First off, I want to thank everyone for all the support that they gave me this past weekend on my run to the Top 8 at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. The weekend was already amazing, but it really pushed it over the top to see people commenting on Facebook and Twitter. It goes without saying that you guys are awesome.
A question that was asked a lot over the course of the weekend was how Team SCG Blue came into being. My involvement began in the days following my Pro Tour Qualifier win in Roanoke a couple months back. Gerry Thompson had expressed a desire to team up with a bunch of East Coast people that were qualified for PT AVR, and I wanted to have the best chance for my first Pro Tour. Brad Nelson had just moved to Roanoke, and he and Gerry went about putting together what is now known as Team SCG Blue.
The weekend of the Avacyn Restored Prerelease was the first time I had the opportunity to meet with the rest of Team SCG Blue in person. Charles Gindy, who recently moved to the fine state of Virginia, and I hopped into my car and made the trip down to Roanoke. Upon our arrival, we met up with the Roanoke-based part of the team that was already hard at work. A productive weekend of drafting and brewing new decks was had. It was during this time that Brian Braun-Duin came up with the initial shell of the Naya deck that most of the team would end up playing.
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 3 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
- 4 Wolfir Avenger
With an idea of how the Draft and Block Constructed formats were shaping up, we went our separate ways to begin our individual testing.
The distance between our team was dealt with upon the creation of a group forum. We were able to bounce ideas off one another online. After focusing in on a U/G/R Self-Mill deck featuring a few Artful Dodges for some sick game ending combos with Ghoultree and Splinterfright, it became clear that we were onto something with the Naya list. This became more apparent when I played a few games with Wolfir Silverheart. Every time it resolved, it felt amazing to get in there with a 5/5 Avacyn’s Pilgrim.
With an idea of what we were playing in mind, I flew into Barcelona last Wednesday to meet up with Brad Nelson, Michael Jacob, and the husband-wife duo of Todd and Kali Anderson. The rest of the team would be flying in the day after, but we had some final card choices to narrow down in the meantime. After a night of debating the merits of card choices, we had finally become set on about 73 of our final 75 cards. Here is the list that I eventually registered.
- 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
As confident as I felt about our deck choice, I was still anxious to get started. It was finally time for all of our hard work to pay off as I began play on my first Pro Tour. Here is my record from Day 1.
Rd 1: Ricky Sidher 2-1 W
Rd 2: Tung-Yi Cheng 2-1 W
Rd 3: Jorge Almeida Valdes 2-0 W
Rd 4: Nick Carter 2-0 W
Rd 5: Emanuel Sutor 2-1 W
Rd 6: Marc Lalague 2-0 W
Rd 7: Anders Melin 2-0 W
Rd 8: Tomek Pedrakowski 0-2 L
After a shaky start in round 1, winning on the back of a Ricky Sidher mulligan to four, I was able to cruise through the rest of the Constructed portion with a perfect 5-0 record. The Draft portion was a different challenge. After only getting about five practice drafts in at my local game store, Comics & Gaming, this first draft would be pretty close to being a Prerelease event for me. Many thanks to the local guys at the shop, especially Ray Tautic, Ben Isgur, and Tom Chilemi, for helping me prepare for this portion. I was able to 2-1 the first draft and move on to Day 2 with a 7-1 record.
Immediately after the draft, I was kicking myself for a very obvious mistake in Pack 1, Pick 3. I have no idea why I took the first Thatcher’s Revolt over the Kessig Malcontents, but I had very little time to dwell on the mistakes made in the draft. Here is how the second draft portion went.
Rd 9: Bryan Hawley 1-2 L
Rd 10: Shouta Yasooka 2-0 W
Rd 11: Robert Jurkovic 2-0 W
I was a bit down on my draft mistakes, a mood that was only magnified by losing to Bryan Hawley in round 9. I knew that I had to get my mind right if I wanted to accomplish the goals that I had set out for myself, and I tried to shake a feeling of not belonging
Going from 7-0 to 0-2 in the last two rounds was a pretty bad feeling; there was a little turbulence building inside about how the event was going. When they called my name to the feature match area, I had the chance to really prove to myself that I belonged and that I deserved to be here. Sitting down against Shouta Yasooka was a true litmus test. Before the match began I told myself that if I could get past a Pro Player of the Year, I truly deserved to be at this tournament. With a clear mind and a cooperative deck, I was able to roll over Shouta in two very quick games.
This victory gave me confidence in myself, and I could feel the momentum beginning to shift in my favor as I defeated Robert Jurkovic in the last round of the draft. This feeling carried over to the start of the next Block Constructed portion.
Rd 12: Matti-Jussi Lindholm 2-0 W
Rd 13: Denniz Rachid 2-0 W
Rd 14: Gaudenis Vidugiris 1-2 L
Rd 15: Vincent Lemoine 2-1 W
Rd 16: Jon Finkel ID
After defeating Denniz Ranchid in round 13, Brian David-Marshall approached me about doing a deck tech for coverage. I was a little hesitant at first. I knew that I had to focus on winning one of the next two rounds to lock up a spot in the Top 8, and I expressed my desire to pass the interview along to Brad Nelson, who was still very much alive in the tournament. BDM and I agreed that if I lost and Brad won the next round, Brad would do the deck tech and give me a moment to gather myself for my last shot at a win and in.
As luck would have it, Brad and I were both in the feature match area for round 14. I was to battle against Gaudenis Vidugiris, playing Sam Black Bant Hexproof deck that both Gau and Jon Finkel made it to Sunday with.
Shortly after I was steam-rolled in game 3 by Gau, BDM came up to me for the deck tech. Needless to say, I was in an odd state of mind. I knew that I had to prepare for my final win and in for the Top 8, but Brad Nelson had also been knocked out. I was a little on edge as I prepared for the interview, but I am very glad that I was given the opportunity to do so.
The inner-workings of the Pro Tour were truly a sight to be seen. Behind the black curtains laid a rush of people scrambling back and forth between updating the website coverage, manning the commentator’s booth, and doing god knows what else to make the live coverage that we see online hum along. I gained a new respect for all the hard working people not just in front of the cameras but behind the scenes working to bring us the up to the second reports of the Pro Tour. I tip my hat to Sheldon Menery, Zac Hill, BDM, Steve Sadin, and everyone else that helps make the coverage side of the Pro Tour run smoothly.
You can view my deck tech here.
After being led through my first interview by Zac Hill, it was time to get down to it against Vincent Lemoine. He had brought the Travis Woo inspired Angel of Glory’s Rise deck to the table, and I knew that it would be hard fought battle for the Top 8. After a tense game 2 that turned when he was able to stabilize with Vault of the Archangel and ultimately win after resurrecting his Humans with his Angel, we were shuffling up for the final game for all the marbles.
After keeping a "loose" (trademark Christian Calcano) one lander on the play, I was able to draw into some lands to unleash my hand onto the battlefield. I knew that he was holding a Blasphemous Act, short one red mana source of wiping my board away, but sometimes you have to roll the hard six and hope he never gets there. After swinging for lethal, I saw my teammates rushing to the feature match area to celebrate.
And just like that, I was sitting in a position to draw into the Top 8 against none other than the greatest of all time, Jon Finkel. Growing up, I had read stories about his exploits on the Pro Tour, how dominating he was, and how intimidating he could be. I will always remember what the first words he ever spoke to me were.
"I guess we can draw. You’re a good matchup."
Relief washed over me. I was able to accomplish more than I could have ever hoped for on my first attempt at the professional level. But the event was far from over. I went into the event with high expectations. I wanted to place in the Top 25 to secure an invite and plane ticket to PT Return to Ravnica. When that goal was achieved, I set my sights even higher. When I drew with Jon, I knew in my heart that I wanted to become the worst luckiest Pro Tour champion ever. With a new goal in mind, my team converged on our apartment to begin testing.
Early on that night, we found that the quarterfinals matchup should be fairly straightforward. I felt that Team SCG Blue had fine-tuned the best version of Naya. After a few games, I turned in early for what would turn out to be a surprisingly good night’s sleep. The butterflies that I had always imagined were absent from my stomach, and I was able to rest being confident in our team’s ability to solve the matchups that lay ahead the next morning.
After making some last minute adjustments to my sideboarding plans, it was time to begin Sunday play. The one thing that really stood out to me throughout this experience was how long the matches were. Heightened by the pressure of the match, the best of five format is really a grind. Thankfully, I was able to get through to the semifinals in a 3-0 sweep. Coverage of my Top 8 matches can be seen here: Â quarterfinals, semifinals.
Looking back on this past weekend, it really was an amazing experience. Being able to succeed as a team was awesome. Having an amazing support system around me made it even better. It was a letdown losing to Alexander Hayne in the semifinals, but I cannot be too disappointed in my finish. Alex was a true gentleman and an excellent player. He deserved everything that he earned this past weekend and was a very worthy champion.
The biggest thing that I learned from my time on Magic’s grandest stage is that getting the repetitions in for pressure situations is huge. I thought that I would have been more nervous under the lights of the feature match area playing for huge sums of money and in front of commentators and thousands of people online. I will not say that it is identical, but playing on the StarCityGames.com Open Series and Invitationals on SCGLive has the same sort of feel as being under the lights in Barcelona. Having a training ground to practice for the pressures of the Pro Tour in the Open Series was invaluable.
The changes made to the StarCityGames.com Open Series and Invitationals are insane. Just look at the 1st place prize money for the SCG Invitational in Indianapolis coming up. $15,000. Fifteen thousand dollars! That is more than I took home for getting third place at the Pro Tour. If you are not taking the time to qualify for this event, you are missing out on an incredible tournament series; one that has helped shape me into the player that I am today.
I am proud to have represented Team SCG Blue to the best of my abilities, and I am thrilled about the success of our team over the course of the weekend. I owe all of my success to the team that really came together, built a sweet 75, and supported one another over the course of the event. I am far from the best player on our team, and it could have been any one of us to break through to the Top 8.
It has been an amazing journey this past year. From cutting my teeth as a StarCityGames.com Open Series grinder, to Pro Tour Qualifier winner, and ultimately finishing third at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, it has been a roller coaster of a ride. There has never been a better time to play meaningful Magic; large-scale events are being held just about every weekend. As for me, I am looking forward to getting back to the grind, and hopefully I will be able to catch up with you guys in the coming weeks on the StarCityGames.com Open Series.
As always, thanks for reading!