There and Back Again

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
5/17/2017 11:01:00 AM
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With Pro Tour Amonkhet in the books, all I want to do is play more Magic. Unfortunately, Pro Tours don't come around that often. Going into the Pro Tour I set a the goal for myself, and that was to go 11-5. In order to do that I knew it would involve lots of preparation with fellow members of Team Genesis. For those not familiar with Team Genesis, the team is made up of myself, Brad Nelson, Michael Majors, Martin Dang, Martin Muller, and Lukas Blohon. That means exactly half Europeans and half Americans.

Luckily, the Pro Tour was close by for me compared to some of my team members, and all I needed to do was a bit of driving. We actually decided to base ourselves in Roanoke because a good chunk of the team lives there, and we could travel to the Grand Prix in Richmond quite easily from there. As many of the top teams do, we rented out a space large enough to accommodate us and started live testing almost two weeks prior to the Pro Tour.

Since Amonkhet was available on Magic Online much earlier than we anticipated, we were able to do the bulk of our draft preparation on Magic Online. It really is crazy how many drafts one person can get in online in such a short period of time; some of the team were close to 100 drafts! That is pretty absurd, and not really necessary either. Realistically, I like to get in 30-40 drafts before a Pro Tour, and this was much easier to achieve with drafts being easily accessible online.

Once we started doing house drafts, they were clearly very different from the online ones. We never would see Gust Walkers after fourth pick, since we all thought it wa the best common, and white is the strongest color (followed by red) in Amonkhet Limited. Getting in the drafts with the team at the house was necessary in order to supplement drafts on Magic Online, since these drafts were much closer to what we expected at the Pro Tour.

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As it turns out, of the six members of Genesis we had a combined record of 28-8 in Limited, which is pretty darn good! We were all extremely confident about Limited going in, and our results showed we were right on the money with our analysis of the format. To be honest though, Limited has always come much easier to me, and doesn't require nearly the amount of work that Standard does. Choosing what deck to play at a Pro Tour can be a very stressful process.

A month before the Pro Tour, I was ready for an easy tournament. I already had my playset of Felidar Gardian and Saheeli Rai, so what else would I need? When Felidar Guardian was banned, it was back to square one. The next best thing to a turn four combo kill is putting Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger into play on turn four, which meant playing Aetherworks Marvel. Various versions of Marvel decks were a huge part of Genesis testing, as we probably played about six different decks with Aetherworks Marvel in them. It wasn't until late that we got to the Temur Marvel version we actually liked.

Even though initially I wanted to play Aetherworks Marvel, because we didn't find what I thought was a good version of Marvel until shortly before the Pro Tour, exploring other decks was important as well. Even if you are not interested in playing a deck yourself, knowing all the deck in the format and what you might play against is super important. I heard both teammates and other testing teams completely writing off Zombies, but I was not one of those people.

Zombies didn't look great on paper in some player's eyes, and so those people assumed it wouldn't be good or show up at the Pro Tour. Of course, we know now they couldn't have been further off in their analysis. Zombies was a great choice for the Pro Tour, and has assumed its rightful position as a tier one Standard deck! Who would have thought? While there were versions of White-Black Zombies that did well, overall they were still not as strong as the mono-black versions, like the one Gerry Thompson won the tournament with.

This list is very close to the lists I have been talking about for a little while now, with some significant additions to the sideboard. Aethersphere Harvester is a smart way to combat other aggressive decks, and you are able to crew it very easily. Heart of Kiran and other flyers can be a major problem for a deck full of ground creatures. Gonti, Lord of Luxury is here as a grindy card against control decks, and the same can be said for Scrapheap Scrounger. These are matchups where diversifying your threats outside of the traditional Zombie package is a smart move. Liliana, the Last Hope is great in the mirror as an easy way to get ahead by killing a Cryptbreaker, or sometimes it will even go ultimate.

If I knew Mono-Black Zombies was such a good deck, how come I didn't play it? I was worried about how many sweepers players were going to be playing. Genesis realized the power of Zombies, and we were putting Kozilek's Return, Sweltering Suns and Fumigate into lots of our test decks. As it turned out, we were much more prepared for Zombies than the field at the Pro Tour. However, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing for us, since the deck we chose has a great Zombies matchup.

After testing Zombies and Blue-Red Control extensively, I discarded them. Blue-Red Control was too inconsistent and reliant on its answers lining up perfectly against the opponent's threats. Some of Genesis ended up playing Mardu Vehicles, but the majority ended up on our Temur Marvel build, which was the best version of a Marvel deck we could come up with. I was up late Wednesday night jamming games until finally I decided on Temur Marvel.

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Sometimes it isn't enough to only play games in person, and I was able to get in lots of games against a large variety of decks by hopping on Magic Online. There is definitely some downside to giving away tech or having a list published online, but it is still a great tool to use to prepare for any tournament. Any time a Genesis member was 4-0 in a league we would drop from the event, because we didn't want a list published. Secrecy is the name of the game when it comes to testing for Pro Tours,and you never want to give away unnecessary information to the opposition.

After running into Zombies a bunch on Magic Online and winning the matchup because of Chandra, Flamecaller I was convinced that the six-mana planeswalker was great. It is weird that Chandra, Flamecaller essentially disappeared from competitive play for a while, and that is likely why it was so easily overlooked by many Temur Marvel players. As it turns out, it is a sweeper, threat, card draw and a big hit off an Aetherworks Marvel activation! Martin Muller made it to the semifinals of the Pro Tour with our list.

While I like Chandra, Flamecaller a lot, I believe that four copies is too many, so instead my list had four copies of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Hitting Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger off Aetherworks Marvel is too important to not play all four. Outside of Chandra our list isn't very different from the popular Temur Aetherworks lists seeing play. This version is not based around Glimmer of Genius and countermagic, but rather tries to play more proactive threats.

I went 3-0 against Zombies at the Pro Tour, and I believe if you want to beat Zombies this is the best version of Temur Marvel. Having access to Chandra, Flamecaller and Sweltering Suns after sideboard was key to getting lots of Zombies off the board at once. Admittedly, against the other version of Temur Marvel with more counters and Glimmer of Genius I believe our version is behind in the matchup. Muller's Top 8 matches help illustrate this as he swept Christian Calcano, and was then beaten up by Yuuya Watanabe in the semifinals.

As for me, the tournament was a roller coaster full of extreme highs and some frustrating lows. Starting 3-0 in my draft was great, it has been a few Pro Tour's since I have gotten off to a good start, and let me tell you it is a huge confidence booster since after getting thoroughly wrecked by Sam Black's token deck the night before the Pro Tour, I wasn't actually that optimistic about Constructed.

After ultimating Chandra, Torch of Defiance I lost eight turns later; needless to say his deck can gain a ton of life. I thought I had the metagame down, and there were not going to be crazy decks, but Sam was the exception. Luckily I only played decks during the Constructed rounds of the Pro Tour that I was well prepared for. This was a huge sigh of relief and validated my deck choice. If I were to run back the tournament I would choose to play the same deck, which is always a good feeling.

After going 6-2 on the first day, and 2-1 in my draft I was still live for Top 8 going into the last few rounds of Constructed. Since my tiebreakers were good a 12-4 finish would be good enough, if I could manage it. While my goal going into the Pro Tour was 11-5, once Top 8 was in reach, I definitely wanted to do better than my original goal. In the end, I lost my win-and-in to Eric Froehlich.

While I came up just short of Top 8 I'm still happy. Magic is a game where you need to be prepared to lose, because losing is inevitable. Certain matches and games are simply out of your control. I'm happy to leave a tournament knowing I played my best, and in the end I was able to reach the goal I set for myself going in. In order to reach Platinum this year I knew I would need a good Pro Tour finish, and I got it at Pro Tour Amonkhet. Now, I'm locked for Platinum next year, and will be doing by best to grab a Worlds slot both individually and for my team.

Right now, Genesis sits in second place in the Team Series standings, after being in 11th going into the Pro Tour. Needless to say, we crushed the tournament as a group, and doing well as a team is in many ways more rewarding than individual success. If we have a good showing in Kyoto, I'm confident we will make it to Worlds as a team. For now, I'm back to thinking about how to attack a Standard metagame filled with Temur Marvel and Zombies, so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield




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