That First Taste of Pro Tour Success

Feature Article from Brian Braun-Duin
Brian Braun-Duin
2/9/2018 11:01:00 AM
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All hell has broken loose.

I Top 16'd a Pro Tour.

What?

That's right. You heard me. I Top 16'd a Pro Tour.

No!? That can't be. It was foretold that this would not come to pass. What of the prophecies?

It has come to pass. The prophecies were a lie. Chaos reigns now.

Going into Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, I had played in 18 Pro Tours. I only cashed three of them. I had never made Top 32, and never done better than 10-6. I had a win rate of 51%. When it came to Grand Prix, I was killing it. When it came to the Pro Tour, I was getting killed. These weren't even freak accidents, either. It was murder, plain and simple. I was getting murdered, over and over again, and justice was not being doled out to the perpetrators. They were getting off scot-free, and I was left with my hopes face down in a ditch somewhere, time after time.

There was a time many years ago where I accidentally ventured into a hut buried deep in a damp, dark swamp and a witch living in the hut screeched at me that I would never go better than 10-6 at a Pro Tour through my first 18 tries. I brushed it off, not believing in witches or their dark magic, but in hindsight, it seems that maybe I should have taken it a little more seriously, as that witch was exactly correct. Live and learn.

Thankfully, the witch said nothing about try number 19. Witches never do.

Lucky Number Snineteen.

So how did this all happen? Who messed up horrifically to allow me to finally get that 12-4 finish at a Pro Tour? I'm glad you asked. It was 464 other competitors, but let's start from the beginning.

The Setup

The plan was to attend Grand Prix Indianapolis with the North American contingent of players from team Genesis and team Revelation, and from there we would fly out to London. We'd stay in London for nine days, during which we would attend Grand Prix London, and afterward we would travel to Bilbao, Spain, to play in Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.

For the record, even though the Pro Tour was in Bilbao, I made zero Bilbao Baggins jokes before, during and after this Pro Tour. I was on my best behavior. There was a man sitting next to me on my flight to Bilbao, who looked almost identical to the actor who played Bilbo Baggins in Lord of the Rings, and I still did not say a peep about it to anyone. I couldn't get over the fact that I sat next to Bilbo on the way to Bilbao, but I still kept myself under complete control. That's how dedicated I was to the cause of not destroying my teammates with my puns.

Like I said, the plan was to fly from GP Indianapolis directly to London. I elected to not follow the plan. See, I've been getting pretty burnt out on Magic lately, and I frankly just did not want to spend any more time in a small, cramped, living space with 11 other men than was absolutely necessary. I chose to arrive one day later, which allowed me to spend an extra day at home with my girlfriend. I would have sacrificed my extra day of rest if my teammates truly needed me, but they had enough bodies to fire drafts anyway, so it worked out fine. They got to be in more drafts. I got to retain more of my sanity. Win/win.

It was completely worth it.

The plan was for each of us to prepare for Modern on our own time, and get lots of draft practice in at the house. I have a pretty strong Modern collection, owning most of the format, but I elected to only bring cards for three archetypes. I brought cards for Tron variants, Death's Shadow variants and Lantern Control. I figured I would only play one of those three decks, and it would probably be a mistake for me to try to play anything else, since I would not know the deck very well.

In Modern, it is extremely important to play a deck where you know exactly what you are supposed to do and how to sideboard in every matchup. I felt completely confident about that with Lantern Control, felt some confidence with Death's Shadow and hoped that Brad Nelson and the Tron Boys could help me if I decided to Genghis Tron it up.

When I arrived in London, I was about 80% likely to play Lantern, 15% Death's Shadow, and 5% Tron.

The Grand Prix

Grand Prix London was Rivals of Ixalan Sealed. I came into the event hall with a fierce determination to open a good pool. My eyes bored holes in the back of the deck box containing my pool in an effort to change the cards within to be the kind of easy-to-build, rare-centric pool that I was really hunting for. I don't have the time or skills to try to scrape for whatever I can get out of some horrifically weak pool. Nobody does. Rares and mythics. That's all I want. Give me those rares and mythics.

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Unfortunately, this was not to be. I opened my pool up and it was hot medium. I had a Ravenous Chupacabra, but big Chups wasn't paired with much playable black. Eventually, using the entire time allotted, I built a Red-Green Dinosaur deck that had no power except for Ghalta, Primal Hunger but was consistent and had three solid pieces of red damage-based removal. I hoped that my opponents would stumble a lot and I could just curve out medium two-drop into medium three-drop into medium four-drop and win.

My games didn't play out like this. In fact, I always felt like I was going to lose, but somehow I just kept winning, anyway. There was a common theme throughout the day. It would be turn four or five, and I would start to see that I was losing control of the game and my opponent was going to win. I would then play as aggressively as I possibly could, throwing away creatures in horrible trades to push as much damage as I could. When the dust settled, my opponent would be at exactly four life, no more, no less and they would have stabilized the board completely, about to take over the game with whatever bomb rare they had.

Then I'd draw Unfriendly Fire and they'd die.

I cast Unfriendly Fire targeting my opponent at exactly four life a great many times this day, and it was glorious. Was I lucky to continually draw my one copy of Unfriendly Fire within the small window I had to draw it before I lost? Of course. Did I also play very tightly to give myself that chance to win? I did. It was a perfect storm of playing well and drawing well, and it resulted in me scrapping my way to a perfect 7-2 record.

What's that? 7-2 isn't a perfect record? It sure felt like it was for Red-Green Mediums.

I came back on day two, fired up to draft. That fire lasted about 22 minutes, until the conclusion of the first draft. I drafted a...concoction...one might call it. I hesitate to call it a deck. Perhaps pile is the optimal term. It was a green-based ramp deck, that was either going to be green-white without a splash, or green-blue splashing white. Yeah, that's right, I didn't know what colors I was going to be even after pack three. I was going to figure that out once I sat down to build. That's when you know you've got a real winner.

Eventually I decided to go with the blue cards and play a Bant mess. Bant in every format. My life's motto. Bant in every format, even Rivals of Ixalan Limited. Basically, I could either play River's Rebuke and Waterknot or Wakening Sun's Avatar, but not both. I went with the blue cards, which offered my deck more power overall. I played 16 lands including an Arch of Orazca for the perfect mana base. Okay, fine, I had multiple Traveler's Amulets and an Atzocan Seer to help with the mana. My mana actually was pretty solid.

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I'll spare the gory details, but all three rounds were some of the most absurd matches of Magic I have ever played. I won a game three in two minutes even though my most aggressive creature was a 3/2 for three. I sided in Wakening Sun's Avatar with only four Plains in my deck and cast it to win the next match. I lost a match where I didn't think I could possibly lose to any card in the format until my opponent played Etali, Primal Storm and then beat me with the bomb rares off the top of my own deck. There were cards I could lose to in the format. My own cards. It was a wild 2-1.

The second draft was way more straightforward. Green was wide open, and I ended up with a Red-Green Dinosaur deck that was very boring, but also very good. I ended up going 3-0, which was good for 5-1 overall in draft that day, and a 12-3 record to net me three Pro Points and a Top 32 finish.

I was pretty happy. I wanted that Top 8, but you can't really ask for more than going 5-1 in draft.

The Build Up

After the Grand Prix, we tested a few more days and then shipped out of London to Bilbao. I was extremely wise, and booked five nights at the Hotel Puerta de Bilbao, which was the closest to the site. Brad Nelson, who was extremely dumb, booked only three nights at the Hotel Puerta de Bilbao, followed by two nights at the Ibis Hotel, which was much further away. This meant that he had to pack up and move his stuff on Saturday to a hotel the opposite direction of the site--a truly boneheaded move. Why would Bradley J. Nelson do such a stupid and inexplicable thing?

What actually happened was that when Brad booked his hotel room, he could only book for three nights at the Hotel Puerta de Bilbao, because they didn't list any available rooms for the last two nights. So then he had to make do with the Ibis hotel for those nights.

Me, being extremely wise, procrastinated for two weeks. When I eventually managed to book a hotel, all five nights were now suddenly available at the Hotel Puerta de Bilbao, which meant that I was rewarded for my laziness by getting to stay all five nights at the closest hotel. Justice isn't always served, but this time it was.

Brad Nelson's legacy is over. It's now the year of the BBD.

I didn't test a lot of Modern during the stay in London. For one, the internet was working for everyone except for me, which was an enormous tilt. Or maybe it worked about the same for everyone, but you just notice the choppiness a lot more when you have to make 97 actions a turn with Lantern Control.

I played a grand total of two leagues, where I went 3-2 and 4-1, respectively. Had I played a third league, it would have, of course, been a 5-0. Over the past few months, however, I had played countless leagues with Lantern Control and I knew the deck inside and out. Any matches I played at this point were mainly just to shake any rust off and maybe experience playing against some new decks on Magic Online.

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I decided to lock in on Lantern Control, but I wasn't confident about it. For one, I had this fear that a lot of my wins on Magic Online were against people who were playing poorly against me and that at the Pro Tour, my opponents would play a lot better and I wouldn't get those same wins. I also had this fear that Tron was going to be the most-played deck. Tron is a nightmare matchup for Lantern Control.

That Tron fear wasn't just irrational worrying. Tron had suddenly vaulted to the top deck on the MTGGoldfish Modern metagame page, which is mostly based on Competitive Modern Leagues on Magic Online. Those leagues were saturated by players testing for the Pro Tour, meaning that a lot of Pro Tour competitors were thinking about Tronning it up. Additionally, a huge chunk of the players on my team had all swapped to playing Tron for the Pro Tour. If a lot of really good players on my team decided that Tron is the best choice, it stood to reason that players on other testing teams might do the same.

And they did. Tron was not the most-played deck, but it did end up being the fourth most-played deck, and a lot of players on big teams did play Tron.

As it turns out, the metagame ended up being extremely favorable for Lantern Control, which was pretty lucky. The top three decks – Humans, Affinity and Burn – are all favorable matchups for Lantern, and below Tron were more favorable matchups, like the many variants of control and Eldrazi Tron.

Lantern Control turned out to be a good choice, even though only a scant nine out of 465 players played the deck.

The Pro Tour: Day 1

I sat down at a draft pod where I didn't recognize many of the faces sitting around me. That can be both a good and bad thing. It's good to not have to play against some of the top players in the event, but it can also be good to sit next to a top professional, because it is easier to read their signals and understand their card evaluations.

I wanted to draft Red-Green Dinosaurs or Green-Blue Merfolk. Green, while not the best color in Rivals of Ixalan, is a solid color that most people seemed to want to avoid drafting. On Magic Online drafts, where people get way better decks on average and far less cutting and hate drafting occurs, green decks tend to underperform. But in a paper draft where everyone is way better than the average online competitor, the raw size of green creatures becomes way more appealing when everyone's decks are worse.

Green was likely to be underdrafted, and also likely to overperform.

I won't say that I forced Dinosaurs in my first draft, but I did first pick Thrashing Brontodon, and then just never moved out. Green seemed relatively open, and I was getting late Goblin Trailblazers in red, which seemed a perfect complement. The Polyraptor that I opened and passed ended up tabling, and I happily snatched it up ninth. That card might not be a bomb, but it's still pretty good, and should not have ended up ninth pick.

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I ended up with a really mediocre deck. I was disappointed with how the draft progressed. Red-green had seemed wide open in pack one, but I did not get rewarded after that. As it turns out, the player two to my right was in red-green and so was the player on my left. I don't know how that happened, but it did.

I had 19 creatures in my deck that worked their way nicely up the curve from 2-5. My creatures were fine. The problem is that I had no combat tricks, and my only removal spells were Pounce and Hunt the Weak, meaning if my opponent played something like a 5/5, I couldn't remove it or attack past it. That was a problem.

I ended up main decking the Polyraptor and a late Makeshift Munitions. I had Pirate's Plunder and two copies of Captain Lannery Storm to ramp me into Polyraptor and provide fodder for Makeshift Munitions. I felt like there were going to be a lot of games where either Munitions or Polyraptor were going to be the only ways I could win.

I was right. Thankfully, I put those cards in my deck and I happened to draw them enough times to win those games. I won two games with Makeshift Munitions and two games with Polyraptor that I don't think I would have possibly won without drawing those cards, and I ended up escaping with a 2-1 record. Considering there was a point where I was 0-1, down a game and losing game two in round two, I was ecstatic to 2-1.

My first round of Modern was against Andrejs Prost, who I assumed would likely be on Affinity, as he had played that deck in the past to a team Grand Prix win in San Antonio earlier in the year. I was right, and I won a fairly straightforward game one. I felt very in control in both games two and three, but somehow ended up losing to a fairly frustrating string of draws, including Andrejs escaping a stable board and the Lantern lock in game three, a rare feat for Affinity.

I felt pretty down at this point. I was already doubting my choice of playing Lantern, and here I had just lost a match I felt very likely to win. Andrejs Prost also knew exactly what he should do at every stage of the game vs. me, which was another fear I had playing Lantern...that my opponents would know exactly how to beat a very beatable deck in Lantern.

Thankfully, the rest of the day went extremely smoothly. I beat Grixis Death's Shadow, Storm, Jeskai Tempo and Affinity in relatively straightforward fashion to finish the day 6-2. During the course of the day, they released the metagame breakdown and seeing a favorable field for Lantern gave me some increased confidence.

The Pro Tour: Day 2

Draft went a lot better for me. I opened Hadana's Climb, which is one of the most busted rares in Rivals of Ixalan, and then Ben Friedman, who was passing to me, didn't try to fight me on green-blue. I got a second-pick Siren Reaver and third pick Ghalta, Primal Hunger, which made it pretty clear that green, at the very least, would be open.

Blue and Green were indeed extremely wide open, but somehow my deck still didn't end up being very good. Almost every pack had some mix of the same blue cards, Sea Legs, Sworn Guardian and Soul of the Rapids, which is not what I was after. Still, I ended up with a bunch of rares, including a Hostage Taker that I didn't splash for to improve consistency, but sided in a few times.

I got absolutely smashed by a very nice Blue-Red Pirates deck in the first round, but managed to squeak by in the next two rounds against a Black-Red Pirates deck and a Mardu Vampires deck, thanks largely to Hadana's Climb putting in a lot of work.

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At this point I was 8-3, and still live for Top 8 if I went 5-0 in my remaining Modern matches. Considering there was a point in the tournament where I was 2-2, it felt pretty nice to be 8-3.

It also felt quite nice to get paired against Tommy Ashton, who I knew was on Bogles, possibly the best possible matchup for Lantern. Round 12 might have been one of the only times I will ever effectively win a game of Magic at a Pro Tour on turn zero. I looked at my opening hand, it had Ensnaring Bridge in it, and that was that.

Unfortunately, my Top 8 hopes came crashing down the next round. I got paired against Daniel Grafensteiner on Ad Nauseam. People constantly tell me that Ad Nauseam is a good matchup for Lantern Control, but I lose to it a lot on Magic Online and I'm pretty sure it is actually one of the worst matchups.

There was a point where I thought I might win game one. I had a Pithing Needle on Lightning Storm, meaning that he needed to kill me with Laboratory Maniac to win. On my third turn, I cast a Whir of Invention for one. My plan was to get Pyrite Spellbomb, which I could sit on to blow up Laboratory Maniac, and unless he had instant speed draw in his list, which most do not play, he would be stuck forced to win with Simian Spirit Guide beatdown. He had the Foresight to counter my Whir with Pact of Negation followed by Angel's Grace on his next upkeep, and I ended up losing. I don't think many would have made that play. In game two I got smashed by Leyline of Sanctity.

I ended up winning my last three matches, against Humans, the Lantern mirror and Jeskai Tempo to finish off 12-4, good enough for 15th place and an 8-2 record with Lantern Control.

While one player did make Top 8 with a 12-4 record, I knew that I would never have the tiebreakers for it, having started the event 2-2 and having amongst the worst tiebreakers of tthe 6-2 players. I didn't care. Top 16 honestly felt like Top 8 to me. Not only was this the best finish I've ever had at a Pro Tour, it was two more wins than I've ever earned before.

And I did it with Lantern Control, a deck that I truly love playing. This was the most fun Pro Tour I have ever played. I'm just going to come out and say it. Lantern Control might be my favorite deck I have ever piloted. Come at me. Lantern Control is Legacy Miracles ported to Modern. It has the same style of control over a game, and there are so many micro decisions that matter in the early turns. I love walking the tightrope of finding the cards I need while keeping my opponent off finding what they need. It's extremely skill-testing Magic for both players.

Finishing Top 32 at the Grand Prix and Top 16 at the Pro Tour pushed me from 20 Pro Points to 38 in the span of two weeks. I went from being in fine shape to make Gold to being locked for Gold, in fine shape to make Platinum and in reach of qualifying for Worlds. I also now have another avenue to make Worlds: Constructed Master. I've gone 8-2 in Constructed at both Pro Tours this season, and with the last Pro Tour being a team event, there is only one more Pro Tour left to determine who will win Constructed Master and qualify for Worlds that way. Right now, I'm tied with Immanuel Gerschenson at one point behind John Rolf, who has gone 8-2 and 8-1-1. Another 8-2 finish might be enough to get me there.

The Aftermath

With Lantern Control winning the Pro Tour in the hands of Luis Salvatto, social media has blown up with talk of banning the deck over the past week. Other people have written great articles about why Lantern Control should not be banned, so I'm going to just stick to a few points.

Lantern was played by nine players out of 465, less than 2% of the field, many of them very high-level players who are expected to perform well and go very far in a tournament. Only six of those players made it to Saturday. Lantern Control only had a little above a 50% win rate. Lantern only accounted for 3% of the total draws in the tournament, one of which was against White-Blue Control, which itself accounted for 31% of the total draws in the tournament. Cryptic Command was more problematic for matches finishing than Lantern was, at least at this event.

Lantern Control did not have a dominating performance at this Pro Tour. If Luis Salvatto lost his last round and didn't make Top 8, nobody would have said anything. If he lost the quarterfinals, nobody would have said anything. Just because he ended up winning in a Top 8 that was full of very favorable matchups doesn't suddenly mean it's open season on calling for bannings. Just because the deck isn't fun to play against doesn't mean it should be banned. Most people who hate playing against Lantern also have no clue how to beat it. Maybe learning the matchup and the intricacies of beating the deck would make the deck more fun to play against. It certainly did for me.

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Lantern Control can never consistently be the best deck in the format. It is eminently beatable. Tron smashes it. Jund smashes it. CoCo decks are favored against it. Lantern is not equipped to beat certain cards, like Eidolon of the Great Revel or Tireless Tracker, or any number of other anti-Lantern cards that can beat win a game all by themselves. The deck is powerful, but it is also fragile and it can crumble pretty easily. It's not Miracles. If you come at it, it will fade away. It's not Eggs. It doesn't cause players to wait 20 minutes for one turn to finish after time has been called.

If you ban Lantern Control, you are not banning it because it is too good of a deck. You're banning it because it isn't a fun deck. And if you're going to ban decks because they aren't fun, then decks like Tron should also not remain legal. Tron is by far my least favorite deck to play against in any format, ever, and I've sat here losing to Tron for six years straight in Modern, yet I don't think Tron needs to be banned. Let's not kid ourselves. Tron stifles gameplay interaction just as much if not more than Lantern Control does, and Tron makes up a way higher percentage of the metagame. Calling for a Lantern Ban only makes sense in the context of also calling for a ban on other decks that stifle fun.

Lantern might be my favorite deck I've ever played. They banned Pod, and I said nothing against it, because Pod was too good. They banned Twin, and I said nothing against it, even if Twin wasn't too good. They banned Eldrazi and Dredge, and I said nothing because those decks were too good. They banned Legacy Miracles and I said nothing against it, because I agreed that Sensei's Divining Top was too good. I've sat by and let them ban all my favorite decks without saying anything against them, because I felt they were justified in those bans.

This time, I'm saying something. I frankly do not believe Lantern Control is a deck that justifies a ban. I've advocated for all of my other favorite decks to get banned when I felt they deserved it. This one does not.

Lantern Control is one of the most unique decks we've ever seen, built by a conglomeration of excited brewers on the MTGSalvation forums years ago. It does something that no other deck in Magic's history does, and it does so in a shell that promotes interesting, skill-testing games of Magic. It isn't overpowered. In fact, it's exactly the right power level to be a playable, but not overbearing deck in Modern. If a unique deck that promotes interesting puzzle-oriented gameplay at a balanced power level isn't the kind of deck that should be featured in Modern, Magic's most diverse format, then what should be? Lantern Control is exactly what Modern should be and Lantern is a walking advertisement for the kind of ingenuity, brewing and resourcefulness that makes Modern great.

And for once, I'll be truly heartbroken if my pet deck gets banned.

- Brian Braun-Duin




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