Nov 10, 20176045 views

*2nd* at Pro Tour Ixalan

Today marks the beginning of a new year of Massdrop East/West content and we are starting it off with a bang! Each week, a different member of Massdrop East/West will have something to share. We begin with my tournament report detailing my journey to the finals of Pro Tour Ixalan.

*2nd* at Pro Tour Ixalan
You might think that I’m feeling bittersweet after being a game away from becoming a Pro Tour Champion, but that’s just not how I feel. I lost to a player who I consider better than me, a friend and I knew that whatever the outcome would be, I’d be proud of myself and just as proud of Seth as I would be if I was sitting in the audience.
I have no doubt that I will be back in the same scenario, but this time, I’ll be taking down game five and going home with a horrendous looking orange tentacle trophy.
Until then, I have preparation to do. Speaking of which, let’s dive into the preparation that led me to registering Blue/White Gift and achieving a 5-1 draft record.

Preparation The journey that took me to Pro Tour Ixalan was six weeks, which is double than what we normally get since previous Pro Tours were three weeks after the prerelease of a set. I was pretty excited when that announcement was made, because I win a lot more at Magic when I have lots of time to prepare. I am not what one would call a ‘’naturally talented player’’- I believe I can rival some of the game’s best players, but not without thorough preparation. Week 1 and 2 were dedicated to drafting. I was preparing for Grand Prix Providence as well since it was just a week after the prerelease. Because Team Sealed is not very convenient to prepare for, I just decided to draft non-stop on Magic Online to get a feel of the cards and archetypes. Then after that event, I was still drafting because there was not much incentive to start playing Standard before the World Championship since the metagame would only really start shaping once that was in the books.
I drafted around 25 times during those weeks including lots of theory talks with teammates and a rather non-serious draft camp in a (literally) cabin in the woods with some of my old pals.
My conclusion overall was to avoid non-Merfolk green decks. The dinosaur green decks are too slow and very weak to some of the blue tempo spells and red aggressive strategies. At first I told myself I would try to avoid green like the plague, but then I found a way to draft it that was a bit more satisfying than these linear, slow dinosaurs decks. Essentially, draft 3-4 color green decks, UG or GB based with tons of treasures, splash removal and great cards, and play defensive cards such as Sailor of Means, Dire Fleet Hoarder and Ixalli’s Diviner. I would still not actively want to be those decks, yet, if green is clearly being avoided in the draft I’d know what to do.
Then came Week 3 and Worlds results were in. Temur Energy, Mono Red and UB Control were the top decks to beat with Temur as top priority. That weekend I had Canadian Nationals so my plan was to take a stock deck and learn it inside and out. Surprisingly, I decided to pick up Brennan DeCandio’s Esper Gift that he used to Top 8 the StarCityGames Open that occurred the first weekend Ixalan was legal. I won my first few matches on Magic Online despite having no idea what I was doing. My understanding improved exponentially however, and I was able to master the deck quickly and even bring changes to it that would drastically improve the deck and make it a great choice for the weekend. I added Kitesail Freebooter to the maindeck and was very pleased by the extra disruption it brought. 4 Seekers' Squire 4 Walking Ballista 4 Minister of Inquiries 4 Champion of Wits 4 Angel of Invention 3 Hostage Taker 3 Kitesail Freebooter 2 The Scarab God 4 Gate of the Afterlife 2 God-Pharaoh's Gift 2 Fatal Push 1 Vraska's Contempt
4 Concealed Courtyard 4 Aether Hub 4 Drowned Catacombs 2 Fetid Pools 6 Island 3 Swamp Sideboard: 2 Negate 2 Duress 2 Vraska's Contempt 2 Dreamstealer 2 Walk the Plank 2 Deadeye Tracker 1 Fatal Push 1 Hostage Taker 1 Kitesail Freebooter
I registered that 75 and went 5-1 in Standard (with 1 bye), my teammate Ricky Chin went 5-0-1 with the same 75. The deck performed as expected and we won lots of games because people were inexperienced against our deck, sideboarding in tons of Negates and Duresses because they were scared of our combo. In reality, our deck is able to easily play a midrange game and ignore these hate cards, making them rot in their hands and lead to a loss.
That part of the deck was the most attractive for me; I love playing decks that are hard to understand and can switch between different game plans. At that point I was pretty much locked into playing a God-Pharaoh’s Gift strategy, though I was open to the idea of trying out different versions in case Esper Gift was figured out by the masses going into the Pro Tour, decreasing the surprise factor.
Now, there were 3 weeks remaining before the big day, the Pro Tour. Week 4 was spent exploring new Gift decks and the rest of team Massdrop was exploring Standard in general.
Our testing partner, Dean McLaren, picked up UW Refurbish Gift, which he had seen on Magic Online and said it was surprisingly resilient. I was skeptical at first because not playing tons of creatures and essentially having to get a Gift in play to win seemed mediocre in a format full of Negate, Duress, and Naturalize effects, mostly because of Tokens being rather popular. After giving it a shot I was pleasantly surprised. I realized that being able to more consistently make your land drops thanks to cards like Strategic Planning and Chart a Course you’d be able to start hard casting God-Pharaoh’s Gift, eternalizing Champion of Wits, and could easily cast Angel of Invention, unlike Esper Gift. Dean was the first one to tune the original list and came up with maindeck Sacred Cat, which was genius as it worked nicely with mill and discard as a way to buy time while not losing any card advantage. It was also at its best against the top two decks we were expecting: Temur Energy and Mono Red. Weeks 5 and 6 I spent tuning and replaying all the matchups- Temur, 4c Temur, Mono Red, Tokens, UB Control, Esper Gift, Mardu, and Sultai. Over and over, we tried everything, trying to pinpoint why X matchup is good, why X isn't, so that when we made changes to our list we wouldn't alter a previous good matchup. Ricky Chin was also soft locked on playing UW Gift so I spent most of the testing games playing with him. We would alternate who plays the enemy to make sure there wasn’t too much bias in the results. Sultai Energy was our first horrible matchup. The combination of Negate, Duress, Deathgorge Scavenger, The Scarab God and Appetite for the Unnatural was too much to be able to get our deck going. While it was a deck that we didn't expect very much, we thought there could be other decks overloading on these types of cards, so I wanted a plan. Enters Angel of Sanctions. Before finding that card I was losing hope. It fixed all the problems at once. It was an impactful card that bridged you from a combo to a midrange deck that dodged Duress, Negate, Abrade, Appetite for the Unnatural, and Kitesail Freebooter. Angel of Sanctions could deal with Deathgorge Scavenger, Cast Out, The Scarab God, and any problematic non-land permanent that could appear. Its inclusion turned around matchups like Sultai Energy, especially because you could mill it, meaning you would almost always have access. During the last week, we became a little scared of Mono Red as people were starting to play four Rampaging Ferocidon as answers to Tokens, Whirler Virtuoso, and Esper Gift. Ferocidon happens to be their single best card against us. Thopter Arrest, more Fumigate, more Cast Out, even Impeccable Timing were options I thought about playing. Then we tried Fairgrounds Warden and it performed way above expectations. Not only was it amazing against Mono Red at just blocking, we could also sideboard it in against almost everything else as part of our transformational plan with Angel of Sanctions when people intuitively sideboard out a number of removal spells. Fairgrounds Warden was so good that I wanted to play 4. Dean and Shaun McLaren independently arrived at the same choice and I was now extremely confident in my deck. 4 Minister of Inquiries 4 Sacred Cat 4 Angel of Invention 4 Champion of Wits 4 Chart a Course 4 Refurbish 4 Strategic Planning 2 Opt 4 God-Pharaoh's Gift 2 Cast Out 2 Search for Azcanta
4 Glacial Fortress 3 Irrigated Farmland 2 Ipnu Rivulet 7 Island 6 Plains
4 Fairgrounds Warden 3 Angel of Sanctions 2 Negate 2 Jace's Defeat 1 Fumigate 1 Hostile Desert 1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship 1 Authority of the Consuls

The Tournament My first draft was medium. I was White/Black Vampires but lacking some of the most important cards like Anointed Deacon and Bishop’s Soldier. I lost round 1 and then was paired against someone with Settle the Wreckage, Regisaur Alpha, and Waker of the Wilds in his deck. It was a rough match, but I eventually came out victorious. Then I won the last round on the back of my opponent drawing very poorly with a clearly better deck than mine. I escaped the draft 2-1 and felt rather lucky.
The next five rounds were constructed.
My first opponent was Mono Red and I recall him telling me later in the tournament that his friends told him to not play it or something along those lines and then it was pretty ironic that his first round he faced main deck Sacred Cat. Everything went according to plan here as I was able to remove all the Rampaging Ferocidons he played. My second opponent was a friendly Swedish guy who qualified from Magic Online playing Black/Red Aggro. I was actually extremely lucky to win that match because my draws were pretty bad, but he drew something like 14+ lands both games he lost, which is absurd for a deck that plays around 20. The next round was a Pascal mirror match, in fact the only other Pascal that I know of on the Pro Tour. This a match that you can watch here: Tokens is generally a good matchup for us when your things get going quickly. If they don’t, our opponent can too easily get at a high life total which makes it impossible to get through, specifically because Fumigate takes out all of our Angels of Invention and we simply run out of ways to kill them.
This is pretty much what happened in game one, which took a huge chunk of the 50 minutes. I won game two, but then last game we just didn't have enough time to finish so we picked up a draw. The last two rounds were pretty uninteresting, I faced two Temur Energy variants and beat them to finish 6-1-1 after day 1.
Day 2 I was pretty fortunate to be in Draft Pod number 3 where the only person I recognized was Ondrej Strasky. I’m not underestimating the rest of the players there, but Pod 1 and 2 were full of Platinum and Hall of Famers I’d rather not face.
The draft went exceptionally well. I opened some very powerful cards and because of the turnout of my draft (picking Sailor of Means highly), I was able to play all of them! I was rewarded with a 3-0 and was now in a great spot to make the Top 8. We were down to constructed again and Guillaume Matignon was my next opponent. You can watch our match here: This was unfortunately a really bad matchup for me, piloted by an excellent player, and I was quickly defeated. Fortunately for me, literally no one else in the top tables was doing well with such a deck so my hopes were still alive. Temur, Temur, and Temur were my next three matchups. I won all of them, including a real nail-bitter against Owen Turtenwald, which you can watch here: Winning that match locked me into the Top 8 as I was able to take an intentional draw in the last round with Mike Sigrist. I was ecstatic to win of course, especially against one of the best players in the world. You can look at me being interviewed and not being able to stop smiling right here:

The Top 8
Photo credit: Wizards of the Coast
I felt pretty good about the Top 8. The only two opponents I did not want to face played each other in the opposite bracket (Seth Manfield and Guillaume Matignon). I was slightly disadvantaged in the playoffs however since people now had access to my decklist and knew I was sideboarding creatures. Yet, my 3rd place after swiss rounds meant I was going to be on the play for at least one match, potentially more. Piotr Glogowski on Temur Energy with Scarab God was going to be my quarterfinal opponent and I had already beaten him in the swiss. I felt good about this match and it went just as expected. I started on the play, won two games, lost one on the draw, and then won again on the play.
Photo credit: Wizards of the Coast
The semifinal went similarly, except John Rolf was on Mono Red. But again, I was on the play, took the first two games, lost on the draw, then won again. John made a few mistakes which ended up costing him game four, but I could sense how nervous he was and I can totally relate. This is my second Pro Tour Top 8 and I’ve had a lot of experience on the Pro Tour 8 so I’m a bit more used to the stress, but you’re playing matches for literally ten thousands of dollars in front of many viewers and that stress never completely goes away. Playing the game perfectly is near impossible and you need to realize that there are hundreds of decisions to make during an event while coping with stress and exhaustion. The best in the world certainly make incorrect decisions, but the mistakes aren’t always on camera and are sometimes too complex to catch. John must have played well to make it that far in the tournament and I would never think less of him because he made a mistake at one of the highest possible stages of professional Magic.
Photo credit: Wizards of the Coast

The Finals It was a tense and exhausting match with many decisions against the top ranked player in the world. There was a lot on the line and I will not lie, I felt unbelievably overwhelmed. After game four I literally had to ask for the match score. I was so deep in my head trying to sideboard properly and think about what he would sideboard that I just forgot how many games we had played.
The match should be a delight to watch, so here it is:
Photo credit: Wizards of the Coast
I lost, it happens. One of the good guys won so there’s nothing to be sad about. This was Seth’s 4th Pro Tour Top 8, which means he now has the ‘’public’s criteria’’ to be voted in the Hall of Fame. I certainly will vote for him and hope that everyone else does as well. Congrats to him!

Looking Ahead The Standard action continues with GPs in Atlanta, Warsaw, and Shanghai this weekend and in Portland the following weekend. Some of my teammates will be competing in Atlanta and Portland so be on the lookout! It should be interesting to see how the metagame might shift after Pro Tour Ixalan. Soon, the focus will be on Modern in preparation for the next Pro Tour in Bilbao, Spain. Thanks for reading, and good luck in your upcoming games!

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jxliu, Mandy, and 5 others

Nice article Pascal! You beat me at my only GP win n in in LA so I hope to battle you again some day! Good luck this season
Good job dude!
Woop woop! Congratulations!