On the day that I wrote this, I spent all of the morning ruminating on Helene Bergeot’s recent announcement over at Wizards.com
about the changes to how qualifying for the Pro Tour were going to work. If you’re a tournament player who is concerned about qualifying for the Pro Tour,
it is basically mandatory reading. On my Facebook page, a lively discussion
erupted, and I felt like there was a lot to think about.
As I got ready for work, I considered writing an article to talk about what the changes meant, both to the game and to me personally. As I contemplated
what it meant, I started to realize I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. The PTQ system, as it currently stands, has been one that I’ve found
problematic for a long time. The many shakeups to this system (like a PTQQ that takes preliminary PTQ winners to a larger regional PTQ, or a PPTQ, if you will) make things different on a fundamental level, but ultimately, how good or bad the changes are going to be is going to largely
be a matter of conjecture.
Apparently, there are a bit more than 3,000 stores worldwide that are currently eligible to run a PTQQ – basically, if a store can run a Grand Prix Trial,
it will be able to run a PTQ. I imagine, however, that this number could certainly grow as some number of stores attempt to become able to take advantage
of this new opportunity. Every one of these stores can run a PTQQ once a season, and then all of those winners can play in the Regional PTQ of their choice
with the Top 4 (or Top 8 of larger events) qualifying for the PT.
I’ve been thinking about classic road warrior Dave Price a lot lately.
If you don’t know who Dave Price is, he’s the Pro Tour Champion from my second Pro Tour, PTLA3, the Tempest Block Constructed Pro Tour in 1998 in Los
Angeles. He played Mono-Red Aggro in that Pro Tour, cementing in many people’s minds the nickname, ‘The King of Beatdown”. He was also, though, “The King
of the Qualifiers”, renowned for his driving stamina, traveling to event after event in search of the qualification, the so-called “Blue Envelope”.
If you haven’t read his classic, “House of
Horrors”, go take a little break and do it now.
He’s been in my mind because I’ve been doing a lot of grinding lately. I didn’t know Dave when he was first making a name for himself. Eventually we met,
and while we would never end up being close, we became friends. I remember walking around Manhattan with him late one night, talking about Magic, about
poetry, about dating. We talked about the loss of romance and how it mixed with the drive of competition we found in the game. He told me about hitting the
road to make it to a big event. I thought I understood completely, but I don’t think I really did until the last few years.
These years have had a lot of drivings. I’ve had a lot of close calls, certainly. A ton of Top 8s in various PTQs, but no cigar. Hitting the road weekend
after weekend and not quite making it is painful, but if you approach it in the right way, it can end up being something more akin to growing pains. I was
talking about the weekends of grinding out tournaments recently at a draft in Madison, and Craig Wescoe said, “Yeah. You ground it out. And now you’re
qualified for the Pro Tour again. Good work!”
PTQs, for a long time, are often largely about just putting in the repetitions. For the most part, a large portion of the people in a tournament are armed
with a reasonable to great deck, and it’s getting to a point where a huge portion of the field are players with five or ten years of tournament experience.
And so I would grind. And get close. But despite a lot of horseshoes and hand grenades, there was, again, no cigar.
At Grand Prix Chicago, before round 13, I was sitting at 10-2. 3-0. I need a 3-0 to Q. “That’s just winning a PTQ Top 8,” I thought. “I can do that.” Winning my last round, round 15 against Chapman Sim, felt so incredible because it meant I was back–far more important to me than another
GP Top 8. Back on the Pro Tour. (Later, I was glad to discover that Chapman had won a PTQ with The Rock for Honolulu. This was great
news to me; he seemed like a great person and he was an excellent competitor.)
In that old Dave Price article, he hit the road for the fabled 4-slot PTQ. I’m sure it was an event run by Barret Moy. What I think that we’ll end up
seeing is something very similar in the future that he saw at that event; people will travel fairly far for these four slot events, and I could
even see, since there will be 31 simultaneous events, people gaming which slot they’ll go to.
All of that is fine. But breaking down the numbers a little bit, the Regional PTQs will qualify 124-248 players, strongly leaning towards the bottom end of
that spectrum. Currently, there are around 200 PTQs. On just these stats alone, it seems likely that it will be much harder to qualify via PTQs. There is,
of course, far more to it than a sheer numbers game, but I do find the situation sad, although I understand Wizards is trying to solve other problems that
are coming out of the overly large PTQs. Again though, I recognize until we see how it plays out it will be hard to weigh all of the factors against each
Grand Prix, of course, are being expanded. Helene Bergeot’s
article goes into the details, but the big thing is an additional eight GPs plus a guarantee that everyone in the Top 8 qualifies for the PT,
regardless of attendance, in addition to those who get a 13-2 record but don’t Top 8. While there is no predicting how many more people will actually
qualify for the PT, this does at least open up over 64 additional opportunities for someone to qualify.
Combined, we’re looking at about 568+ slots in the old system changing over to 556-680+ slots.
While all the facts aren’t in, I expect that GPs will be the most likely future path to the Pro Tour for the unqualified.
A Little Modern
After last week’s article on Modern, one reader
expressed strong disagreement with this claim:
“The Rock is on top of the Modern metagame.”
I was basing my conclusions on a grand total of 18 different PTQs that I could get data for. The results in “GeePee Woostah” (GP Boston-Worcester) have
come back, and they looked like this:
1st – Rock with Lingering Souls
2nd – Jund
3rd – Infect
4th – Affinity
5th – Affinity
6th – Infect
7th – Rock with Lingering Souls
8th – Blue Moon
I was unsurprised to see Lili and Bob and Goyf all doing so well. In addition, Affinity’s success seems pretty obvious, given how powerfully the deck can
perform and the flexibility of the potential sideboard plans. I will say though, I didn’t see this coming:
I kind of wish that Nathan Jones had made it all the way to the finals against eventual champion Robin Dolar just so we could see if Rock really does beat
Scissors in Magic as well.
The other surprise to me was seeing Blue Moon make a come back. While it ended up getting knocked down hard by Thrun, the Last Troll, the deck itself is
quite powerful, and while I have a strong hatred of Think Twice in Modern, I really like the look of Marc Tobiasch’s deck.
Seeing the success of Infect though, was the other pleasure for me from the weekend (especially in the hands of Phil Napoli). To all of my friends who have
been asking me what they should play, I’ve been giving them different variants of my current Infect decklist, depending on where I currently have it.
If you were to ask me today, I’d give you this:
- 2 Rancor
- 4 Might of Old Krosa
- 3 Thoughtseize
- 4 Vines of Vastwood
- 4 Groundswell
- 4 Mutagenic Growth
- 1 Apostle's Blessing
- 1 Wild Defiance
This list is basically entirely constructed in the shadow of Ari Lax’s Pro Tour Return to Ravnica deck, an excellent list
that he placed ninth with at the PT.
My version is maindecking the Thoughtseizes that his original list ran in the board. His own lists made this change, and I wasn’t aware of it initially,
but soon found out that he’d gone down the same path. I spoke with Ari a bit about Infect, and while he’ll tell you he prefers others decks in Modern right
now, he definitely still seemed to think that this deck was the real deal. Thoughtseize does mean that your life total is likely to be very low with this
deck, but it also means that you are likely to have your opponents off balance for just enough time for them to die.
Much like Phil, I had been having a lot of success with Wild Defiance. In fact, I’d had enough success with the card that I cut one of the Apostle’s
Blessing in the main, a card that you can use to protect your Infect creatures, for a maindeck copy of Wild Defiance, which can also protect your Infect
In a world where Lightning Bolt is one of the primary pieces of removal, having a card that says “never will you succeed with that Bolt” feels really good.
Even a Dismember only takes a little bit of help to avoid having your creature live. In return, you can actually only use the barest amount of pump to make
an Infect creature go all the way.
There are large diminishing returns with Wild Defiance, so the extra copies are relegated to the sideboard for those matchups who think Electrolyze is
going to save them.
The card Rancor has been an interesting conundrum for me in the deck. I’ve gone between none and four. Eventually, I ended up at what I like to think of as
“The Zvi Mowshowitz Two Rancor”; a long while back, Zvi ended up at two Rancor in a deck because of, again, the problem of diminishing returns with Rancor.
I’d independently come to a similar conclusion in that deck, but he talked about the idea in print much sooner, so “The Zvi Mowshowitz Two Rancor” it is.
With all of the changes, I had enough room for a singleton Dryad Arbor, largely in the deck as a “spell” to mess with Rock decks, whether it is in killing
a Dark Confidant or in saving your creatures from a Liliana of the Veil. Either way, in this deck, Dryad Arbor isn’t exactly a land, so it is a potential
card to board out.
This deck, along with my Obliterator Rock deck from last
week, are the two decks that I’d still heartily recommend for anyone heading to a Modern PTQ. I think that before this GP weekend, the BUG Infect
deck would be the clear favorite between the two, but now that Infect might suddenly be back on people’s radars, many of the advantages of surprise are
going to be gone. It is still an incredible deck, but a prepared opponent can make a much more difficult road for the deck.
I keep looking to my Magic calendar to see what I have coming up. I won’t be at Pro Tour M15 (where I’d recommend U/W Control, Burn, or Stompy), but the
next event I see is the WMCQ qualifier in Chicago at the end of August. In between now and then is Grand Prix Portland, Gen Con, and a week off.
If you end up at Gen Con, come by booth #664 and check out my magazine, Meeple Monthly: The Game
Insider’s Magazine. If you love board games and gaming in general, I think it is a must read. I hope I see you there!