This past weekend, we saw the world’s favorite Magic player, Reid Duke, win the Pro Tour. The world is healing.
To start things off, the return of the Pro Tour was everything we could want it to be. While the event had less players than typical, the feel of the event was every bit like the Pro Tour. The event felt prestigious and exciting, and the added prize of Secret Lair cards going for large sums on the secondary market juiced the prize pool up enough to make the event more exciting. Hopefully those cards retain their value and collectibility as more are printed since it’s an incredible way to reconcile an unchanged budget for the event prizes.
My testing began early. We had the format and a bunch of cards were leaked, so we got to see a huge portion of the Phyrexia: All Will Be One cards a bit earlier.
We didn’t identify a whole lot outside of fastlands that would make a huge impact in Pioneer. While Atraxa appealed to me the most, after trying it some, it didn’t fit the mold anywhere. I’m sure there may end up being a playable Atraxa deck at some point, as it’s a powerful card to cheat into play, but it’s not enough against a bunch of decks in the format leaving it in a place where it’s not good enough.
Preliminary testing before we got to the house, we all tried a bunch of stock decks, and the lesser-known decks to get an idea of what archetypes we liked. The first deck I tried was Izzet Creativity. This was probably early January, and I rather liked it after playing several leagues with the deck. Through several weeks of trying a new deck every other day or so, Creativity was still a frontrunner for me. I liked its play patterns, as it plays out similarly to Inverter with early disruption into a combo finish, or in some cases, you just win a fair game with Fables, creature lands, or a Shark Typhoon.
The Hullbreaker package is what makes the deck versatile enough to compete with anything. Blue decks would normally laugh at a five-mana-sorcery-speed-combo card, but they can’t laugh at an uncounterable creature that ensures they’ll never resolve a spell again.
After trying other decks and not liking anything else nearly as much, I decided to play Creativity if the new cards didn’t change anything. I enjoyed the deck, thought it was good enough, and most importantly, thought it was far enough under the radar that it would be a good deck for the tournament. I expected people to have played less against it than all the stuff like Rakdos and Green. As someone new to Pioneer, who didn’t have the experience most people in this event had because they’ve been playing Pioneer this whole time, it was nice to be more familiar with the match-up I was playing than my opponent. This is an understated part of Magic these days. The cards themselves are so complicated and provide so many options that knowing your deck is more important than ever.
People who tested the deck on MTGO did pretty well, though eventually, they hit slumps with the deck, which put them off. They found issues with the deck and wanted to find that mythical unicorn deck that is perfect with no issues or problems. Of course, I did too, but as house testing continued, and it became evident that it didn’t exist, people started to turn to Creativity.
The questions of “how do you beat X” were being answered, and while the deck had its problems, our data had it ahead of our other decks. While Creativity is far from perfect, it was as good, and in my eyes, better than other stock decks. The Rakdos match-up still causes us fits. Our data said it was slightly favorable since game one is generally very good. However, once they’re set up to interact with a few more discard spells, that combined with awkward draws from Creativity made the match-up close but likely unfavorable. It was close enough that I was willing to risk it in the event.
This is a wide-open field with tons of decks, and nothing had favorable match-ups across the board. Without a target on its back, Creativity seemed to have the best match-up spread in those circumstances. It played close games against a lot of the top decks in the field and had some good match-ups like Gruul, Rakdos Sac, Izzet Phoenix, and even Spirits. I’d be happy to sit across from these match-ups. White can be tough the more Extortion Specialist they have to keep Thalia in play, but it’s also a deck I wouldn’t be unhappy to play against if I have a few Rending Volley in my sideboard.
As the time to register decks for the event closed in, people on the team became less sure of what they liked and eventually started to warm up to Creativity. Martin even saw this as a sign to further reinforce our decision.
Reid Duke was especially interested in Lotus Field and wanted to play it, but with the rise in Gruul’s popularity, a deck we perceived to have a favorable Lotus match-up, he switched to Creativity despite not having played any games. If you thought his run couldn’t get more impressive, you were wrong.
Here’s the list I registered for the event. We all had a few small changes, such as changes to the mana base and the sideboard.
Moving forward, I don’t think Creativity will be a great choice in the short term. I don’t think it’s powerful enough to take any heat from major archetypes gunning for it. Cards like Ratchet Bomb can give the deck fits, especially out of a deck like Gruul or any other fast linear deck, as it’s reliant on the combo there. You could adjust with some Abrade to counteract. If you want to play the deck, I’d suggest trimming a Shark Typhoon, a Rending Volley, and a Aether Gust for an Abrade and two Leyline of Sanctity for Rakdos in the short term and as the metagame develops keep a closer eye on what interaction you need.
I ended up going 2-3 with Creativity, beating Lotus twice while OTP and losing to Enigmatic in the hands of Derrick Davis, a match-up I was unfamiliar with and sideboarded poorly by bringing in Horrors when the Combo and Sharks was the correct approach. In this match-up, the play/draw isn’t as important as others, but I was on the draw. This match-up is good, but I didn’t know it well enough to figure out the intricacies on the fly.
Lastly, I lost to Gruul and Mono Green on the draw. While I don’t mind playing against these decks with Creativity, you lose a lot of points with any deck in Pioneer by playing against good Llanowar Elves decks on the draw. My opponents all played very well. A few untimely mulligans and good draws from my opponents eliminated me from participating on day two. So it goes.
As far as Limited is concerned, I felt I did a bad job with preparation. Despite only losing one match of my 24 or so on MTGO and an in-house record of 14-4, I didn’t have enough reps. Paper drafts are so time-consuming that you can do three and maybe even four drafts on MTGO in the time it takes to do one live. In addition to that, we had about 10 people in the house, so a couple would always sit out. My laptop wasn’t super functional for playing MTGO while in the testing house. MTGO kept lagging, so I couldn’t play the games. This whole process led me to not playing with a bigger selection of cards than I’m used to these days. While I went 1-2 in draft at the Pro Tour, I wouldn’t blame this. I had a match-up where my cards just didn’t line up against my opponent. My opponent had three very strong rares in White Sun’s Twilight, Blue Sun’s Twilight, and a Kaito that my slower G/W Deck was not prepared to fight against. I had a couple of good rares myself in White Sun’s Twilight and Argentum Masticore, but in both games, my Masticore got taken by a Blue Sun’s Twilight, and I fell behind early in game two and was able to set up a White Sun’s Twilight with a Plague Nurse in hand to close the game on the following turn, but my opponent had also drawn their White Sun’s Twilight to disrupt my plan.
My other loss was a match against Nathan Steuer where my deck was set up well for the match-up outside of his singleton Pestilent Syphoner. His deck was lean with four Blight Bellyrat and a ton of ways to slowly give poison counters, but the recurring hits from a turn two Syphoner in both games one and three were difficult for me. A draw step goes different one way or another and that match loss is a match win. It’s the Pro Tour, and matches will be close. No one is giving games away, especially not the World Champ. All of my opponents seemed to agree that the card quality at our 10-person pod was low, and it’s hard to identify and justify moving into an open color if the card quality is just flat and bad across the board. Coupled with a 10-person pod, that makes it harder since the wheels you see are mostly meaningless as your ninth and tenth picks are generally of higher quality and more telling than your eleventh to fourteenth picks.
Moving forward, I’ll likely do two or three house drafts when preparing for Limited, but I’ll do better just jamming a lot on MTGO to identify play patterns and important cards. While I don’t think there’s much I could have done in my seat given the circumstances, I am still a bit mad at myself for not finding time to get at least a dozen more drafts in on MTGO to play with and against some of the cards in the format, though I still don’t know to what extent they’re good. 17Lands.com data could have helped me a bit, and while I did browse over it, this format is especially different in a Bo1 hand-smoothing setting.
I loved the feel of the Pro Tour, and I loved getting to see people. Now, after eight years of professional Magic, I am currently not qualified for the Pro Tour but qualified for a couple regional championships. It feels weird having T8d the Pro Tour equivalent just prior to this one and now finding myself unqualified, but I can’t complain. My goal now is to possibly compete in the regional championships and requalify, but I plan to focus a lot more on the online circuits. Paper Magic feels much different to me now. I’m not used to it and somewhat prefer the game online. However, nothing can replace the moments with your friends, eating dinner, talking about this shared passion, and hearing and telling your good and bad beat stories. I don’t want to miss those moments, so to quote Arnold, I’ll be back.
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