Today I will continue my saga from earlier this week about my favorite Standard decks I’ve played in tournaments and how they collectively tell the story of how I ascended through the ranks to become a professional player.
We left on Tuesday when I had just hit silver through back-to-back weekends of 12-3s at Grand Prixs. This meant I was qualified for Pro Tour Origins and had to spend a large amount of my World Magic Cup winnings to fly there.
Pro Tour Origins, Vancouver, August 2015
Burning down the metagame
Mono Red Burn by Team Thommo
4 Abbot of Keral Keep
3 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Lightning Berserker
4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
4 Exquisite Firecraft
1 Fiery Impulse
4 Lightning Strike
4 Searing Blood
4 Wild Slash
4 Stoke the Flames
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Satyr Firedancer
2 Arc Lightning
Martin Dang and Martin Müller had gotten into an Austrian/Hungarian testing team for the previous Pro Tour, which Dang won with their team deck. And since the team transformed with people falling off and members were inviting friends, Müller managed to just sneak me onto the team. Neat!
The core of the group, named Team Thommo after the nickname of Tamas Nagy (even though he was no longer on the Pro Tour) was Austrians Immanuel Gerschenson and Oliver Polak-Rottmann, Swedes Magnus Lantto and Joel Larsson, Matej Zatlkaj and the two Danish Martins.
Some of us met up in Dallas two weeks before the Pro Tour to play the local GP and playtest Draft and Standard with the new set Magic Origins. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy was a huge new addition to Standard, and Müller had built a really sweet Sultai Megamorph deck that included both Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Den Protector to cast Dig Through Time about 4 times per game on average.
The big breakthrough came during the testing period in Dallas where we figured out most decks would have good targets for Searing Blood, even ones that previously had no small creatures, because of the printing of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Hangarback Walker and Nissa, Vastwood Seer. Paired with new red deck printings of Abbot of Keral Keep and Exquisite Firecraft this allowed us to build a Standard burn deck with almost 20 lands, 20 creatures and 20 burn spells.
As we met up with the rest of the team in Vancouver, we split into groups to focus on each deck we were interested in. The Mono Red camp kept winning every matchup, and one-by-one we got the rest of the team to transfer over to the red side until Joel Larsson as the last person switched over the day before the tournament.
This deck choice was absolutely fantastic, the best deck I’ve played at a Pro Tour so far, and as you might know, Joel ended up winning the event. I didn’t do too shabby myself with a slightly better Draft record than last time (2-1 and 1-2) but yet another 8-2 finish in Constructed with this great deck. This got me to 11-5 and qualified me, with flights, to the very next Pro Tour in Milwaukee!
After this Pro Tour, the team underwent some drastic changes. Most people were no longer qualified, but the core remained, and we added a policy that as long as you remained qualified, you’d stay on the team. This was quite lucky for me, as I didn’t feel like I was as good as the other members, but the dice rolled in my favor and I managed to string some more invites together.
In Milwaukee we also added Fabrizio Anteri, Thomas Hendriks, Aleksa Telarov and Pierre Dagen, and renamed the team to EUreka. I didn’t do too well in Milwaukee, but I did watch Müller top 8 with the worst deck he had ever played at a Pro Tour. Team EUreka was a big steppingstone for me to improve, but I found myself in a situation where I did have a Silver invite for the next Pro Tour Atlanta but was unsure if I could afford the flight.
Grand Prix Brussels, November 2015
Hitting the nail on the head
4c Rally by Matt Nass
4 Zulaport Cutthroat
4 Elvish Visionary
4 Nantuko Husk
4 Catacomb Sifter
4 Grim Haruspex
4 Sidisi’s Faithful
4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
4 Collected Company
4 Rally the Ancestors
4 Flooded Strand
4 Windswept Heath
4 Polluted Delta
3 Evolving Wilds
2 Canopy Vista
2 Sunken Hollow
1 Prairie Stream
4 Arashin Cleric
4 Murderous Cut
2 Abzan Ascendancy
1 Valorous Stance
The week before GP Brussels I lost in the quarterfinals of my RPTQ in Stockholm to miss out on that invite plus airfare to Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch in Atlanta. Having to turn my attention from Modern to Standard within a week, I sought out help from my usual source of genius strategy: Martin Müller.
He had been working on a deck that Matt Nass took to a 7-3 finish at the previous Pro Tour, and which Pascal Maynard recently top 8’ed a Grand Prix with, yet nobody was talking about it. I guess they thought that this graveyard-based creature combo deck would fold to the very popular Anafenza, the Foremost.
For those uninformed, this deck tries to assemble a big board with its many creatures and Collected Company, trade off resources until you can go for a lethal Rally the Ancestors by bringing back Nantuko Husk and Zulaport Cutthroat.
The manabases at this time were also admirable. With fetchlands and the dual lands from Battle for Zendikar, you could create very functional manabases by combining two basic lands with a dual of choice that’s neither of those colors (like fetch up Swamp, Island and then Canopy Vista).
The deck was utterly broken in an unsuspecting field. Nobody knew how to play against me. I had people attack with their Anafenza so I could just kill it with blockers and unlock my graveyard synergies. I had control opponents who’d tap out for a sweeper only to immediately die because all my stuff was now in the graveyard, and even opponents who didn’t block Nantuko Husk when it was lethal on-board.
We were 4 people who ran the deck on Müllers suggestion: Myself, Müller, Lantto and Dang. We ended up 2nd, 4th, 5th and 11th. It was such a surreal way for a team to crush a tournament and provided me with my first GP top 8 as well as an invitation to Pro Tour Atlanta and prize money to be able to afford my Silver invite whenever I’d use it. 4-color Rally ended up being the clear best deck in the format, especially once Reflector Mage was released.
Magic Online Championship Series Play-Offs, February 2016
Anyone could win with Hedron Crawler
Mono GG Eldrazi
2 Hedron Crawler
4 Rattleclaw Mystic
3 Whisperer of the Wilds
4 World Breaker
3 Thought-Knot Seer
2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
4 Oath of Nissa
4 Nissa’s Pilgrimage
4 Explosive Vegetation
4 Hedron Archive
2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
1 Crumbling Vestige
4 Sanctum of Ugin
4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
3 Winds of Qal Sisma
3 Hangarback Walker
2 Reclaiming Vines
4 Jaddi Offshoot
1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
2 Spatial Contortion
Pro Tour Atlanta did not go well. I got food poisoning when we were in Mexico City for the Grand Prix the week before (on an otherwise a great trip!) and was still not feeling well at the event. Despite beating Seth Manfield in round 1, I missed day 2 with Suicide Zoo.
Already the weekend after I came home, I had an online tournament to play, and an important one at that. It was Standard which I hadn’t touched since Brussels, and Rally decks were very popular. Since I’d never played a mirror in my life, I thought I needed a different tool – very wrong thinking, but I didn’t realize that back then. My friend Mads – who you might remember from last article as my WMCQ finals opponent – had brewed up a very consistent Mono Green Ramp deck full of Eldrazi.
This deck was wonderfully clean and got away with playing very few threats due to Oath of Nissa and Sanctum of Ugin which were able to find me the goods. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is an incredible card against 4-color Rally, and even land destruction on their basic lands early enough can be a huge disruption, so I liked my matchup there. The other popular decks were mostly slow midrange decks that did not have the sideboard cards necessary to defeat this beautiful ramp deck, so it was the perfect weekend to play this exact deck.
I ended up in the finals, where both players would earn invites to the Pro Tour and the Magic Online Championship. The best part of it all was that I got to stream the entire thing, and the extra invite meant that I was now guaranteed to reach my goal of playing all the Pro Tours that season. I’m not sure if I can recommend just picking up a suspect brew days before the tournament, but at least I got lucky that it worked out this time.
Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, Madrid, April 2016
A masterpiece by Dagen
Goggle Ramp by Pierre Dagen
3 World Breaker
1 Dragonlord Atarka
2 Chandra, Flamecaller
3 Magmatic Insight
4 Nissa’s Pilgrimage
4 Tormenting Voice
3 Traverse the Ulvenwald
4 Fiery Impulse
4 Kozilek’s Return
3 Fall of the Titans
2 Hedron Archive
3 Pyromancer’s Goggles
3 Cinder Glade
4 Drownyard Temple
4 Game Trail
1 Chandra, Flamecaller
1 Dragonlord Atarka
3 Den Protector
2 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
3 Tireless Tracker
2 Draconic Roar
3 Rending Volley
For Pro Tour Madrid, Team EUreka had grown quite tight and we were becoming a very efficient testing machine, thanks in part to how good Magnus Lantto was at managing the team. For this Pro Tour we also added Brad Nelson to help with our Constructed game, and the two of us hit it off quite well, spending endless hours testing Standard together. Just from the weeks I spent with him I learned a lot about how to approach Standard testing.
This was another Pro Tour where I missed Day 2, but I just wanted to bring up this deck just for how cool it was. The weird rotation had happened, so Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged were no longer in Standard, but Dragons of Tarkir and Origins still were. Bant Company was the deck to beat and we tried to throw all sorts of things at it, but nothing stuck. At some point Pierre Dagen went to meditate on the couch for an hour and woke up to a brilliant idea for a deck. We had tried Pyromancer’s Goggles, but his breakthrough realization was that the card was also a ramp card and fit well into a reimagined RG ramp deck.
He found the deck on the Thursday before GP Barcelona, so a full week before the Pro Tour. That day we all stayed up to 2 am just playing with this new deck and by the end of it, almost everyone was sure what they’d be on for the Pro Tour. As we picked up testing again after the GP, Brad declared that Monday was sideboard day and that if he saw anyone play a single preboard game, they’d have to do push-ups. It worked.
Let me break down all the synergies. So Nissa’s Pilgrimage ramps you into Pyromancer’s Goggles. Magmatic Insight and Tormenting Voice are great red spells to copy with Goggles, help you reach spell mastery on Nissa’s Pilgrimage AND are great ways to turn those extra Forests into more cards. They also pitch Drownyard Temple which can then turn into another way to ramp out Goggles.
Pyromancer’s Goggles also ramp you into World Breaker, which can wreak havoc on any board in combination with Kozilek’s Return. Fall of the Titans is always the best thing to copy and the most frequent win condition. Traverse the Ulvenwald is the weirdest inclusion, but it’s actually mostly used to get a basic land for mana fixing, spell mastery and a cheap spell for surge. Once in a blue moon you get delirium and can search up the one Dragonlord Atarka. Postboard when you bring in creatures, it’s live much more often and lets your Den Protector and Goblin Dark-Dwellers search up more value creatures.
Sadly, while the deck did line up well against Bant Company, it wasn’t good against Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Especially the GW Tokens deck that won the event was very troublesome, so RG Goggles fell out of the meta and I was quite disappointed that I didn’t get to play it more. At least I can look back and revel in the genius that make all the little pieces of this deck come together so beautifully.
Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, Sydney, August 2016
A delirious success-story
Jund Delirium by Team EUreka
To cap off the season I’d use my expiring Silver invite to go to Sydney. I was quite fortunate that I could borrow money from my parents to afford the expensive ticket to Australia, as there was no chance I’d pass up on the opportunity to see the other side of the world and participate in yet another installment of the great Team EUreka testing house.
Eldritch Moon was released and brought even more goods to the already well established Bant Company deck in the form of Selfless Spirit and Spell Queller. Beating the deck now was not at all easy, but there were also some scary Eldrazi released, most importantly Elder Deep-Fiend which enabled all sorts of combos.
Müller came up with the idea that it might be better to build around Distended Mindbender instead, because it would be better against other Emerge decks and with a Kozilek’s Return in the graveyard you’d get to snatch a Collected Company out of their hand even when they had mana up.
We tried all sorts of ways to cheat it into play quickly, some involving Haunted Dead. We figured out that these decks were very good at clearing all their resources but needed something to tutor for once you dealt with everything. I suggested Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger since we usually ended up with lots of mana. Then someone mentioned that it might be easier to cast Emrakul, the Promised End, a card that we, like most teams, previously had considered unplayable.
We tried it, found out we’d win all games with it and that maybe this card would be strong enough to build around. We didn’t even need to run more than a single copy, because you had Traverse the Ulvenwald to find it and Liliana, the Last Hope and Grapple from the Past to recur it. We still hung onto Distended Mindbender, made sure to have all card types present and had red for Fiery Impulse to better fight against Bant Company.
This is the story of how that monstrosity was born. The Pro Tour ended up being an Emrakul fiesta at the top tables, where the card got cast four to six times each game between both players.
This was also the Pro Tour where I felt like I leveled up in Limited. This time I really let go of my previous assumptions of the cards and actually listened to my teammates. I learned that having a Draft preference is not a bad thing and that when a card is called “Unbeatable Wolves” by the team, I should just pick it highly. And so I did, drafting RG and RW aggro around Brazen Wolves and putting up a 2-1 and my first 3-0 record. Since I also did well with our Standard deck, I found myself deep in a tournament within reach of Gold. I knew that I need to go 11-4-1 to make it happen but didn’t really consider it as a possibility. In round 13 I intentionally drew with teammate Thomas Hendriks as we were both in spots where a draw counted the same as a loss for our pro point goals. At that point I was 9-3-1, so I only needed to go 2-1 in the last three constructed rounds to make it, with a shot at top 8 if I could win all 3.
I lost the first one but won the last two and in the blink of eye I could call myself a Gold Pro! Because the tournament was rather small (as many players had visa issues) that was enough to top 16, where 3 other teammates also ended up. It was a huge success for EUreka but an even bigger personal success for me because I finally did well in Draft and reached a new Pro level.
As I had also won a WMCQ a month prior with my beloved Suicide Zoo deck, I was looking forward to a great season where I’d be qualified for all 4 Pro Tours, the World Magic Cup and the Magic Online Championship. After Pro Tour Sydney I started to write for MTG Mintcard and take up their sponsorship, so this is where my Pro career really began.
And a farewell?
I enjoyed dusting off these memories, and I hope you enjoyed the journey too. Perhaps you might have found some inspiration or a useful tip along the way. Let me tell you this. I could not have gotten this far without Martin Müller, my other friends and Team EUreka. It really is a game of gathering, and the best thing you can do for your career (and any career, really) is to be respectful and friendly towards the people around you and make some good contacts and long-lasting friendships.
As for my current future in this game, it’s not looking great. I have been among the top 50 in the world before, but that is not top 32 which means that I’ve lost out on a lot of benefits. Going into this year I knew I was guaranteed qualifications until the end of 2019, but there is no system in sight that would keep me on the Mythic Championship unless I requalify for every single one. That’s a daunting task, and I’ve come to realize that Barcelona and Richmond will likely be my last two Mythic Championships and that I have to plan for a proximate future where I no longer play the game professionally. I’ll do my best to enjoy these last two Mythic Championships, it’s been a wild ride and I’m very proud of myself for having taken on this journey and succeeded as much as I have.