I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to get the behind the scenes of what happens before a Pro Tour and examine the contributing factors to both team and player success. Since I knew I was going to attend New Orleans well ahead of time, I figured I’d start chatting with various pros in the month leading up to the tournament, in order to see how their testing was progressing. I wanted to find out what decks they thought looked good (or bad) ahead of time, examine their predicted metagame, then look at what they ended up playing, and analyze what went right or wrong and contributed most strongly to their success.
Unfortunately for me, I was not aware of how secretive the pros actually are. In spite of a promise from me not to reveal anything said to anyone, and also not to publish the story until Day Three of the Pro Tour, nobody (excluding Antonino DeRosa) would talk to me until we got on site. Players who are normally chatty about most any magical subject suddenly clammed up when I asked them about their preparation for New Orleans. Apparently, they have taken Aaron Forsythe motto to heart and these days, Pros are doing everything possible to make certain their "tech" remains secret. It doesn’t help that they don’t really get anything by talking to me except some additional press… I certainly didn’t have any amazing Extended decks lying around to exchange on a tech-for-talk basis.
However, in spite of my inability to get the pros to chat ahead of time about what they were playing and what they thought would be played in New Orleans, I still did some on-site interviews with members of Your Move Games, CMU-TOGIT, and Ze Germans – three of the biggest and most successful teams around. I tried to find out what they did to prepare for the tournament, what their predicted metagame was and how that differed from the actual, and to register their opinions about the hottest decks in the field.
Inside Your Move Games with Jeff Cunningham
Jeff is one of the most entertaining Magic writers around, and he’s rather amusing in person as well. He drives a Cadillac, wears a perm, and he’s always stylish and always comes correct with the hizot info on the fo’ one one. In short, Jeff is a P.I.M.P. I caught up to him just before the Top 8, where he played”spotter” for Randy Buehler and Brian Kibler match commentary, and this is what he had to say about YMG and Pro Tour: New Orleans before he showed me how his pimp hand was way strong, by smacking me out of his way so he could get to work.
On Playtesting Time:”YMG is broken down into two contingents: The IRC testers and the In Real Life testers. I happen to be a heavy IRC tester, and playtesting simply does not happen across the two groups. It’s a really weird dynamic. Anyway, right in the middle of our playtesting time for New Orleans, half the team went out to San Diego to work with Upper Deck on their new Marvel game, so two weeks of playtesting time got tossed out the window.
“Another problem that we had while playtesting was that our gauntlet was flawed, and that actually hurt me quite a bit. Our Tinker decks didn’t have Chalice of the Void (which I didn’t have a good way to deal with), our Goblin decks weren’t running Charbelcher, and Zvi flatly dismissed the Mana Belcher decks as being awful, even though some of us thought it was pretty good. In our predicted metagame, the Mana Belcher decks would have been bad, but here they had a great deal of success. You just never know how early it can be disrupted, and we clearly had no idea how much disruption people were going to run (or not run, as the case may be) at the tournament.
“We also got some downright bad information. We all thought CMU-TOGIT was running Angry Hermit, so seeing 80% of their team show up with Tinker was a bit of a surprise. I just joined YMG a month ago, but for this Pro Tour there was weird dynamic going on and it was pretty disorganized.”
On The Metagame:”We knew there would be a lot of Goblins. We didn’t think Tinker would be as good, and we thought Hermit would be better, especially since we thought most of TOGIT was playing it. I personally thought The Rock was a solid deck and expected to see more of it. Seeing the Goblin Charbelcher decks was not a surprise to me, but seeing them do so well was.”
What were the best two decks before the tournament?”Before the tournament, I would have said The Rock and Gobvantage.”
What are the best two decks in Extended now?”The Tinker-Stax deck that Punisher built and probably the Mana Belcher decks.”
Why did YMG end up with Scepter-Oath and Scepter-Tog? “Well, Psychatog is my baby. I’ve put in hundreds of hours of playtest time with the deck and know it really well. I played it because it has tons of disruption and a good plan against our predicted metagame. In fact, if I had been better prepared for Chalice and changed maybe five cards between the sideboard and maindeck, I might be in the Top 8. Rack and Ruin would have been pretty nice.
“As for the Oath deck, people weren’t comfortable with my deck for whatever reason. Then they ran into time constraint problems from the Upper Deck trip, and no one ever had any decks they were really happy with. Then the leak happened, and a lot of people opted out of the Food Chain deck because it would be a known deck. Finally, about a week before deck freeze, Brian came up with his version of Oath, and like most Oath decks, it looks really strong and playtested well, and most of our team chose that.”
Do you expect any bannings to come out of New Orleans?”I suspect there will be. Tinker and Grim Monolith are easy targets, as is Goblin Recruiter. Oath may stand a very outside chance of getting banned.”
Jeff Cunningham, Zvi Mowshowitz, Justin Gary, Alex Shvartsman, Rob Dougherty, Darwin Kastle, Dave Humphreys, Jon Finkel, Eric Froelich, Ben Goodman, Gabe Walls, Brian Kibler, Peter and Tom Guevin, Josh Wagener
Inside CMU-TOGIT with Josh Rider and Morgan Douglass
Morgan Douglass is the latest”Master of the Grand Prix” – he’s posted numerous Grand Prix Top 8 finishes, but never had that success translate to the Pro Tour. Yet. He’s also a Virginia native who I’ve watched grow up over the last few years at PTQs and JSS events. I’d like to say we’ve faced off in a couple of PTQ Top 8 matches for slots on the tour, but unfortunately I am far too scrubby for that to be fact instead of pipe dream.
Josh Rider is a recent CMU-TOGIT inductee and the current Canadian National Champeen. He also happens to be one of my favorite people to chat with on the tour. His combination of dry, sarcastic humor and generally pleasant attitude make him generally irresistible for men and women alike. Rumor has it that the skinny Canadian with a cartoon face was a huge hit among the ladies of Bourbon Street…
I talked with Josh and Morgan the night before the tournament to get an idea as to how CMU-TOGIT came up with their decks, what they thought the metagame would look like, and which decks they thought would look good to a lot of people but ultimately fail. This conversation was prefaced by an earlier chat I’d had with Antonino DeRosa about two weeks before the Pro Tour, where he said that there would be a bunch of control and beatdown decks available for the tournament, but that combo would be the real story and would dominate the Top 16.
Antonino was exactly right.
On Playtesting Time:”We started testing as soon as we got home from Boston. The group was trading twenty-five to thirty e-mails a day, discussing results, ideas, and general information. Figuring out how much actual playtesting time was done is hard, but Antonino and Osyp were workhorses. I think we came up with two very good decks, though.”
On Metagame:”We figure people will play Food Chain Goblins because a) the dealers are sold out of them, and b) people found out that it’s a YMG deck that got leaked, so everybody figures it’s good. It gets turn 2 kills about 25% of the time, so that’s a bonus. Obviously Tinker will be present, as will The Rock and Psychatog. Angry Hermit will make appearances and there’s a U/B Charbelcher deck running around that some people are playing.”
What are the best two decks? “Tinker and Hermit. A couple of our guys are running Hermit, but most are running Tinker. It’s filthy, as you can just do disgusting things with the deck on turns two and three. Chalice is insane in this format, and Mindslaver tears people apart. There will be a lot of good stories this weekend from that card.”
What decks are people running that they think are good, but simply are not? “Anything running Isochron Scepter, and anything that just tries to attack like U/G and some slower Goblin decks.”
Will any bannings come out of the tournament? “God, I hope so! If this were in any other city in the US I would have just skipped the whole thing, but New Orleans is too much fun to miss. The format is just stupid.”
Eugene Harvey, Antonino DeRosa, Osyp Lebedowicz, Mike Turian, Gary Wise, Josh Rider, Morgan Douglass, Craig Krempals, Adam Horvath, Andrew Cuneo, Gerard Fabiano, Matt Rubin, Jon Sonne, Ken Krouner,
Inside Ze Germans with The Juggernaut himself, Kai Budde
I tried to talk to Kai in the weeks before the tournament, but he couldn’t see them getting anything useful from divulging information early, so I had to wait until the tournament had started. Mr. Budde, as he demands to be called,* was very kind about offering up his opinions on all things Magical or otherwise. Next time you find yourself chatting with Kai, I highly recommend asking him for his thoughts on String Theory, the morph cost of Whipgrass Entangler, Dirk running at 7 a.m. every morning, and why one should be careful about accepting body shots from loose women.
But he had this to say about his team and their preparation…
Playtesting:”We didn’t work very hard on this format. School started for some of us, and after some brief testing I figured out that I don’t really like current Extended. Any deck that you play has to be able to do silly stuff on turn 2 or 3, meaning you have to build your deck to maximize your ability to do those things – but in return, you are forced to build decks that are really inconsistent.
“David Brucker was qualified and was going to come to New Orleans, but after about ten playtest matches he decided the format was too dumb to play and stayed home.”
Were there any surprises in the metagame? “Not really. We expected lots of Goblin and Tinker and that’s exactly what we got.”
What are the two best decks in the field right now? “One of the Tinker variations and Gob-vantage. I think everybody knew that coming in, though.”
Why did you choose Tinker? “Actually, I think we should have played B/R Goblins, but Tinker is powerful enough to get free wins, and we have Damping Matrix technology for the mirror match, so that’s what we played.”
Will any bannings come out of the tournament? “I don’t know. Even if there are, I’m not sure if it will matter. The format seems kind of hopeless until the next Block rotation.”
Ze Germans Roster:
Kai Budde, Marco Blume, John Larkin, Dirk Baberowski, Christoph Lippert, Reinhard Blech, Thomas Neumaier, Daniel Zink, Andre Mueller, Hans Joachim Hoh, Felix Schneiders, Simon Hockwin
The general consensus of players in New Orleans is that YMG did pretty miserably at this event. YMG team members I talked to both on and off the record were dissatisfied with their performance and the decks that they ended up with, and most players felt the team had drastically under performed at this tournament.
Never one to accept the common wisdom as the correct one, though, I decided to search for a more objective measure of team performance. First I tracked the Top 3 finishers from each team, figuring that this would give you an idea of how the best players on each team fared for the weekend. The nut high result here is the one YMG achieved last year, where Justin Gary, Rob Dougherty, and Darwin Kastle finished first, second, and third in Houston.
Next I took each team roster and calculated the average points per team member, giving an idea of how an average team member for each team performed. These are the numbers I ended up with.
Top Three German Finishers:
5) Hans Joachim Hoh
20) Andre Mueller
42) Kai Budde
Average Points per German Team Member: 16.1
Top Three YMG Finishers:
15) Gabe Walls
21) Jeff Cunningham
48) Tom Guevin
Average Points per YMG Team Member: 20.5
Top Three CMU-TOGIT Finishers:
6) Eugene Harvey
27) Andrew Cuneo
29) Adam Horvath
Average Points per CMU-TOGIT Team Member: 20.6
Objectively, CMU and YMG performed about the same on the weekend. CMU had a few more high finishes and a few more players scrub out and not make Day 2, while most of YMG made Day 2, but didn’t perform particularly well once they got there. On the other hand, in spite of having the top-seeded Swiss player, Ze Germans averaged almost 4.5 fewer points per team member than either YMG or CMU, thus signaling a rather weak Extended showing for Kai and krew.
So did YMG suck at Pro Tour: New Orleans? When compared to how the have fared at Extended Pro Tours in the past, then perhaps. But when compared to other high-caliber teams at the same tournament, the answer is no. They made some mistakes, their metagame gauntlet was flawed, and perhaps they didn’t playtest as much as they should have – but on the flipside, they still had most of their team reach Day 2 and they averaged almost as many points per member as CMU-TOGIT.
I apologize for not talking with either the French or Team Punisher about their experiences in preparing for the tournament, but I hope to gather that information for the next Constructed Pro Tour that StarCityGames covers. In the meantime, chime in on the forums if you find yourself enjoying this sort of behind the scenes look at the various Pro teams and their event preparations, and I’ll see if I can pry more information from them next time.
* – Just kidding. To the dismay of his opponents and the delight of Rocky fans everywhere, Kai actually demands to be called Ivan Drago when he’s playing.