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Pro Tour Outlaws of Thunder Junction Roundup


This past weekend we saw the smallest Pro Tour in recent memory. I was looking forward to this PT as a spectator since I've been fascinated with how great the Limited format feels.


We started by watching Seth Manfield draft. I consider myself as having a bond with Seth because we both began to have success at similar times, had children at the same time, and have battled a bunch along the way. Seth is an all-time top-five talent, so I was excited to watch his draft approach.


I would have drafted his seat differently. His first pick was a Stingerback Terror, a solid rare in red, which many consider the worst color.

Stingerback Terror - Creature

The next pick is where his bias showed. He took a Trained Arynx over Explosive Derailment. I don't know if Seth wanted an off-ramp to red because he didn't like the color or if he just likes white, specifically white aggressive decks.



I had the privilege before the event to talk with two of his teammates, Martin Juza and Sam Pardee, about Limited. They both seemed interested in white aggressive strategies that may have been brought up at the Limited meeting and throughout their testing.


I was more shocked by that exact pick with that context. Seth had the opportunity to lock in a single color with a solid removal spell and take what's coming to him or branch out into a color his teammates prefer. It may be a good decision at a typical table to take or avoid the preferred color, but I like staying flexible. At this table, Seth may not have processed that his teammate was two seats away feeding his direction. It's no secret that Martin Juza loves his low-to-the-ground aggro decks that curve out and cast combat tricks. With only one other player between us, and someone I knew was going to be biased towards white and away from red, I would be happy to stay in the lane the packs were giving me, identify what's open, and hopefully get spoon-fed some red and open or get passed more rares.


The way the pack went down, Seth could have stayed in mostly red, opened a Bristly Bill, and potentially moved into RG scooping up the cut green in pack two and mostly red cards in pack three. RG is not my ideal color combination, especially with heavy red, but Seth set himself up for the worst-case scenario by waffling around a bit, opening the door for players on the left to move into red, and having to fight for it in pack two.


Seth is an all-time great drafter and managed to end up with a reasonable Boros deck, but even the best players in the past few years have fallen into this trap of focusing on what they want or don't want to be doing instead of letting the draft come to them. In this format, it's more powerful to find a lane or commit to your first strong rare, rather than force something. There are more rares and good uncommons than usual, so trying to force an archetype won't work well because you need solid cards to have a solid deck. Decks made of commons won't cut it in most cases.


With the Arena Open this weekend, I'd recommend not forcing anything and working to identify what's coming to reap some rewards.


Seth had a rough start but rallied back with a solid finish, since he's one of the best.


After we had the pleasure of watching OTJ Limited, we moved to a Standard format that looked interesting. Esper represented over 30% of the field. Many attribute this to the short testing window between the set release and PT, but it was almost identical to how PTs were run in the mid-2010s when we'd have about two weeks between the prerelease and PT. Everyone on a testing team would gather as many prize packs or product boxes as they could and work non-stop during that short time.


While it's certainly a change to how it has been, this formula is by far the best as it makes viewing the PT more interesting when someone comes up with something spicy. There's nothing more exciting than watching a PT where a testing team or player breaks the format with an unknown list and demolishes the field, which a shorter window will make more common. As a player, it provides the most opportunity to find a real edge. If you're playing a format for a month before the event and create something, then it almost always gets found elsewhere as well.


While Standard wasn't that special since many of the decks were known quantities, the gameplay was excellent with a lot of tight decisions. As someone who played the deck years ago, Esper Midrange makes for interesting games, and it looks almost identical with some solid upgrades.


I recommended a Raffine ban along with Fable to some WotC employees nearly two years ago because I believed Esper had the recipe of being a strong deck that pushes out other interesting archetypes. It's possible that time has come and passed, as there are more competitive decks these days. It would be interesting to see how different things could be.


The story of the weekend was Yoshihiko Ikawa destroying the competition and losing only a single match the entire weekend. It was a legendary run and one of the cleanest and technically flawless players we've seen. Ikawa had been one of the most underrated players consistently doing well on the tour, and I'm glad he got his opportunity to shine. Ikawa playing Domain, a deck known to have a good Esper match-up, nailed the metagame prediction and played near-perfect Magic all weekend by making some incredibly tight plays and showing off how well-practiced he was with his deck.


Sanctum of All had a breakout weekend. Two players were in the Top 8, both of whom it was only a matter of time. I have admired them for a while, and I learned what cftsoc stands for this weekend, combo for the sake of combo. Rei Zhang has had brilliant deck-building skills. It reminds me of a decade ago when everyone was so excited to see what a player like Sam Black or Matt Nass brought to the table. Rei definitely belongs in that category.


Jason Ye, who's been on an absolute tear recently, had a first PT Top 8 performance this weekend by playing the same archetype as teammate Rei, both with Slogurk, my current favorite card in Standard. If you've followed my writing, I've been gushing about how broken a card Slogurk is since Worlds 2022, and it was only a matter of time before the pieces were printed and a team of strong deck builders like Sanctum of All put the pieces together. Slogurk is difficult to pilot and build well, so having success with it at the highest levels is remarkable and a testament to these players' talent.


On top of those two in the Top 8 was Nicole Tipple who also tested with Sanctum of All and played the same deck. She earned 11th place at her first Pro Tour. It was an incredible run. If I had a big tournament coming up, I'd look at Slogurk if I had the time to learn to pilot it optimally. This is not a deck you can pick up and play, as there are a lot of key decision points.


Watching Ikawa defeat his long-time friend Yuta Takahashi in the finals was heartwarming. While the Pro Tour was small this time, it's going to get bigger with new changes. I hope we see more special moments like this with great players who have long, successful careers battling and creating epic storylines.


For the first time in months, I've been excited to play Magic, specifically OTJ Limited. I'm looking forward to battling in my first event in a while at the Draft Open this weekend. I hope to see you there! Remember to stay open and take what's coming.

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