he cast Rack and Ruin two turns later Rob would be virtually out of the game. But Annul doesn’t cut it when your opponent is about to start spitting out 10/10s on turn 2 and you’re on the draw.
Hugs ’til next time,