After twelve days on the road, I'm finally back from Pro Tour San Diego. Between going to GP Portland, spending a week testing for the Pro Tour, and playing in the actual event, I came home pretty exhausted. My experience at the PT was both good and frustrating. I had set a goal for myself to finish in the Top 16, which would get me the Pro Points I needed for Platinum status. The goal was very achievable but also quite hard.
My overall finish at the Pro Tour was good enough for 64th place, $1000 and five Pro Points, not quite what I needed for Platinum. I nearly mastered the limited format, achieving a 6-0 record in DGR booster draft, but I chose a bad constructed deck and was only able to muster up a 4-6 finish in Block. I was disappointed in not making Platinum but I was overall happy with the finish. I'm qualified for the next four Pro Tours, and with hard work and good play I'm sure I can make it to Platinum next year.
As soon as the Dragon's Maze Prerelease was over, I began organizing drafts in my local area. There were at least ten other people in New England who were qualified for the event, so I contacted them and we began drafting immediately. Unfortunately, most of the qualified players had other commitments and couldn't draft, but I was able to get together with Adam Snook, Mike Sigrist, and a bunch of excellent drafters from Providence. We assembled nearly every day and drafted two to three times daily. I learned a great deal from these drafts and was able to form a solid strategy going into the Pro Tour.
After Grand Prix Portland, I flew down to San Diego and met up with my team, Team TCGplayer. You can view the team roster here.
For our constructed testing, we knew that we wanted to do one thing: beat monored. We began with building GW Tokens, Junk, Esper, UWR, Bant, BWR “Good Stuff,” and Maze's End. By the time Thursday rolled around, we concluded that monored had a 60% or better win percentage against practically everything game one. The three color decks had bad mana and took too much damage from lands, giving monored a high percentage to win. While I thought GW Tokens was great, it always lost to a single Legion Loyalist. Not only could I not find a deck that beat monored consistently, I really couldn't find one that I enjoyed playing. In the end, I decided to play monored, along with Raphael, Roberto, and Julien.
This deck is very straightforward and has very few ways to interact with your opponent. You just play your creatures and attack, remove blockers with Mizzium Mortars, and finish with Dynacharge. This deck has a very high game one win percentage, and that percentage increases greatly if you win the die roll. Usually you know if you will win the game by turn three, and most games come down to how much land you draw. If you draw only three lands in the game you are favored to win, but if you drew five or more you were likely dead.
I knew all of these things going into this tournament. I understood that I would not be playing much interactive Magic at the Pro Tour, but rather just playing guys and turning them sideways. Despite these things, I thought that monored was the right deck for the tournament so I stuck with it.
Julien and Roberto performed horribly with the deck, not even making Day 2 while Raphael and I were able to finish out Friday with twelve points or better. Raph went 4-1 with monored while I had a horrible 1-4 and only made it to the next day of competition based on my excellent draft performance. By the end of the Pro Tour, I finished Constructed with a miserable 4-6 record while Raph had a much better 7-3.
What went wrong? As it turned out, our preparation did not go so well. All of our three color control or midrange decks that we built in testing were very greedy for mana and we played lots of Guildgates, making them much more vulnerable to monored. We immediately dismissed all of our green aggressive strategies because they lost to Esper. We just didn't find a deck that we liked against the field.
The second thing that went wrong was that we based all of our testing around the fact that we thought monored would be all over the Pro Tour. We were very wrong, as there was hardly any monored at all. In testing, I had a RG aggro deck that I strongly considered playing but ended up dismissing it because it couldn't beat the monored “mirror.”
As you can see, this deck is just monored with a light splash of green for Domri Rade and Ghor-Clan Rampager. Adding green gave the deck so much more reach against the control decks of the format. The Esper matchup was excellent because they had a very hard time removing Domri. If they didn't draw a Detention Sphere, there was a very good chance that Domri would just go ultimate. The card advantage that he provides was great against the GW and Junk decks. He's such a huge threat that he must be attacked, leaving an opening for my own creatures to get through. Also, fighting with your own Boros Reckoner can be a beating against opposing creatures.
Why didn't I play this deck at the Pro Tour? The number one reason was that this deck lost pretty badly to monored. Guildgates were very awkward and slow, and tapping out for Domri usually gave my opponents a way to just kill me. Of course, my prediction that monored would be everywhere was incorrect, and I'm sure I would have had a better constructed performance had I chosen the RG Aggro deck instead of monored.
One thing that went right for me at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze was booster draft. My preparation for the Dragon's Maze/Gatecrash/Return to Ravnica draft format really paid off at the Pro Tour as I finished draft with an undefeated record.
My strategy going in was to choose one guild from Gatecrash and one guild from Return to Ravnica that complimented it. While I don't mind being three colors, I strongly preferred to be as close to two colors as possible and have the third color as a light splash. Which guild I chose of course depended on what I opened and got fed in Dragon's Maze. My preference was for my primary guild to be from Gatecrash, as I could cut the guild hard in pack one and be rewarded in pack two.
I opened the first pack and saw an Unflinching Courage staring at me. It was quite the obvious first pick and it gave me a few options. I could be Selesnya splashing Orzhov, Gruul splashing Selesnya, Orzhov splashing Golgari, or even Boros splashing Selesnya. There are really a lot of options for this card, and I just needed to choose my Gatecrash Guild and my Return to Ravnica guild by the end of the pack. The pack also contained a Punish the Enemy and a Warleader's Helix, so I immediately assumed playing red was out.
For pick two, I was given the choice of Punish the Enemy and some solid green creatures. This is where I had to make a decision. I could stay on color and take one of the creatures, or dip into red for the removal spell. I eventually chose to go with Punish the Enemy because options for removal can be very limited in green. Going into red paid off because I then got passed a pair of Zhur-Taa Druids, solidifying me in Gruul. I rounded out pack one with a Boros Guildgate and a few random green guys.
After pack two, I was heavy red green with a splash of Unflinching Courage. My plan for Return to Ravnica was to draft green creatures and Selesnya Guildgates so that I could cast the Unflinching Courage without ruining my manabase. I picked up only one Guildgate in RTR which was very unfortunate because it meant that I had to pass cards like Centaur Healer and Call of the Conclave in favor of worse cards that I could actually cast. Here is my first draft deck:
I feel like the one deckbuilding mistake I made with this deck was playing the Grove of the Guardian. A lot of things had to go right for this card to work, especially in my deck. I needed to draw both a white source and have two creatures in play to activate it, which is pretty hard to do. Every time I drew the Grove in my opening hand, I had to mulligan. I eventually started siding it out for a basic Plains, which is the card that it should have been in the first place.
The other card that was questionable was Horncaller's Chant. Eight mana is a lot, especially in draft. My deck had a lot of ramp spells. Two Zhur-Taa Druid, Gyre Sage, and Gruul Cluestone are all cards that helped me accelerate my mana. Horncaller's Chant also added two counters to my evolve creatures, but eight mana was so greedy. My other options were to play Ripscale Predator or Maze Rusher over the Chant, but I didn't really like either of those cards. I rarely cast Horncaller's Chant because I didn't get to eight mana very often, but the two times that I did cast the card, it won me the game.
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My draft on Day 2 was much harder as I was in a pod with Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Josh Ravitz, and Jacob Wilson. I really like blue in this draft format and prefer to draft either an Esper or Grixis control deck, so I was pretty happy to open an AEtherling in my first pack. Opal Lake Gatekeeper is a great card in a three color blue strategy because you usually will have a lot of gates, and I ended up with three of them which gave me pretty much what I needed to draft control. I had a hard time getting a signal of what colors were open in Dragon's Maze in this draft. I drafted a Boros Battleshaper and a Jelenn Sphinx early, but then I started picking up black cards such as Pilfered Plans, Woodlot Crawler, and Hired Torturer. It seemed that black was the open color, and after receiving a late Orzhov Guildgate I settled on drafting an Esper deck for packs two and three.
My plan for Gatecrash was to pick up as much black removal as possible as well as all of the extort creatures that I could. After first picking a Kingpin's Pet, I received a Grisly Spectacle and a Devour Flesh but the white had completely dried up. I was solidly in Dimir at that point, but was still not sure if Azorius or Izzet would be my RTR Guild. When I opened a Hypersonic Dragon in the third pack, my decision was made for me. I picked up a few mana fixers and some fillers to round out the deck.
I had a lot of choices when building my deck. I could build a slower controlling deck that would get run over by aggro but would destroy anything midrange or control, or I could play slightly worse cards such as Woodlot Crawler and Mortus Strider so that I would not die to the beatdown decks. My cards were very powerful and if I got to the late game I was very favored to win with my rares, so I went with the deck that was better against aggro decks. As it turned out, my first two opponents had fast decks and my maindeck build of this draft deck was very good against them.
In the final round of draft, I was paired against Josh Ravitz. Josh also had a very slow blue deck. My Woodlot Crawler and Bane Alley Blackguard were pretty bad against him, and I never really got a good clock on him. Eventually, he played his own AEtherling with a bunch of blue mana untapped and it killed me.
The defensive creatures were unnecessary to run against the slower control deck filled with 2/3s, and Gift of Orzhova was bad against bounce and removal. With this build I could play a much slower game, counter the relevant threats, gain card advantage, and win with one of my bombs. I did not play the second Transguild Promenade in my original deck because they are very slow and drawing two of them early can turn into timewalks for your opponent, but when I'm not casting spells until turn four or five, having a second slow mana fixer is great.
The sideboard plan was excellent and I ended up winning game three by landing a very late AEtherling with Counterspell backup and untapped blue lands which was too much for Josh to handle. After that difficult match I finished the draft portion of Pro Tour Dragon's Maze with a 6-0 record.
Clearly I had done things right in draft, but my constructed testing needed lots of work. We had a few major setbacks in our group's testing process, including predicting the metagame wrong, choosing a deck that I did not enjoy playing, and an overall unorganized test group. Things will be different for the next Pro Tour and I've already started establishing my testing process! I've learned a lot at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze and I hope this report has helped you gain some insight on this complex draft format. Thanks for reading and see you at Grand Prix Providence!
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