Lock, Stock Temur and Two Smoking Dragons
We all make mistakes. At least that's what I tell myself whenever I royally mess up, which happens early and often. When it comes to the Magic: The Gathering Professional Tour I've made my fair share of mistakes. In fact, one might say that I've blown it so many times that I've also made other people's fair share of mistakes. I'm like a greedy robber baron where the currency being stolen is in non-consecutive unmarked and unforced errors. I'll happily take that mistake off your hands and make it myself. Don't mind if I do. One of my common mistakes is in selecting the wrong deck. I'll spare the Frank Gore-y details, but let's just say that I have twice registered the card Bomat Courier at a Pro Tour. *audible gasp* “No. You didn't!” Yes, I did. What could I have been thinking?!
While I know Bomat Courier is a fine card that other people have done well with, it's not for me. I should not be touching a Bomat Courier unless the deck is so far and away the best deck such that I would have to be delusional to do anything but play it. If you see me with a Bomat Courier in my hands, please knock it out and give me some green cards instead. I want to send a message but Bomat Courier is surprisingly not the card for the job.
I suck with Bomat Courier and the kinds of decks that play cards like that. I'm bad at playing aggressive strategies in general, especially mirror matches with those decks at the Pro Tour, where my opponents are just going to be better at it. While I think it is important to have range as a Magic player and be able to play a variety of decks and archetypes with a high level of proficiency, I also am realizing that most of my successful tournaments have come when I have played decks that suit my style. I can win a grindy midrange mirror and feel like I outplayed my opponent. If I win an aggressive mirror, I tend to feel like I just was luckier than my opponent, because there's a pretty good chance I played worse than they did.
Last weekend was another Pro Tour, which lent itself to more opportunities to make more mistakes. I walked away from this Pro Tour with a 10-6 finish that wouldn't turn any heads, but I felt like I avoided common traps I generally fall into, and I had a sense of confidence that I have frequently lacked at the Pro Tour. While I didn't get my first Pro Tour Top 8 or even Top 16, I felt like I leveled up last weekend and I'm excited to see what that means for me over the course of this year.
I ended up playing what could only be described as Stock Temur. I spent weeks grinding this Standard format endlessly, and I settled on the most boring, well-known, and straightforward deck imaginable. The Cleveland Temur. What happened? What catastrophic events must have transpired for me to grind a format for weeks on end and then just end up locked on the stock?
Let's get to the bottom of this pickle. Let's run through What Happened. Hillary Clinton ran for U.S. President in 2016 against Donald Trump, a hard-fought campaign that she eventually lost...Oh wait, that's actually the book entitled What Happened by Hillary Clinton. My bad. You thought I was going to tell you what happened for me to settle on Temur Energy, but instead I told you about a book with the same exact name – What Happened. This hilarious bait-and-switch was a form of word-based situational comedy derived from using the same terminology with different meanings based on the context applied. *Run audience laugh track*
I grinded Standard for two weeks straight. I tested about every possible deck in the book. Mono-White Vampires? Yeah, I tested it. Abzan, Esper, White-Black Tokens? You better believe it. White-Blue Monument? Check and mate. Mono-Black Aggro? Yeah, I brought my cherished playset of Night Market Lookout to the Pro Tour. What of it? Mardu indestructible creatures + Wraths? Yeah, I gave it a whirl. Temur Energy? Yeah, I also gave that a whirl...or should I say, a Whirler Virtuoso! Hey-o! That was the Rogue Refinest joke I've ever made. I dare you to make a better joke. I bet you Servant of the CantDoIt. Hellooooooooo. Joke police. I'd like to report a missing item. My backside, because these jokes have caused me to LMAO. You'd better Attune in for more of these quality hits each and every week here on TCGplayer.com. I'd Abrate them a 10/10.
For most of testing, while I was testing a wide swath of strategies, I was pretty likely to end up just playing Four-Color Energy. I felt like the Scarabian God was one of the most powerful cards in the format, maybe even the single most powerful card. The format had been slowly adapting against cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer. Four-Color Energy offered a powerful energy shell that eschewed playing Glory H. Bringer and Chandra in favor of cards like The Scarab God and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship to punish players who would be relying on removal spells or Essence Scatter to handle Glorybringer. Can't scatter a boat. You can kill a Scarab God, but it'll be back again later, better than ever.
However, I just couldn't get myself to pull the trigger on Four-Color Energy. The deck seemed like the complete deal, the final form of an energy shell that had tormented and dominated Standard ever since Kaladesh hit the shelves last fall. It was everything we had dreamed of and more. There was just one flaw – I couldn't win with it. The deck always felt like it had the right answers and right threats in every matchup, but it just didn't win the game. I'd be ahead on cards, I'd slam a Scarab God, and somehow, I'd still just end up losing a few turns later anyway. My Scarab God would fall victim to a Confiscation Coup, or they'd play a threat I didn't have an answer to. Somehow, someway, I'd find a way to lose.
I couldn't really explain it, but I knew I couldn't play that deck. By late in testing, most of my team had settled on playing this Sultai Energy deck that was almost identical to the Sultai Energy strategy that Andrew Jessup won the very first SCG Open with the very first week of this format. I couldn't get myself to play that deck either. The deck was very powerful, but also very inconsistent. It mulliganed a lot and had a lot of very awkward draws. Every time my teammates would walk by my computer as I was playing the deck on Magic Online they would watch me mulligan to six cards and keep a hand that was like Botanical Sanctum, Aether Hub, Winding Constrictor, Winding Constrictor, Blossoming Defense and Fatal Push and as every draw step would fail to yield a black source they would say “This is going to be your Pro Tour.”
As I piloted this Salty Sultai deck to yet another 2-3 finish in a Magic Online league, I knew they were right. I wasn't winning with Sultai Energy, I didn't like the deck, and I knew I could not play it. I didn't know what to play instead, though. Thankfully, Martin Muller showed up on Wednesday and suggested that he was interested in playing just straight-up Stock Temur. Throughout testing, Stock Temur had been one of our gauntlet decks that we would test all of our brews against and throughout testing, Stock Temur kept beating most of our decks. I kept saying all week “maybe we should just play Temur” but everyone else would naysay that idea and explain how bad it would be to just play Stock Temur. I would listen to them and give up on that idea until the next time another deck failed to beat Temur where I would think again “maybe we should just play Temur.” Rinse. Repeat.
Thankfully, Muller's presence gave me the confidence I needed to just go against the grain and Temur it up. On Wednesday night, the day before decklists were due, I started seriously considering playing Temur, even if nobody else on the team played it.
On Thursday night, two hours before decklists were due, I decided to lock it in. Muller wasn't confident about his choice, but he ended up deciding to play it as well. Out of the 12 players who were part of our testing team, Muller and I were the only ones who played the deck. I actually felt great about the decision. I just had this sense of serenity and a feeling that for once in my life, I was making an actual good deck choice for a Pro Tour.
It may not be obvious from the outside, but it's actually really hard to decide to play a deck like Temur Energy when you're on a team with Brad Nelson, who is one of the best Standard players of all time, and Brad is locked in on a Sultai deck, has convinced most of the rest of the team to play that Sultai deck, and has constantly been telling you the entire day that he thinks that Temur is bad and a huge mistake. You must have a high level of confidence that what you're doing is right to ignore one of the best Standard minds in the game who is telling you that you are making a horrible mistake. Either that, or you have to be a big dumb-headed stubborn idiot!
Was I just a big, dumb idiot? I'll leave that judgment to others. However, I was doing what I felt was best and I was happy with it. I was playing a deck that I wanted to play, that fit my style, and I felt good about it. This is what felt right for me, and I was just going to ignore others telling me that I was making a mistake and instead follow my gut.
Now, the Sultai deck ended up winning the Pro Tour in the hands of my teammate Seth Manfield. It may seem like, in hindsight, that I made the wrong choice. But that's not actually true. While the Sultai deck won the entire event, Muller and I actually had the best performance on our team with the Temur deck. We both went 8-2 with the deck, and one of my losses was to Muller, meaning that we had an astronomically high 80% win rate with the deck, 83% if you want to ignore our 75-card mirror match against each other.
You can't really expect better than that at the Pro Tour. Muller and I also completely embraced the role of Temur Bros. The night before the Pro Tour, we settled on sideboard plans for the event. Twice in the tournament, we got paired against the same deck in the same round, and both times we ignored our sideboard plans and did our own thing instead. Both times, our new on-the-fly plans happened to exactly mirror each other. I thought it was pretty wild that we twice ignored our sideboard plans and it happened to be in the same round both times and our new plans were identical both times. We were in tune with each other and attune with the deck.
Unfortunately, I coupled my powerful 8-2 record with a 2-4 in Limited, which ends up rounding out to a solid, yet unexciting, 10-6 finish. Still, considering the circumstances, I'll take it.
What circumstances? Well, let's just say that I had a very interesting Pro Tour experience.
To start things off we were staying at the famed Days Inn in downtown Albuquerque. If I were to ignore the repeated sounds of gunshots we heard one of the nights we were there, I would describe it as almost adequate.
The morning of the Pro Tour, I woke up, feeling fine. I packed my deck, walked across the street to the nearby cafe, and grabbed a breakfast and a coffee. I ate my breakfast burrito and then started walking down the street to the Pro Tour site. I wasn't even out of the parking lot when I started to feel a bit unsettled. I stopped in my tracks for a second, and then it all broke loose. I started uncontrollably vomiting up my entire breakfast right there on the streets of Albuquerque. Unsettled: The Wreckage.
I felt a little better after my initial salvo and started to take a few more steps toward the site. Whoops. Round two hit and I unloaded again. This was exactly how I was hoping to start my Pro Tour off. It's every player's dream to get uncontrollably sick the morning of the Pro Tour.
I decided to head back to the hotel to clean up and brush my teeth. As I crossed the street to go back to the world-renowned Days Inn of Downtown Albuquerque, I lost it again. Here I am, 30 minutes before the Pro Tour starts, standing in the middle of the street, uncontrollably vomiting up everything I have ever and will ever eat. I made it to the other side of the street, but I lost control again and vomited even more.
Finally, I made it back to my hotel room, cleaned up, and got to the site in time to start the Pro Tour. I was a bit distracted during the draft and was soundly defeated in the first round. I'm 0-1 in the Pro Tour, not feeling so good, with a long day ahead of me. Things were looking and feeling pretty grim.
Let's just say that things turned around. I won the next six rounds in a row to find myself at 6-1 playing against Wilson Hunter and his Mono-White Vampires deck in a Round 8 feature match. I might have been one of the only other players at the Pro Tour who tested the Vampire deck and knew that it was actually the real deal and what to expect from it. I think I was favored in the match, but I ended up keeping a risky hand in game three and losing. I had an interesting decision to make on turn four and, in hindsight, I ended up making the wrong decision which cost me the game. I spent a lot of time over the weekend replaying that game in my mind and thinking “what if I had just traded my Whirler Virtuoso for his Mavren Fein.” I had River's Rebuke in my hand to bounce his entire board of Vampire Tokens, but I died before I could untap on my sixth turn to cast it. Trading with the Mavren Fein would have bought me a full extra turn.
Day Two started the same way. This time I threw up last night's dinner in my hotel bathroom to start off the day. I decided to skip breakfast. I wasn't interested in an encore presentation. Again I lost the first round of draft. This time, I also lost rounds two, three and four.
To say I was disgruntled would be an understatement. At one point in the event I was 6-1. After Round 4 of day 2, I had lost five straight matches to be 6-6. This would normally have been the part of the Pro Tour where I started to unravel a bit.
But not this time. I had this sense of calm serenity and confidence that I can't remember feeling since last year's World Championship. I had lost that feeling over the past year and it felt great to find it again. I didn't let my defeats or my mistakes affect me.
I won the last four rounds to finish 10-6. In Round 15, I played some of the worst Magic I have ever played in the first game to throw away a game against Ramunap Red that I almost couldn't possibly lose. At first I was too cautious and then I was finally too aggressive and ended up finding the only line that lost me the game. I didn't let it bother me, and just crushed games two and three to take the match. I was proud of that match. I didn't play my best Magic, but I had my best mental game, and that's all you can ask for. You will always make mistakes, no matter how good you are and no matter how much you practice and improve. You can't stop yourself from messing up, but you do you have full control over how you choose to deal with those mistakes and how you handle them. I acknowledged them, moved past them, and won the match anyway.
At 6-1, if you told me that I would finish 10-6, I would be disappointed. At 6-6, I was happy to win four straight matches to finish 10-6. It's all a matter of perspective. Most importantly, though, I was really happy with my mental game, my deck choice, and my poise throughout the event. If I can replicate that all year, then you'd better hope we don't get paired up, because chances are high that I'm going to completely and utterly throw away game one against you but win the match anyway. And you don't want that. Nobody does.
Genesis, Revelation, and the Water's Uprising
As this was the first Pro Tour of the season, we had new teams for the Team Series. I ended up on Team Genesis, a team that I tested with all last year. We ended up with 12 players across two teams, Genesis and Revelation. Genesis consists of myself, Corey Baumeister, Brad Nelson, Seth Manfield, Lukas Blohon, and Martin Muller. Revelation is Christoffer Larsen, Martin Dang, Joel Larsson, Thomas Hendriks, Paul Dean, and Petr Sochurek. I like to make the joke that our aggregate team name is Martin Larsen. I've even taken to calling our team “The Martin Larsens.”
This was the best Pro Tour testing team I have ever been a part of in terms of team unity and fun. Everyone got along great with each other and we accomplished a lot in testing. Let's ignore our Limited performance, but in Constructed we dominated. Genesis had a 74% win rate in Constructed, which was 11% higher than the next best team at 63%. That's pretty insane. We are currently in first place in the team competition after the first Pro Tour, and if we can clean up our Limited game, we are going to be a force to reckon with.
One of the new additions to the team, Paul Dean, was really high on River's Rebuke all throughout testing. In fact, his love of that card actually influenced Martin Muller and I to play two copies of it in our Temur sideboard. River's Rebuke became an integral part of our plan in a lot of matchups, including against Four-Color or Sultai Energy decks with The Scarab God where they would spend multiple turns building up a board only to have it all get swept away. River's Rebuke won me a bunch of matches at the Pro Tour.
River's Rebuke kind of became a running gag for our team. After each round of the Pro Tour Paul Dean and I would stop each other and tell some long story that obviously ended with us destroying our opponent with a River's Rebuke. At one point in the testing house, I had to stop everyone and tell them this story of how I won a match on Magic Online that I was basically 0% to win.
My opponent was playing Sultai and I was on, you guessed it, Stock Temur. My opponent has Winding Constrictor, Winding Constrictor, a 10/10 Longtusk Cub and another Longtusk Cub in play with lots of energy. My opponent has six cards in hand. I'm hellbent. I'm at six life to my opponent's 14. I had a Chandra at one loyalty, no cards in hand, nothing in play. I draw a Spirebluff Canal for turn. I plus Chandra and hit, you guessed it, my one-outer River's freaking Rebuke. I bounce my opponent's entire board. Opponent untaps and replays some cards again. I draw Harnessed Lightning, plus my Chandra and it's Rogue Refiner into Rogue Refiner into Servant of the Conduit. Three turns later, my opponent is chump blocking and I win the game. River's freaking Rebuke.
It's Round 6 of the Pro Tour. Paul Dean is telling me a story about how he River's Rebuked Shota on camera to win. It's Round 7 of the Pro Tour, I'm telling Paul Dean a story about how I'm setting up for a devastating River's Rebuke against my opponent on Four-Color Tokens. I get Duressed. He takes River's Rebuke. I untap. I draw another River's Rebuke. Thanks for playing the game!
It's going to be a good year and I'm already excited about next Pro Tour. It's Modern. My mind is ready. My body? Well, I'm still picking that up off the streets of Albuquerque.
- Brian Braun-Duin