It was…electrifying. Starting out 7-1 at a Pro Tour felt like justice. Justice for the hard work we had put in for the last few weeks of testing. Justice for everyone who had ever doubted me. Justice for my entire life. It was finally time to do something with such a great start. It was time for me to wake up. Eight rounds and six losses later, I felt like dying. The proverbial winds at my back had stopped me just short of the oasis, and now I was left with nothing.
Woe is me. Etc., etc., etc. I’m not here to make you feel sorry for me. I’ve done my wallowing, and now I’m here to help you learn from my mistakes. I don’t know if this is a problem for any of you guys, but I can’t seem to keep focused over the course of two or three days. At the last StarCityGames.com Invitational and this Pro Tour, I started 7-1 on Day 1 and followed with six or more losses on the second day. I’m never really sure exactly when the wheels fall off, but they do and it’s really hard for me to keep a solid mind during this process.
Regardless, it is something I need to work on, because every major tournament I attend over the next forever is going to take multiple days to complete. I have to keep the fire. I have to get a good night’s sleep. I have to make sure I’m on top of my game for the entire weekend and not just for a single day. I can generally rebound easily from a single loss, but the more losses in a row that begin to compound, the more I start to panic and lose focus. The thing is, at a Pro Tour a bad draft can be your undoing. If you can’t salvage a win in a draft, even with a pile of crap deck, then you’re not going to recover. It is going to affect you in the long run.
So what to do? Draft more. Be more prepared. Talk about the format more. Discuss pick orders for certain archetypes and colors. Make sure that your draft game is solid, and the rest will follow. This is something I need to work on more than anything. I will often feel confident in my drafting ability for a particular format, only to end up 0-3 and distraught. I feel myself forcing archetypes even when they aren’t there, just because I know that archetype is "stronger" in a vacuum.
In our initial drafts in Roanoke, I went 2-1 or 3-0 in the first five drafts, but I ended up going 1-2 or 0-3 in the last four drafts we did because I didn’t have the same objectivity I had in the first few drafts. I knew what cards were the "best" and drafted those colors instead of the colors I was getting passed. Forcing archetypes can be dangerous, and it can be costly at high-level play.Â
For Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, Team SCG Blue did a ton of prep work, and it paid off with one of our members skyrocketing all the way into the Top 4! Congrats to Josh Cho on making it so far in his first Pro Tour ever! While we both started off 7-1, he continued on, never losing his fire and just crushing everyone in his path. But our exodus has a humbler beginning.
About two weeks before the Pro Tour, when the entire set was spoiled, we set in motion our testing group in Roanoke, VA. We had players from Team SCG Blue travel into town to do drafts, build decks, and test matchups that we expected to face, all in an attempt to break the format wide open.
Early into testing, I had one strategy in mind that I thought would be pretty insane. Geist of Saint Traft is really hard to deal with in Block, because there are no good answers to him other than copies of himself. The sweepers are fairly costly, and some decks are just 100% dead to him when suited up with a Spectral Flight. I knew that I wanted to build something using this interaction, so I got to work while other people built Self-Mill, Boros, Jund, and Naya. We had a nice little gauntlet at the beginning, with people eventually throwing in control decks like U/R and RUG, but I focused on Bant for the first few days of our testing.
The following is what I initially posted about the deck in our forums.
"Again, a very rough list but this deck actually seems absurd:
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Strangleroot Geist (not sure about this dude)
3 Invisible Stalker
4 Geist of Saint Traft
2 Borderland Ranger
2 Dungeon Geists
4 Wolfir Silverheart
2 Faith’s Shield
4 Spectral Flight
4 Garruk Relentless
3 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Evolving Wilds
Thoughts? Brad pointed out that Outwit counters Bonfire, which is one of the only cards I’m really "afraid" of, but that seems like a sideboard card at best. We can ignore white cards that aren’t creatures, cut Faith’s Shield and add another Dungeon Geists and possible a Briarpack Alpha or something cool, or maybe just the fourth Stalker.
People don’t have much removal in the way of killing big monsters or hexproof guys. I’m under the impression that it is almost positively safe to put Spectral Flight on nearly any creature, as most played removal is going to be sorcery speed."
Over the course of a few days of testing, Gerry Thompson suggested Abundant Growth and Increasing Savagery, both of which sounded pretty awesome since the biggest issue was the mana base as well as not having enough ways to make our Invisible Stalker relevant. Tamiyo was a little difficult to cast, thanks to Cavern of Souls being one of our major blue sources, so it was cut rather quickly though it felt incredibly powerful alongside Dungeon Geists.
I thought that the deck needed a way to slow down the aggro decks, but there didn’t seem like many options. Fiend Hunter was too difficult to cast, and Bant didn’t have many removal spells other than that. Silent Departure was on our short list of things to try, but it never felt good enough because all we really tested against was Boros. If we had played it a lot against Naya, I feel like we would have figured out just how good the deck was and how good Silent Departure was against that deck. Here was our "final" list before moving on to other archetypes:
- 2 Borderland Ranger
- 4 Invisible Stalker
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Geist of Saint Traft
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 2 Dungeon Geists
- 4 Wolfir Silverheart
I tested with the deck for about two days with various configurations, but I never built a version that could reliably beat a Champion of the Parish nut-draw. So we resigned to building more resilient aggro decks, but we found out one thing:
This guy was just outrageous. With most of the removal in the format being sorcery speed or damage based, it was unlikely that your average opponent would be able to deal with this guy. Fiend Hunter was only a temporary answer thanks to cards like Bonfire of the Damned, Brimstone Volley, and Garruk Relentless. The only cards that we found that were inherently good against Wolfir Silverheart were Sever the Bloodline and Victim of Night. None of us really wanted to play black because then we were left without the ability to play Gavony Township and Restoration Angel, both of which had been absurd alongside Huntmaster of the Fells.
But it took Brian Braun-Duin to bring it all together. The most important member of Team SCG Blue, Brian had been playing Block Constructed since just Innistrad was legal because it was a tournament format on Magic Online. He knew every card from Innistrad and Dark Ascension, knew how they interacted, and could give you a detailed description of what decks it was good or bad in. He could also give you example off the top of his head at any moment because he had tried them all.
I credit Brian in helping to get Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue banned, because he built multiple decks right after Dark Ascension came to Magic Online that continuously went 4-0, innovating at every turn to defeat mirrors and hate cards. I just want you to know that you should pay attention to him and his articles on SCG. They will help you a lot, and you’ll have a few laughs in the process. He’s a great player and a smart guy to boot, and you’ll be glad you listened to him. I know that we are.
After Brian called me on the Wednesday the week before the Pro Tour to tell me he had a new brew, I was excited. At first it seemed a little rough, but that’s what a testing team is for. It was a Naya deck that utilized all of our favorite cards in the format. It took a lot of testing and tweaking as well as some last-minute changes, but here is the final list we ended up with for the Pro Tour:
- 3 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
- 3 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Scorned Villager
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Wolfir Silverheart
- 1 Ulvenwald Tracker
While we all had some last minute sideboard changes, we all had about 70/75 of the same cards. Without a phone or reliable Internet, we weren’t really able to connect with other members of the group in the eleventh hour, leaving some people with a few different choices. We also heard that dealers were selling out of Wolfir Silverheart. While it started at $3, it ended up at $12 before the tournament began, which is a pretty outrageous jump.
While talking about our deck the night before the tournament, Gerry informed us that he had talked with Team SCG Black. None of them really had a deck they liked, so he shared bunch of our testing and gave them some ideas. After all, while we are separate teams, we still represent the same company and most of us are friends. What I didn’t realize is that no one would be playing much Boros. We were so locked into Naya that I completely forgot about Bant, but Sam Black and a lot of members of Team SCG Black didn’t have that hurdle to jump, leaving them with a powerful shell without much of a predator to keep it in check. It was the perfect storm, but I couldn’t see it.
Numbers after Day 1 indicated that over 100 people had played some form of Naya and only 40 or so had played Boros. If I had known that information going into the tournament, I would have played Bant without question or at least put in a lot more effort to make the deck better. While I didn’t end up playing the deck, I’m glad that I was able to brew up a deck that ended up putting two members of an SCG team into the Top 8. I will not try to steal credit for the deck, because we gave up on it before making it into a real powerhouse. I was never at the point where I was willing to cut Garruk Relentless from the maindeck, which would have solved a lot of our issues. Sam and the rest of Team SCG Black turned it into a monster with only a single night before the tournament.
Regardless, we ended up doing very well in Constructed on the whole. Three members of Team SCG Blue went 5-0 in the first run of Constructed with our Naya deck, which seems a little bonkers to me. The deck was really solid and had few weaknesses. I would have happily played the entire tournament as Constructed, since I am not really amazing at Limited. Even after fluking into the finals of a Limited Grand Prix, I find myself struggling with drafting on a daily basis. I learned a lot from the drafts we did and I was probably the most prepared for a Pro Tour I have ever been, but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough; I’m slowly realizing that fact, and it is killing me.
Perfection is something we all strive for, but it’s rarely something our species can attain. I feel like Magic is an art form, ever changing just as we are. Each Pro Tour finds us with a new set to play with, new archetypes to draft, and new decks to build. That constant change and evolution is what keeps us coming back for more, because we can’t help but try to solve…everything. The format. The best deck. The answer to each question we ask is only valid for as long as the metagame stays the same. With such a huge influx of information every week from regular tournaments, we can alter our gameplan to combat specific changes or archetypes, giving us small edges in an otherwise blind landscape.
"… We find ourselves reflecting. Finding out, that in fact, we came back. We were always coming back."Â
Grand Prix Minneapolis will be happening this weekend, and I’m looking forward to having some of the game’s best brew up some new archetypes for the post-AVR Standard format. While we have all been focusing on Block Constructed for the last few weeks, I’m looking forward to getting back to a regular format. With the new massively increased payout for the StarCityGames.com Open Series, I can’t wait to get back to the grind!
Over the next few months I will be traveling non-stop, focusing on my game more than ever. I hope to put up great results and keep you guys entertained during the process. The weekend after this one, the SCG Open Series will be coming to Nashville for Standard and Legacy, and I should be attending. Hopefully I can come up with something sweet for the Standard Open, but I will most likely be playing Maverick in Legacy until someone proves to me that it isn’t a good deck. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you guys are too! See you next weekend!
Thanks for reading.
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