It came as a shock to many people in Cincinnati, Ohio, when news spread like wildfire about my PTQ win. Many locals know me as being a decent-ish player from FNMs and playing in the local Legacy and Modern scene, but they never would have thought I was capable of qualifying for a Pro Tour. The only other finishes I have under my belt are a Top 32 and a couple Top 64s on the Open Series, so this reaction wasn’t unwarranted. What I did not expect, however, was getting served weeks of flak for my accomplishment. This came from people I see weekly at FNM and even from friends whose opinion I respect. When Adam Prosak told me that I deserved to go, that I had earned that right, it was refreshing to know not everyone thought the same thing.
I was approached shortly after my win by Bernie Wen to get a team together comprised of local players, including James Grendell, because Cincinnati was on a heater and won the past three PTQs. Soon after, the team grew to include Lukas Parson, Andrew Shrout, Nick Edgerle, Josh Glantzman, Andrew Schneider, and Chi Hoi Yim. We were all excited to work with each other because multiple heads are better than one.
The Pro Tour was rapidly approaching and since product had not been released our team was confined to theory-crafting for the Constructed portion. At the beginning, it was clear that Obzedat, Ghost Council was a very difficult card to answer and that Esper looked like the deck to play. To bring a different outlook, I drafted up a Junk deck. My idea was to take the GW deck and add black for access to Putrefy, Abrupt Decay, and Obzedat. The black splash even allowed for better sideboard slots including Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Sin Collector, and Underworld Connections. I thought the deck would be pretty good because it was able to survive Supreme Verdict in the control matchup fairly well with Lotleth Troll, Voice of Resurgence, and Obzedat, while being able to get back creatures with Angel of Serenity. Here was the list I came up with at the beginning of testing:
GWb Block Constructed by Bill Comminos
As I presented the deck to the rest of the group, I knew the numbers were off (it needed four Voices and Blood Barons should probably be maindeck). I was also unsure about the Gyre Sages, but the idea was to ramp into a faster Armada Wurm or Angel of Serenity. After testing the deck against monored, the matchup seemed to be dependent on who won the die roll for Game 1 before getting a lot better postboard. The next deck I tested against was Shrout’s UWR deck. I found out my list was pretty bad against Renounce the Guilds, and Turn // Burn made Obzedat less good than he needed to be. I quickly discounted Junk and moved into playing the UWR deck Shrout had made after some testing sessions.
Once Dragon’s Maze had been released, Wen, Grendell, and I hosted local drafts to test for Limited. It became crystal clear that I was underprepared. I was making tons of mistakes, misplays, and falling for onboard tricks. I have no clue what was going through my head at the time, but some of the mistakes I made were bloodrushing a creature that I was blocking with, trying to kill an opponent’s creature with Death’s Approach thinking it was –X/-X equal to the number of creatures in my graveyard, attacking into a Kraul Warrior with them having enough mana to activate its +3/+3 ability, and generally thinking a card did something that it didn’t do. This was unlike me and I had never experienced this drafting previously. I was 0-3 in every draft and I couldn’t get a grasp on the format. The Pro Tour was just two weeks away and I was entering the last week of the spring semester of college. I had so much to do (finishing up group projects and studying for finals) and not enough time to get in testing. The pressure was getting to me and I couldn’t do much about it. Compounded with the comments I had been getting before, I felt defeated weeks before the start of the Pro Tour. My only hope was to figure out both formats in a week’s time.
Fast-forward to the next weekend, when Wen arranged for the Kentucky crew (Shrout, Parson, Schneider, and Jack Fogle) to come up and draft during FNM and Saturday. I knew I needed get into every draft to stand a chance at doing well at the Pro Tour. After about eight drafts, I had only two records of 2-1 to show for all the work I put in, along with multiple 1-2s and two 0-3s. It was not how I wanted the weekend to turn out. I knew the decks I drafted were good and I made good decisions on what cards to draft, but it seemed like I would always lose to mana screw. I kept multiple two-land hands and would never draw a third. I decided to up my land count to 18 lands because the format already contained greedy mana and another land to cast spells would let me feel safer keeping a two-lander on the play. This strategy made the decks I played smoother and more playable, especially when trying to cast cards like Trostani’s Summoner. After the drafts were over, I jokingly said that I needed to open a “Pack Rat or Bust” at the Pro Tour.
Our flight was leaving Thursday and I had four days to learn the Block format and to solidify a draft strategy. Being desperate to test draft again, I ended up logging into MTGO to do a couple drafts Wednesday night. (I have an account, but don’t own anything online. Everything I do online I have to pay out of pocket and as a college student, I don’t have the extra money to spend on MTGO.) I ended up drafting GRx ramp and 3-0d the draft. This allowed me to play in another draft and I was able to draft a similar GRx ramp deck that also allowed me to 3-0. It always seemed that I could pick up the higher quality expensive cards like Trostani’s Summoner early and pick up ramp like Cluestones later. For the Constructed part of the Pro Tour, I had settled on GW because it seemed to be doing well in the control matchups and against other aggro decks. Here is the list I settled on playing
GW Block Constructed
Thursday was just like every other day. I woke up and headed to work. I got off at 1 p.m. and still had to pack so I rushed home and got ready. My brother handed me something before we left the house and I looked down at the coolest button I had ever seen. He had made a “Pack Rat or Bust” button remembering what I had said the last night of drafting. I pinned it to my backpack and we headed to the Cincinnati airport.
It was my first time traveling by plane and I was excited. After some flight scheduling confusion (possibly missing our connection flight in Michigan due to a delay), Grendell, Wen, and I headed out west to San Diego. The plane ride was cool and I learned that I wasn’t afraid of heights; rather I was fascinated and spent most of the time looking out the window. Six and half hours later we arrived in San Diego and caught a taxi to our hotel.
I still needed to put together my deck and as I was pulling cards together, Grendell convinced me to play a different version of GW. His version ran Renegade Krasis and Gyre Sage to be more explosive in the mirror match. I thought this sounded like a good idea because he had Korey Fay, Peter Johnson, and Adam Tukel testing for him on MTGO and it was putting up results. I also expected there to be a lot of GW decks and figured people would be on UWR after finding out in testing that it was consistently beating Esper. Here was the final list I registered:
GW Block Constructed 2.0
As pairings go up, I recognized a name from my draft pod. Jackie Lee was sitting at my table. I didn’t recognize any of the other players and started to mentally prepare myself for the draft. As the draft began, I looked at the Dragon’s Maze pack and noticed a Boros Battleshaper, which I have seen win every game he has resolved in. I ended up taking it, passing some decent commons like Thrashing Mossdog. My second pick was a Trostani’s Summoner because it was the most powerful card in the pack by far. I was falling into the GRx ramp archetype that I did well online with and I was pretty happy with how the draft was going, especially when I got a ninth-pick Zhur-Taa Druid. The Gatecrash pack continued to be nice and I opened a Rubblehelt Raiders. Finally, I opened up the Return to Ravinca pack and saw the famed Pack Rat!
At this point, I knew I had a pretty good deck and opening the Pack Rat was an omen of good fortune. We changed tables to construct our decks and I end up sitting across from Owen Turtenwald. After deck construction, I submitted a four-color ramp deck splashing for both white and black:
RGwb DGR Draft by Bill Comminos
Round 1 vs. Grixis
Once I hit seven mana in Game 1, I play the Boros Battleshaper. A few draw steps later, I draw into Rubblebelt Raiders and both cards take control of the game. I mulliganed to six in Game 2 after not having lands in my opener. On one turn, I tap two mana for a Pack Rat that leaves me with two cards in hand and six mana available to populate the Rat twice. My opponent ends up casting Mindstatic on it so I tap out and pay for it. He draws and plays a Fatal Fumes on the Pack Rat. We play draw-go until my opponent eventually draws out of it. If I had drawn Rubblebelt Raiders, Ruination Wurm, Trostani’s Summoner, or Boros Battleshaper at any point, the game would’ve been over. We start Game 3 with less than 10 minutes left on the clock because of the pace of play by my opponent. I ramp into a quick Trostani’s Summoner and there is no way he can fight off all of my creatures.
Round 2 vs. Rakdos
I keep a reasonable hand in Game 1 with some ramp but it is on the slower side. My opponent, on the other hand, keeps a blistering fast start with Rakdos Shred-Freak into Gateway Shade into double Spike Jester. My life total goes from 20 to 18 to 16 to 7 to dead. I board the Electrickery in from my sideboard and lower my curve a bit to keep up with his. He ends up getting an active Gateway Shade with two Guildgates and I just can’t compete with it.
Round 3 vs. Azorius
This opponent was a very quiet player who made very deliberate plays. Game 1 is a slugfest, with my opponent gaining life off of Dramatic Rescue and Fall of the Gavel. The turning point comes when my opponent draws Lavinia of the Tenth followed by Deputy Acquittals on it. By detaining all my creatures for two turns in a row, I am unable to do anything except get killed. In Game 2, I stick a Turn 2 Pack Rat and ride it to a fast victory. In Game 3, I keep a strong hand consisting of Thrashing Mossdog, Ghor-Clan Rampager, and some ramp. My opponent proceeds to cast Jelenn Sphinx and starts to build up more and more defenses. At one point, I play a Trostani’s Summoner, bringing my board presence to 17 points worth of power. I plan to start attacking next turn but my opponent draws Lavinia of the Tenth again, detains all of my creatures except for the Summoner, and swings for 12 points of damage. I have to chump block. The next turn my opponent plays a Dramatic Rescue on his Lavinia and it is game over.
I finish 1-2 in the draft portion of Day 1, knowing that I had at least a 2-1 deck. I am a bit annoyed at this point after reflecting on the first three matches, but there isn’t much I could’ve done differently in Rounds 2 and 3. I knew that I would have to put up some results with a version of GW I had not played before. I knew I needed to win Round 4 to feel comfortable about my deck choice.
Round 4 vs. Esper
I end up losing the die roll and have to mulligan a hand that contained no green mana and absolutely no plays. My six-card hand was much better with a Forest, Plains, Voice of Resurgence, Selesnya Charm, Gyre Sage, and Loxodon Smiter. I play the Gyre Sage on Turn 2 hoping to evolve it. My opponent goes Hallowed Fountain into Godless Shrine. I end up playing Voice of Resurgence. Eventually my opponent wraths my board, sticks a Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and casts Far // Away for full value, bouncing the Elemental token. Game 2 looksmuch like the first.
I meet up with James after this round and ask him how testing against Esper went. He tells me that in order to beat a Blood Baron of Vizkopa, I need to evolve my green creatures with Renegade Krasis to get them larger than the Baron; or find an Advent of the Wurm. This seemed impossible to do with Esper containing cards like Devour Flesh, Supreme Verdict, and Far // Away. As I continue to walk around the room, I notice that Esper was in full force and a lot of people were playing some variation of control. Suddenly, GW is not looking like the correct deck choice for this tournament.
Round 5 vs. Esper
I win the roll and play Experiment One into Voice of Resurgence. This opponent is also sporting Esper, but my draw ends up being too fast. I attack him down to nine life and he resets my board with a sweeper. I play more creatures and he plays another Supreme Verdict, but I win a close Game 1. He ends up playing his playset of Supreme Verdicts in Game 2, and after he Sphinx’s Revelations for eight, I pack it in. I meet my match in Game 3 to another Blood Baron of Vizkopa. I had mulled to six again but my keep was solid. However, I can only get him down to 14 life because of his spot removal. Once the Blood Baron hits play it is all over; I don’t have any green creatures big enough to attack through it.
Round 6 vs. Golgari
I am 1-4 and my chances of making Day 2 are slim to none. I don’t feel like playing anymore as I basically had lost more than one match today because my opponent had one card in their deck (Round 3: Lavinia of the Tenth; Rounds 4, 5: Blood Baron of Vizkopa). The comments people had made to me before the Pro Tour start to creep their way back into my head. I had let myself down. I sit down in the back of the room with my opponent and think to myself that I might as well let them nail the coffin shut. My opponent kills me Game 1 after I make a bad block with an Experiment One on a Lotleth Troll and decided to regenerate the Experiment One. Because the counters were removed before damage, I don’t realize the Troll would trample over for two more damage and it kills me exactly. The next game comes with more mistakes. I have a Trostani out populating an Elemental token from a Voice of Resurgence. On my next turn, I play a second Trostani, not realizing the card is legendary. Luckily, I have the third one in hand and it didn’t cost me the game. I am never really in Game 3, however, in both aspects of the game (mentally and physically). I end up losing to a rough keep and could not draw mana.
Well I am officially not making Day 2. I pretty much know this in my head and quickly sign the match slip, forgetting to check drop next to my name. I think about going to the scorekeeper’s table and asking them to drop me, but I come to the conclusion that I should probably play in the next round at a shot for some vindication and to do something while everyone else played in the tournament.
Round 7 vs. BRW Control
I get my seat pairing and head to the back of the room again. My opponent and I have the luxury of sitting at the last table. I see in his face the same disappointed look I have. We sit down and battle. Throughout the match I begin to joke around because there is just no point in feeling sorry for myself. I knew I should’ve tested Block before the Pro Tour and I didn’t have the time due to the college semester ending so close to the Pro Tour. I believed that by letting my team do the testing for me that I could focus solely on drafting and perform fairly well. At least make my goal of making Day 2. This was not the case and I suffered the consequences. Getting back to the match, my opponent was on the BRW control deck featuring Alms Beast and Blood Barons. Instead of prolonging defeat, I concede both games pretty early and wish him luck in the last round. It is over. I feel defeated and humbled. I head back to the Legit MTG group and discuss the previous round and birdied matches in Round 8.
Later that night, the team ate together at an overpriced Mexican restaurant in the Gaslight district of San Diego. The food wasn’t very good but it was the only place available for 12 people to sit down and eat together. The next morning James and I explored San Diego, hitting up Old Town and Mission Beach. We spent most of the day out in the sun. Instead of describing what we did and how it was I will leave you with this picture, which will describe the day better than I could.
Round 15 was just about to start when I arrived back at the tournament site. I ended up watching Shrout win and make his way to Top 8. By the end of Day 2, Chi Hoi Yim placed in the Top 25, getting to ride the gravy train to the next Pro Tour, and Nick Edgerle made the Top 50.
The Top 8 matches played out and Shrout ended up losing his quarterfinal match. It was a bit sad but he made an insane run to make it to the Top 8. We all spent the day drafting at the event site until they ran out of product. Bernie and I met up with the other guys at their hotel later that day to draft some more. It was surprising to me that only Andrew Schneider, Chi Hoi, and I wanted to explore the city some more but I guess that’s what happens when you are in a group of Magic players. After drafting we were all starting to get a bit hungry. I remembered from traveling around the previous day that there existed an In-N-Out fairly close to where we were and suggested we go because I heard it is a must if you ever go out west. I now see why and I recommend it to anyone who is traveling that direction.
So, I made it to the Pro Tour, saw what it was all about, scrubbed out of the tournament, and still had a blast exploring the city of San Diego and playing in pickup drafts. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat if I was able. So, what’s next? I’ve decided I’m going to try everything in my power to make it back to the Pro Tour. I did it once before, it can’t be that much harder to do it again, right? So it’s back to the grind for me.
As a matter of fact, I was already able to play in another PTQ, in which I had the false hope of making Top 8 after going 6-1 in the Swiss rounds (defeating 10K champion Lauren Nolen in the gentleman’s agreement to mull to zero all three games) but ended up having to play in the last round because of poor tiebreakers and two people at 5-1-1. I got matched up against Jeff Hoogland playing his RUG Flash deck and ended up losing my win-and-in for Top 8. I decided to play the Junk Aristocrat deck I saw 4-0ing some daily events and ended up getting a lot of people asking for my list. So here it is:
Junk Aristocrats by Bill Comminos
I recommend playing this deck if you like playing the Aristocrats or any form of aggro. The deck feels pretty strong in the meta right now and the only tough matchups I have had are the Boros Reckoner Reanimator deck and RUG Flash (which could just be that Jeff is a master with it, though).
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Hopefully, you learned some things like what not to do for your first Pro Tour.
Shrout for making Top 8!
Chi Hoi for making Top 25!
Bernie for getting the team together! It was great working with you guys!
James for exploring the city of San Diego after we scrubbed out for Day 2.
Jason Morgan for helping to test, it was very helpful.
The city of San Diego for being awesome in general.
Being a Border Patrol in my first ever Pro Tour event. (Going 1-6 in the event)
Appointed the position of being the whitest person in California by a local after being on the beach for five minutes.
The Great Trostani Incident of 2013.
Changing decks from UWR to GW.
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