Before the Player Meeting, I attempted to get some games in/do a bit of socialization with some of the other players there. I played a 4 game set against UR Control, winning the first and third game and easily losing the others, which left my confidence level at about the same (8/10 draft, 4/10 Constructed).
Notably at my first Draft Pod was Platinum Pro and Worlds competitor Marcio Carvalho. This was strong assurance for me that yes…I was at the Pro Tour. I couldn’t wait to get to the draft. One notable facet to our PT drafts was that we were required to record our first picks every pack (for integrity/coverage reasons).
I took Ambuscade P1P1 out of a weak pack, Omninous Sphinx P1P2, Quarry Beetle P1P3, and Desert of the Mindful P1P4. Cards I took note of early that I was looking to potentially see again were Consign // Oblivion (wouldn’t table), 2x Razaketh’s Rite (back to back, both tabled), and Ruin Rat (which I’ve found to be a solid card in defensive B decks). All of my first picks felt fairly straightforward, but as P1 continued I noted that Green felt extremely cut, as did every color but Blue. I took an Imaginary Threats earlier than I should have (P6) as the card has not impressed (Cycles for (2) is a tempo liability, can only use when VERY ahead otherwise) but I really wanted to cut Blue to ensure a steady flow of Blue in Pack 2.
I ended P1 with an odd pile of cards, leaning towards UB Cycling as I tabled 2x Ruin Rats, 2x Razaketh’s Rite to go with my U cards and my 2 Green cards. I hoped for some sort of awesome rare to Rite for and give my deck direction…just one powerful card would suffice. I go to Pack 2 and open…
God Pharoah’s Gift! A superb gift indeed, and a clear direction for my deck to go. I’d already learnt the strength of GPG in Limited from testing, and how easy it is to maximize it (play early creatures to trade off and cyclers). My plan would clearly be to draft UBx cycling, using the Rites to find GPG and durdle to get there otherwise. This gave me a clear direction to draft towards, and a P2P4 Champion of Wits had me cracking a noticeable grin as I sculpted my deck.
Amokhet started with an uninspiring Shimmerscale Drake P3P1, but ended providing three awesome cards (Stir the Sands, 2x Final Reward) that helped us go late/survive to win with GPG.
I made a mistake in building, playing the weak Imaginary Threats over the 2nd Rite (which I boarded into every game) for the overly optimistic hope of running my opponent’s attackers into my Rats. I also had the option to play Traveler’s Amulet + Manalith + 1 Forest for Ambuscade, a package I would board into twice. As for the matches…
I played against a European Gold Pro, quickly getting into our games after some friendly small talk. He was on a UG Tempo deck with multiple Aerial Guides, Eternal of Harsh Truths, a black splash for Final Reward, and an apparent lack of Ambuscade/bounce/pump spells. I won G1 with Ominous Sphinx beatdown (safely deploying it with mana up for cycling, to protect from Ambuscade) and decided to board out Imaginary Threats/Swamp/Island/Unburden for Amulet/Forest/Manalith/Ambuscade (to kill the 2 Aerial Guides I saw, which bypass my Rats/blockers easily). I missed land drops G2 and died to a fast start, then won G3 after tapping out for Omnious Sphinx and him not having much to answer it. God Pharoah’s Gift sealed the deal.
My next opponent was also a Pro Tour first timer, and clearly excited to be there. He was on BW Zombies and murdered me in a close Game 1 after he went T2 Mummy Paramount T3 Mummy Paramount + Fan Bearer (and kept playing Zombies). I almost stabilized at 1 Life, but failed to draw a Creature to match his removal spell. Once again I boarded into Green to address problematic cards like Fan Bearer/Binding Mummy/Merciless Eternal which couldn’t be blocked effectively.
G2 I was Doomfalled (discard mode) and ended up drawing God Pharoah’s Gift to easily win the game, and G3 I ended up stabilizing at 3 life thanks to ripping Razaketh’s Rite off the top. Getting God Pharoah’s Gift that turn would’ve forced me to chump block and I had exactly 9 mana, so I instead tutored up Naga Oracle, using the “Scry 3” to dig into God Pharoah’s Gift manually. It took awhile to find it but the 2/4 kept me from dropping below 3 and I slowly chipped out his 30+ life with a lone Shimmerscale Drake.
MATCH 3 – MARCIO CARVALHO BOYS
I managed to keep my nerves relatively level, but man was I intimidated to be playing against Carvalho. I won the die roll and kept a mediocre hand on the play (Naga Oracle, Shimmerscale Drake, 5 lands) only to draw a ton of lands against his low land, very aggressive Boros curve out. I stabilized at 3 with a top decked Stir the Sands but failed to match his creature topdecks (finding lands #9/10 instead) and eventually died to an Earthshaker Khenra from him.
I didn’t board into Green (not wanting the sluggishness/inconsistency, and thinking my blockers would be fine) and felt as though I were in a commanding lead G2, with a strong hand able to set up GPG and block his ground creatures. He was even stuck on 2 lands for a turn! So clearly I go on to win G2, right?
Not pictured…me. But those are my cards across from him!
Well, not quite. He deployed a Stalwart Aven when I was at 17, and then attacked me to 13 by playing and equipping Dagger of the Worthy to the Aven. I Unquenching Thrist’d the Aven, only to recoil in horror as the best Sparring Mummy I’ve ever seen freed the Aven permanently and put me at 9. It was at about this time that a photographer walked up and snapped several photos of him/the match, one of which you can see above.
Hill Giant + Time Walk proved to be too much for me to overcome, as I had to Final Reward the Aven I’d already answered and fell too behind in tempo. The turn I tapped out for God Pharoah’s Gift he put me to 1 with Desert’s Hold + Earthshaker Khenra in the same turn, and I was unable to win through his Dagger of the Worthy. Still, 2-1 in my first Draft felt great, and I didn’t play the games any differently because Carvalho was across from me (the Sparring Mummy hadn’t been seen). Even if Constructed were to go terrible from this point, well…I’d at least proved I could draft with the pros!
CONSTRUCTED DAY 1
To recap, here was my decklist:
3 Gifted Aetherborn
4 Champion of Wits
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
3 The Scarab God
1 Demon of Dark Schemes
3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hungerer
3 Fatal Push
4 Grasp of Darkness
1 Collective Brutality
4 Strategic Planning
2 Never // Return
1 Yahenni’s Expertise
4 Choked Estuary
4 Sunken Hollow
3 Fetid Pools
2 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
1 Noxious Gearhulk
1 Gifted Aetherborn
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Yahenni’s Expertise
1 Never // Return
2 Transgress the Mind
Would this be my only day of Constructed? Was my brew fated for failure? Or would I ascend to the pantheon of greats? Let’s see what ended up happening…
My first Constructed opponent was pleasant, and from Korea I believe. He spoke English but I had some trouble understanding him at points.
Our match began with a lost die roll and two 7s kept, mine being a pretty solid grip of 2 kill spells, Gifted Aetherborn, Champ of Wits and 3 lands. My opponent opened on Sheltered Thicket -> Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, a clear sign he was on GR Ramp, one of my deck’s worst matchups. I ended up on a stilted ⅔ into 2/1 beatdown plan, eventually looting away removal spells into a Kalitas that followed a Collective Brutality (taking Hour of Devastation). I saw my opponent had 2 Ulamogs in hand, and a topdecked Hour of Promise quickly put him at a terrifying 9 Ulamog mana. I ended up closing the G1 on the last possible turn with Kalitas beats (a Worldbreaker of his ate an exiling Never) as he topdecked a tapland.
I boarded out Push/Expertise/Grasp for Negates/Doomfall/Transgress, relieved that I won a difficult Game 1. I ended up having an awesome hand that setup T2 Transgress, T3 Champion, T5 Lily on a pitched Ulamog. My T2 Transgress had taken Thought-Knot Seer to protect my combo, but my opponent drew an Hour of Promise right on time and ended up T6 Ulamoging away all my accomplishments. Slightly frustrated, I went into G3 keeping a hand of Negate/Scarab God/Transgress/Planning/3 lands. He keeps 7 as well, and I see this hand on T2 after Transgressing him (figuring I’d want to cantrip with more info, and that Negate didn’t need to be held up until T3+):
Land / Beneath the Sands / Hour of Promise / Hour of Promise / Hour of Devastation / Abrade / Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
This decision felt game-deciding, and there seemed to only be 3 realistic options:
Take Beneath, cutting my opponent off his Cycler/Land 4. If he draws any threat, Hour, Abrade, non Beneath ramp spell, nonland he bricks. This would let me resolve Scarab God with a stumble and kill him with 5s while holding Negate.
Take Hour, letting him resolve his other ramp spells and Negating his second Hour. This would keep Ulamog off for long enough for me to Scarab God him to death, but he’d still have plenty of mana.
Take Ulamog, noting that he’s mono-mana with 1 threat. This follows what I consider to be correct discard logic against ramp for the most part (create a hole) but my issue with the plan is that Hour finds Sanctum of Ugin, and then any of what I assume to be 8 threats (3 Ballista/3 Ulamog/2 World Breaker were the common #s I’d seen online) finds Ulamog and kills me. If I stick T5 Scarab God I’d eventually be delayed by Hour of Devastation, so he’d have 8+ draw steps to find one threat.
I went with #1, trying to my luck and hoping to just get 1 brick by my opponent. I tapped out on T3 for Strategic Planning, and was maximally punished by my opponent’s topdecks; untapped land and another Beneath the Sands (the only real punishment for me tapping out on T3)! Needless to say I was frustrated, and ended up dying to topdecked Shefnet Monitor -> Hour (first Negated, second resolved) -> Ulamogs. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the right play here was.
A wakeup call was coming, as I lost this Match to Ramunap Red in about 10 minutes flat. G1 I saw 12 lands, Champ of Wits, Ulamog, and 1 removal spell (keeping that exact hand minus 8 lands) and died. I boarded this match (and throughout the tournament against them) as follows:
-2 Liliana, DM
+1 Noxious Gearhulk
+1 Gifted Aetherborn
+1 Yahenni’s Expertise
I would realize after the PT that I was leaving in too many Plannings, and that Doomfall was a reasonable answer to Hazoret/spell to cast off Expertise (for either mode). But for the tournament I ran a similar sideboard plan for all my Ramu Red pairings, sometimes leaving in an extra Lily and cutting a Scarab God (based on whether or not I expected/had seen Glorybringer).
G2 we had a solid Yahenni’s Expertise at about 12 life, killing off 2 Bomat Couriers (which had 2 cards each), and 2 other creatures, dropping Champ of Wits. My opponent sac’d both Couriers (stacking the triggers to keep all the cards, which I hadn’t seen yet online; discarding one’s hand is a cost, so it works fine) discarding 3 lands for four fresh cards. Those cards were Chandra, Hazoret, Glorybringer and land #4, and I feel to his awesome high end cards back to back to back.
I have to give some credit to my opponent here, a friendly Denmark pro by the name of Christoffer Larsen. I was visibly stressed out after my match (still beating myself up over that loss to GR), and he assured me that I’d play better if I just relaxed, as this wasn’t his first PT (he’s played 10+ I believe). Cliche or not, I took his advice, got some water and made a quick walk, and pushed on, knowing that a record of just 2-1 in my next 3 matches would get me into Day 2 of my first PT.
I played against another Eastern player here. He accidentally bled a card before the match began (a Hanweir Militia Captain) so I correctly assumed he was on UW Monument, a matchup that my friends and I had concluded was unfavorable for our deck.
I won the die roll and kept a solid hand with Champ/Aetherborn/removal/lands. That ⅔ probably gained me about 10 life before eventually trading with tokens from his T3 Monument, and in the end G1 was won by Demon of Dark Schemes. It and Scarab God died to a Dusk, but a second Demon (reanimated by the same Scarab God) had my opponent reaching for his sideboard. I boarded as follows:
-3 Fatal Push
+1 Yahenni’s Expertise
This was a hedge towards expected Angel of Sanctions, Gideons, and his own countermagic, as well as the giant Ormendahl summoning boards UW likes to build up. G2 was a 20+ turn game that ended with a hard cast Ulamog. I fought through his T4 Monument (his 3rd land was tapped this game), overpowering his board with 2 copies of Yahenni’s Expertise (both turns before he was looking to flip Abbey) and repeated Scarab God activations (who was forcing Dusks all on his own). I was also able to Never a Gideon and Return his Dusk // Dawn in the yard, denying him a grip of 6+ creatures. Winning two actual games (i.e. both players played spells) 2-0 in a hard matchup gave me my confidence back.
I headed to my table only to see Owen Turtenwald there, across from me to the seat to my right. Heh, someone was unlucky enough to get paired against him…
He quickly stepped left and offered his hand to me saying “Hi I’m Owen Turtenwald. Nice to meet you.” and I realized what I was getting into. I said something like “Oh s***, I thought I just saw a ghost” (I started playing tournament Magic when he was killing everyone with Pack Rat; if there’s any player I’m going to fan boy over, it’s him). He was quite pleasant in our prematch small talk though (wherein I told him I’d be seeing him at PT Ixalan, and he said I was “killing it”) and we began our games with me on the draw.
As you might know already from having read his articles on Channel Fireball he was on Ramu Red. G1 was a desperate affair where I played a total of SIX taplands and a sad T5 Kalitas at 3 life. In a bizarre twist, he was unable to kill it/me (despite having me at 1 with Ramunap Ruins) and Kalitas carried me to victory, trading with Kari Zev (intentionally got it double blocked by Owen’s Hazoret/Kari) for +5 life and coming back to life off Scarab God for the win.
G2 I kept a sketchy hand and got punished, something along the lines of 2x Choked Estuary 2x Grasp 2x Aetherborn Champion of Wits. I really like Aetherborn here, but the only one I played ate a Flow to the face and I never drew another land. G3 I kept a solid keep (Grasp, Champ, Yahenni’s, Lily, 3 lands) on the play, and made a key decision that cost me the game; not Grasping his Earthshaker Khenra on Turn 2. I took 4 extra damage from it, with my logic being that I’d want Grasp to kill his eventual Hazoret.
However, a key aspect to my hand was that I had the 1 Lily I’d left in the deck in my grip. I realized after casting Yahenni’s the error of my ways, as Lily can chump Hazoret over and over with +1 (and there’s no guarantee he would have Hazoret anyways). I swept away his board of 1 drop 2 drop 3 drop at 10 life and deployed my Champ, and lost my other 10 life to Flow, Flow, Shock, Ramunap Ruins (in the face of a summoning sick Kalitas, nonetheless). I had a 1 turn window to find my Collective Brutality for the win (-3’ing Liliana on a 2/1 Champ of Wits), but failed to do so.
After the match we agreed that my mana base was terrible (not the construction of it, just the miserable nature of BFZ/SOI lands) and wished each other good luck. I had one last match to see if I would Day 2 my first PT.
My final match was against a European player on MonoB Zombies, a matchup I find favorable. I lost G1 to an unchecked Diregraf Colossus and double Liliana’s Mastery. I boarded as follows:
-3 Gifted Aetherborn
+1 Noxious Gearhulk
+1 Never // Return (Liliana, Last Hope is a frequent SB card agaisnt me, and Return is relevant)
G2 was an easy win, with a T5 Ulamog packing him in early. G3 was a fairly epic game, as he deployed T6/7/8 Liliana’s Masteries, his 5/5 Zombies stalled by The Scarab God, Lily DM and her 2/2s, and various creatures of his that were Eternalized. He was unwilling to make attacks and risk dying on the crackback, and was playing towards his 1 Westvale Abbey in play, hoping to win with Ormendahl.
By G3’s close, Scarab God was killing him on the back of the trigger alone, and I was abusing his Eternalized Cryptbreaker to draw cards off my Liliana zombies. This forced his hand and he Ormendahl’d me to 11 life; I decided to go to a lethal 9 @ his end step, reanimating his Lord of the Accursed and seeing a clear path to Lethal. I scry 7’d (and drain 7’d) into a removal spell, killed one of his 2 blockers, then gave all of Zombies menace with his Lord and chunked him for about 30 damage. Day 2 was mine!