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The Pro Tour Experience

Written by John Cuvelier on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited, Standard

It’s a sublime feeling – Participating in the Pro Tour. For me it’s been quite a long while since my last outing and I was hoping like every other person who showed up to make a deep run. The PT nowadays is all about teams and groups instead of the individuals. Unfortunately for me I’m not on any team in any official capacity so I was on my own to figure things out. This is not exactly where you want to be but it’s something that can be overcome. Let’s see what path that led me down, what I learned from everything and the end result of my journey.

The Friday leading up to the Pro Tour Wizards flew me out to Phoenix, AZ to play in the Sealed GP. I figured as long as I made day 2 I could get some good limited practice prep in. I did just that as I squeezed in at 6-3 with a less than inspiring pool and managed to 2-1 both my pods day 2 to finish at 10-5 to gain myself a valuable pro point. The experience here wasn’t the greatest though. I did everything solo and didn’t have a group of players to stay with or bounce ideas off of. On top of that my 5 star hotel also had some less than spectacular internet, so I didn’t get much testing in during my downtime either. Flash forward to Monday morning and I was off to Albuquerque, NM. I was staying with Chris Fennell and eventual winner of the event Seth Manfield. Of course neither one of these fine gentlemen showed up until Thursday evening, so that left me with four full days of nothing to do but to test online. So testing I did, albeit a little bit more difficult than I anticipated.

I get to my hotel Monday and drop my stuff off since I was too early to check in. I walked about a mile to the nearest Starbucks so I could start playing some modo and just stayed there until they closed. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to play and didn’t have any tech. I spent the majority of my time there testing the Mono White Vampires list. Upon returning to my hotel I discover that the advertised high speed internet was more comparable to dial-up. This really complicated things as my testing times got restricted to the window of when Starbucks was open. I adjusted my list through numerous leagues before coming to the conclusion Tuesday night that the deck wasn’t good enough to keep spending valuable time on. It had some game against the field but it just plays too many underwhelming cards to be consistent or powerful. This put me in a little bit of a predicament. My fallback all along has been Ramunap Red. I figured the field would be full of Temur and my plan to gain an edge would be to run the full complement of Harsh Mentor and Rampaging Ferocidon. As Tuesday turned to Wednesday and then to Thursday I began to notice a shift online that was moving away from Temur and towards a four color hybrid. This means that my Harsh Mentors were weaker than anticipated and made me rethink my card choices. Thursday night the guys arrive and while Chris and I decide we’re both on Red and just need to figure out the full sideboard plan, Seth is next door working with team Genesis. They come out around 10:00pm (two hours before the deadline) and we start having small talk about the format and deck choices. Brad Nelson advised us on what he thought was the best version of Ramunap Red and wouldn’t change a single card from SandyDogMtg list that won the PTQ the weekend prior. When the best Standard player in the world tells you what he would do, you sort of have to listen. We end up copying the decklist down to a couple of sideboard differences and submit the following with about 30 minutes to spare.

Friday morning team Genesis alongside Fennell and I gathered at a nearby eatery. Overpriced organic food was on the menu. As we finish up and head to the site BBD begins to uncontrollably vomit in the parking lot. Corey Baumeister sees this display and not to be bested begins to follow suit. Not a great way to start your PT morning. Thankfully I wasn’t affected by whatever was causing them discomfort and we eventually made our way to the tournament site. My first pod was soft in terms of notable player names and was exactly what I wanted to see. My deck ended up being great. I disappointedly went 2-1 in my pod, losing to a deck full of rares that I couldn’t play around. This was the very strong deck I ended up drafting:

I’m in a pretty good position to make day two and I’m rightfully pumped up. I sit down for round 4 and it’s my PT nemesis Jarvis Yu. We last met in the feature match area of Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in Seattle on day 2. We sit down for three rather unexciting games. He was on Temur and drew exactly what he needed game 1 and 3. I’ll get you one day! (It turned out that day was on Sunday as we played a team draft) Round five I’m up against a UB control deck and make easy work of him. Next up I got a taste of the 4c energy deck from one of the Genesis players as I ran him over while he desperately tried and failed to have his mana cooperate.

Sitting at 4-2 I’m now locked for day two and really need to finish strong here to give myself a shot. The realistic goal is hit the 11-5 record to qualify for the next PT. This goal hits a snag as I lose to a 4c energy deck round seven and a Mardu Vehicles round eight. Just like that I’m sitting at 4-4 and limping into day 2. Feeling famished, Fennell and I make our way over to a local restaurant to enjoy some food and drinks before calling it a night. We shared notes about what we played and how we boarded. What we liked and disliked. It’s definitely important to have someone to bounce ideas off of and especially at this level of play.

Day two comes and Fennell and I opt to head out early and get some coffee and breakfast from Starbucks. We get to the site and my draft pod is a bit rough around the edges. Highlights include Sam Black, Joel Larsson and some other notable but not as accomplished individuals. My deck doesn’t quite come together as we had some weak packs and I ended up with the following after a sad 1-2 performance.

Sitting at 5-6 my goal of 11-5 is over all too abruptly. At this point I’m just hunting for pro points and I get to work. Rounds 12 and 13 I beat Temur to improve to 7-6. Round 14 I get beat by the one outer against BG constrictor to move to 7-7. I narrowly defeat UW approach round 15 and beat newly HOF inductee Wraptor on Temur in the last round to reach 9-7 and an additional pro point.

An uninspiring finish to my week-long journey and I’m sitting at six pro points for the season. It’s reasonable to assume before the end of the year I can hit Bronze without having to compete in another Pro Tour. But I think my goals should be much higher than that as I’m currently preparing for the RPTQ on Sunday. That being said, I have some takeaways from the event. First and foremost I should have stuck to what I believed to be correct. I ended up changing a big portion of my deck because of the conversation Brad and I had. Although his opinion does garnish a certain amount of respect I spent the time testing and came to these conclusions on my own. His opinion reflected how he felt about the format, but not from the perspective of the red mage. My call of playing four Harsh Mentor and Four Rampaging Ferocidon I think would have been a better call. It turns out that such a Ramunap Red list found its way to the top 8 of GP Atlanta. It’s possible I was just ahead of the metagame, but I should have stuck to my guns regardless. Another thing I learned was four days or about 32 hours of testing for both formats is simply not enough. I simply ran out of time and had to default to a safe pick. The deck Genesis ended up playing I had on my modo account but dismissed it early to work on Vampires instead since it looked more exciting. I didn’t even get to touch God-Pharaoh’s Gift and that’s the deck that got me to the PT in the first place.

After all was said and done I got back from the PT with plans to continue my tournament streak by going to GP Atlanta. But the travel bug bested me and I found myself with the plague Wednesday morning and opted to sit out. I need to focus on the now. The RPTQ is quickly approaching and I’m again faced with the dilemma of too many decks and not enough time. Wish me luck! Maybe one day the trophy I’m holding will be mine…….

John Cuvelier
Gosu. on MTGO
@JCuvelier on Twitter

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