Hello, and welcome to my PT Phyrexia tournament report! It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to a live Magic tournament, much less a Pro Tour, and I’m excited to bring back an old-school report. This did get delayed a bit thanks to a bout of illness (everyone is good now), but I’m happy to get the opportunity to share the experiences I had in Philadelphia.
I have had the privilege of testing with an awesome squad over the last couple years. This team formed for the online events that began during COVID, and is best described as a mix of former Team ChannelFireball, Pantheon and Face to Face members, plus a handful of other folks. Our team is very much the boomer team, and this was the first tournament where the Boomers and the Zoomers got to face off in live competition (and an honest-to-goodness Pro Tour at that). Here’s the roster (if you are wondering, yes, I did just copy/paste the list Reid put into his report – us boomers are crafty when it comes to saving time):
- Jim Davis (USA)
- Eli Kassis (USA)
- Martin Juza (Czech Republic)
- Ben Lundquist (USA)
- No Ah Ma (Korea)
- Seth Manfield (USA)
- Gabriel Nassif (France)
- Logan Nettles (USA)
- Sam Pardee (USA)
- Luis Scott-Vargas (USA)
- Mike Sigrist (USA)
- Jakub Toth (Czech Republic)
- Brent Vos (Netherlands)
- Reid Duke (USA)
- Kai Budde (Germany)
- Andrew Cuneo (USA)
- Frank Karsten (Netherlands)
- Will Kreuger (USA)
- Raphael Levy (France)
- Carolyn Pardee (Canada-ish)
I really enjoyed testing with this group, and have appreciated all the members we’ve picked up over the past couple years. The number one key to success in tournament Magic (or just about any high-skill competitive endeavor) is to have a good group to prepare and travel with. Back when I was playing in PTQs a “few” years ago, having a squad that tested for them, shared cards for them and drove to them did a ton in keeping me happy and engaged with it, even when a particular tournament didn’t go well. Pro Magic was no different, and forming Team ChannelFireball is one of my proudest accomplishments – it’s no coincidence that the vast majority of Team CFB founding members ended up making the Hall of Fame.
Our preparation for this tournament was split up into two main parts. The first was online testing, where people would play in Leagues for drafts and to test stock Pioneer decks, or face teammates to test brews or specific matchups. The second was an actual PT testing house, which also hadn’t formed in years. Somehow the youngest member of the team, Jakub (aka @Flashjack11 on Twitter) was also the most organized, and he did the lion’s share of finding, booking and wrangling for the team. I myself didn’t stay in the testing house, though I did visit it when I arrived, and the whole team definitely appreciated how much work Jakub did. It only takes one person to keep the trains running on time, but you do need that one or it’s a disaster. I was that guy for many years, but at this point I’m no longer the point person for organization. I was also not planning on arriving until the Wednesday of the PT (having kids will do that), so my plan was to test online and meet up with the team then.
Jakub managed to book two gigantic apartments in the same building, and I saw message after message where people got lost looking for their room or wondered what they were going to do with the three excess bedrooms. In my experience, testing houses either end up way too big or exceedingly cramped, and one of those is a lot more pleasant than the other. You might also wonder what goes on in the team Discord after people have met up, so let me give you a glimpse:
Yep, that sounds about right – food and drafts, in that order (plus a jealous Raph Levy, who couldn’t make it early).
Magic Online Digital Objectives
I left the guys to their devices in Philadelphia, and proceeded to do my own preparation at home. That mainly consisted of MTGO drafts, Pioneer Leagues and some focused testing against Sam Pardee. Ironically, Sam lives literally one block away from me, yet we still just tested online. At one point, we were slated to test and I knocked on his door – he was confused, asking if I wanted to test in person. I said nope, but I did want to borrow his PS4 controller so we could play The Last of Us (it’s cool that they made a game based on the show, and I’m impressed they got it released so quickly).
Drafting went well on Magic Online – I did around 40 drafts, ending up with nine trophies, which isn’t the best rate I’ve had (I’m no Siggy, who went 20-1 in his first seven drafts), but isn’t the worst. Most importantly, I gained a good understanding of the format. I normally draft on Arena, but preparing for a best-of-three Pro Tour is a completely different animal, and testing on Arena would have been actively harmful. A couple key differences between best-of-one and best-of-three (as well as MTGO vs Arena):
- The average MTGO drafter is way more likely to be a tryhard. After all, what willingly subjects themselves to MTGO except dinosaurs and PT competitors? Plus, best-of-three on Arena isn’t ranked, which further lessens the competition level – most invested players prefer chasing Mythic in my experience.
- The UW Artifacts deck suffers a ton from going to best-of-three. Everyone just gets one to three Shatter effects for free, and post-board will bring them in. As a team, we found that the UW deck lost ground in best-of-three, and wasn’t the best deck to begin with, so we largely wanted to avoid it.
- No hand smoother gives you a more accurate picture of how you should build your deck, and how games play out. It’s not enormous, but it’s meaningful. If you only play on Arena, you are pushed to play 16 lands over 17, and both players are more likely to have good draws/curves than in truly random best-of-three games.
That all said, I do draft on Arena when I’m not testing for a big event, and even when it comes to something like the Arena Open, I’ll be drafting on Arena. The Pro Tour was just the right combination of high stakes and a meaningfully different format than best-of-one Arena drafts that I felt better playing on Magic Online.
I went into the Pro Tour hoping to draft red and avoid blue, like most players, and felt good about my level of preparation. I’d either played with or against most rares, had drafted all the archetypes and knew what I was looking for when in each deck. You can’t ask for a ton more than that, so all that was left was to open a good rare or two (spoiler: I did not).
Getting Creative in Pioneer
The deck I played the most in leagues was Azorius Control, since I liked the addition of Lay Down Arms. Getting a sorcery-speed Swords to Plowshares at the low cost of switching up the mana base was a good tradeoff. Here’s what I’d recommend when it comes to UW right now (props to claudioh on MTGO for continuing to blaze trails in the UW space):
Pioneer Azorius Control by Luis Scott-Vargas
I ended up off the deck because I wanted to play something more proactive, especially in a field where we expected a good mix of Rakdos Midrange, Mono-Green, Lotus Field and Gruul (with some WW and control as well). As it turned out, we nailed the metagame breakdown:
Our team did a mathematical scientific secret method to predict the metagame and I have to say that I like how it turned out pic.twitter.com/Pj0ryat25Y
— Jakub Tóth (@Flashjack711) February 23, 2023
We did underestimate how many people would play Mono-Green Devotion. I still don’t know why they did, given its abysmal performance before and after the Pro Tour, but I guess people don’t like switching decks.
I was vaguely interested in Lotus Field, though my enthusiasm was dampened after Matt Nass ran into a tough situation and literally would not stop talking about it. He went so far as to write an article about it, which you can find in his tweet:
Hadn't done any writing in a while, but ran into this wild situation and felt inspired. Curious what other people think the right play is. https://t.co/3q0mgnl96E
— Matthew Nass (@MatthewLNass) February 17, 2023
We were in the mountains for the weekend, and Matt lost a game where he got his Hidden Strings exiled by The Stone Brain, and spent the entire dinner, evening and next day ruminating/tilting off about how he could have won, how he knew there was a line he could have taken. Some say he’s still out there…
I also was off Lotus Field after a particularly brutal session against Gruul Vehicles. Gruul gained popularity in the week before the Pro Tour, and I predicted it would be close to 10 percent of the field (which it was). I didn’t want to play a deck that struggled against the most recent popular deck, as those decks tend to get overplayed. As it turns out, Gruul also didn’t do very well, but I did play against it in the PT and was glad I didn’t play Lotus Field.
I ended up packing the following decks for my journey to Philadelphia:
- Rakdos Sac
- Lotus Field
I wasn’t that likely to play Lotus Field or Phoenix, but had the cards for them, and was mainly deciding between Rakdos Sac and Creativity. Sam Pardee was a lock to play Rakdos Sac, and I wouldn’t mind playing that if I didn’t get convinced to play the team deck.
It was great flying to a Magic tournament again. I had my backpack full of cards, my laptop, a suitcase with clothes and the desire to shuffle up and compete. It had been way too long since I had the privilege of buying an overpriced coffee, and I was beyond excited to travel to the event.
My first stop in Philly was the testing house, and it was exactly like I remembered. I entered to a room full of my teammates, empty water bottles and cards strewn everywhere, with a table full of games. Martin Juza was testing the mirror against Gab Nassif, and wondering if he actually had de-sideboarded. Reid was playing Lotus Field against Brent Vos on Gruul, and shaking his head every time Damping Sphere hit play. Eli Kassis and Jim Davis were passing around a menu to a local Italian place, as it was time to rummage up some food. I was home.
I quickly got roped into playing Izzet Creativity against UW Control, and we were pleased with the results. Creativity struggled Game 1, but once it sided in two Hullbreaker Horrors, UW basically couldn’t win. As long as Izzet hit its land drops, the game eventually ended to an uncounterable, unkillable 7/8.
Sam, Logan and No Ah Ma were all planning on playing Rakdos Sac, but I ultimately decided not to join them and to play Creativity like everyone else. The three of them retreated downstairs to form their own little cabal and discuss the main deck and sideboarding plans away from the chaos of our bigger meeting. I ended up loaning Logan the whole Rakdos deck (minus Fables), which ultimately led to me losing to my own cards in the Pro Tour. So it goes.
A classic Pro Tour experience is the sideboard discussion. At this point, the main deck is basically locked, but figuring out the 15-card sideboard takes literal hours. Everyone has an opinion, and at the end of the day, you have a little latitude in deciding which decks you expect, which decks you care more about beating, and what the best way to do that is.
For us, we all settled on basically the same main deck, with the third Mutavault, first Hall of Storm Giants and fourth Riverglide Pathway being the only points of contention. This is what I submitted:
Pioneer Izzet Creativity (Main Deck) by Luis Scott-Vargas
For the sideboard, we had a meeting that could be accurately described both as agonizingly detailed and quite valuable. One of the main arguments was about Shark Typhoon, an underpowered card that was quite good in any control/blue matchup. Of course, once myself, Nassif and a few others declared we were playing the full three (with one in the main), most of the team decided it would be too risky to play fewer, since they are great in the mirror. We debated about Aether Gust, Rending Volley and the counter breakdown, with my ultimate configuration looking like so:
Pioneer Izzet Creativity (Sideboard) by Luis Scott-Vargas
I unironically love discussions like the one we had, even if to an outsider it looks ridiculous to see 10 of us yelling about the last sideboard slot for hours. This is just part of the Pro Tour experience, and I’d never want to skip it.
Thursday, T Minus One Day Before the Pro Tour
Thursday is the first day anyone gets to go to the Pro Tour site, and it’s when the Magic truly begins. To give you a glimpse of it, check out my LR signoff-turned comic:
This is so cool – I tried my best to capture the feeling of the Pro Tour on a recent LR signoff, and @mangabookclub illustrated it in comic form! I’m hyped for the return of the PT next week, and this comic will show you why 🏆 https://t.co/s1ZIXDy2Vn
— Luis Scott-Vargas (@lsv) February 10, 2023
This is an accurate portrayal of how Thursday felt, and I was so happy to be back in the saddle. Speaking of Limited Resources, I took a quick detour to Marshall’s hotel to record LR Live, which is something we hadn’t done in years.
After a successful podcasting, it was time to head to the site.
The site was in the Philadelphia Convention Center, which has the amazing quality of being next to Reading Terminal Market. It’s one of my favorite places in the world, and I quickly stopped by the Amish bakery on the way.
I brought morning buns to share, and they went quickly.
We had been asked by coverage to provide eight drafters so they could do a practice featured draft, and we obliged. I drafted a nearly Mono-Red deck, but got quickly dispatched by Siggy in Round 1 – hopefully not a preview of my weekend.
After the draft, we went back to one of the hotels for our Limited meeting. This is another important step in the process, as it helps the group get on the same page about colors, archetypes and rankings of top commons, uncommons and rares. It’s usually run by the people who have drafted the most, but everyone can chime at any time (and often do).
After finding an affordable conference room, Martin and Siggy took point with the meeting, and gave us a ton of great insight. I chimed in about GW Poison, which did end up helping Jakub go 2-1 in his first draft, which was better than I fared with it. We spent plenty of time discussing the rares, which is honestly one of the most useful parts of the exercise, as not many people have had experience with all of them. Being on a team is still great, as it turns out.
Cracking Packs at the PT
Finally, Friday was here, and it was time to see if our preparation paid off. I was actually the featured drafter, and you can check out the broadcast here:
I was at a table with a bunch of other PT champions, and didn’t expect an easy draft. I did hope to open a little better, as the draft itself went quite poorly. I took Viral Spawning over nothing and then was faced with Drown in Ichor or Venomous Brutalizer. I agonized over it before taking my second green card over a black card, but don’t think that was right. I wanted to stay open, but Drown is so much better, and wouldn’t make the same pick again. That said, the player to my right was BW, so it wouldn’t have turned out better for me.
I ended up Gw, with almost all green cards (the open color) and a couple white cards for removal. Both the players to my left and right opened The Wandering Emperor, and I wasn’t excited about my chances.
I kicked things off with a feature match against Willy Edel, and got crushed handily. He just played Argentum Masticore on turn five both games, and I never killed it. Not the most exciting start, but at least I lost to a great guy.
In Round 2, I played against Autumn Burchett, and was again the feature. She was on a five-color deck with tons of Prophetic Prisms, using Blue Sun’s Twilight, Vraan and Incubation Sac to close things out. In game one, I got her to eight poison thanks to a Paladin of Predation, but then made a crucial misplay. I played a Contagious Vorrac and took a land so I could cast and flash back Viral Spawning in the same turn. That was much worse than just proliferating her to nine poison, as she managed to stall the board, and I was kicking myself once I drew Venomous Brutalizer.
I got her to nine poison, and watched helplessly as Vraan drained my life total. Nine, seven, five, it just kept coming. Luckily, I peeled another Vorrac a few turns before I tied, and got my first poison win of the tournament.
Game 2 wasn’t as close, and I died to her superior card quality, leading to a Game 3 where we were short on time. It actually looked like we were heading towards a draw, but she attacked with almost everything and didn’t quite kill me. That gave me the opening to swing back and use Tyvar’s Stand for lethal, putting me at 1-1.
Round 3 was also unexciting – my opponent won the die roll and barely beat me in a poison race thanks to UB flyers and proliferate, then cast turn three Archfiend of the Dross in Game 3 and I died three turns later.
Starting off 1-2 wasn’t what I’d hoped, but I did like our Constructed deck.
Failing to Land a Big Score
Unfortunately, things really didn’t break my way in Constructed. The deck we were playing was one that frequently found itself needing to top-deck either an untapped land, a Creativity or sometimes a way to make tokens. It was fairly reliable at finding them overall, but the close games would almost always come down to the top of my deck rather than the opponent’s. Sadly, my deck fizzled in basically every one of those situations, and I ended up starting the Pioneer rounds by losing to Sam Rolph on Rakdos Midrange.
At 1-3, I faced Michael Bernat, who I last played in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour, where we were both on WW. This time, he was on Izzet Phoenix, and I quickly lost Game 1. I was losing Game 2 to a pair of birds, but there was one ray of hope.
I played my seventh land and passed, and willed him to activate his Hall of Storm Giants. He shrugged, said “I hope you don’t have it” and did. Hullbreaker Horror came down, ate his land, his turn and his chances of winning.
In Game 3 I played Horror again, but he killed it with Lightning Axe plus Fiery Impulse. That gave me the window to resolve a hardcast Shark Typhoon, and soon the board was full of flying Sharks.
I then took the foreshadowed loss to Logan on Rakdos Sac, including my own nice Ice Age Sulfurous Springs. We had super tight games, and he played quite well to eek out just enough damage to kill me.
This was it, back against the wall. If I lost either of the last two rounds, I’d be out and sorely disappointed. I really just wanted to play day two, and I felt the pressure.
I got a quick win in Round 7 against Gruul Vehicles, as all my cards lined up perfectly and I comboed without much incident. That is a great matchup, even if my opponent did have Karn to make things a little tougher.
In Round 8, I played against Mono-Blue Spirits. This is one of the most lopsided matchups I can imagine, as Game 1 is basically unwinnable and post-board games are quite good. They have infinite ways to counter or stop the combo in Game 1, but once you board in your entire sideboard (minus Narset’s Reversal), you’re Hullbreaker control with a million Lightning Bolts and Rending Volleys.
I lost Game 1 badly, and won Game 2 on the back of removal, removal, removal into Horror. It all came down to Game 3, and I started missing land drops. It was agonizing, but I did have multiple Shark Typhoons to trade and draw cards. I started to claw my way back in, and managed to get the double Fable combo going, where you make a ton of Reflection tokens on their endstep.
My opponent had out three Spirits, and I was one token short of winning on the spot. I decided to Creativity two tokens into my two Hullbreakers, then make copies of those with my two Reflections. That forced them to chump, and set up the win the turn after. Of course, I could have immediately won, as I didn’t realize Shacklegeist couldn’t block, but I managed to take it down anyways.
At 4-4, I was feeling like I was on top of the world. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been to be 4-4, and I was stoked to get to play another day of the Pro Tour.
I retired for a lovely dinner with the Denver crew, Paulo and Ben Weitz, which had a really funny incident. We went to a small Italian place, and Paulo wanted more bread. He asked us if it was reasonable to ask for more bread, and I said “of course.” I mean, you can always ask, and that’s a really normal question. He did, and the waiter responded with the most unreal thing I’ve ever heard:
“Sure, I can bring you some more bread, but later diners might not get to have any, since we have a limited supply of bread.”
Paulo sheepishly took the forbidden bread, and we all loved it. I mean, if they don’t have enough bread, just say that, don’t give us the bread and lay some weird guilt trip. I was amused, but it was pretty ridiculous.
Day 2 – The Reckoning
I started day two ready to rumble, and once again hoped to open some rares. I somewhat did, as Urabrask’s Forge is great, but didn’t love my deck at the end. It was fine, but not great, and you need a great deck to go 3-0.
I kicked things off by losing badly to Yuuki Ichikawa, who had a RB Control deck with Dragonwing Glider. I had mediocre draws and didn’t put up much resistance.
The next round was against UW Artifacts, biased towards white to support Phyrexian Vindicator. The Vindicator crushed me Game 1, but I was able to use a big Red Sun’s Twilight to win Game 2. In Game 3, my opponent missed his third land drop, but then immediately went Plains, Plains afterwards. My heart dropped, since I was sure his four Plains and missed land drop meant Vindicator was coming down, but he didn’t have it, and I won thanks to the stumble.
The last draft round was against my teammate Seth Manfield. He had a RG deck full of combat tricks, which meant open deck lists hurt him quite a bit. I got to see all his tricks, and managed to effectively play around them in our two games. His draws were lackluster, he mulliganed and me making his tricks weaker gave me enough of an edge to take it down.
Getting Creative for the Last Time
Once again we were back to Pioneer. I was 6-5, and needed to go 3-2 in order to secure another Pro Tour invite. I luckily still had my Hall of Fame invite, since I Q’d for Philly thanks to my performance at the New Capenna Set Championship, but a 9-7 finish would mean I would get to play all three Pro Tours this year.
Sadly, it didn’t start well. I lost to kanister on Rakdos Sac, followed by a loss to Rakdos Midrange, both in fairly painful manners. The deck just let me down every time I needed to draw a specific thing to win, which led to some frustrating losses. That doesn’t take anything away from my opponents, of course – they both played well, but losing all the close games stung.
At 6-7, I needed a 3-0 to redeem myself.
I finally beat Rakdos Midrange, then had a close matchup against Gruul Vehicles. My Gruul opponent, Jared, was super nice, and it was a pleasure to get to play against him. We both had games where we curved out on the play, leading to Game 3. He stumbled on his third land, and ended up in a situation where he had Cankerbloom and Stomp up, but couldn’t use both. I managed to Creativity for three, and no matter which target he killed, my combo would come out and finish the job.
8-7, time for the big match.
In my last round, I got paired against Eli Loveman on Abzan Greasefang. I won an easy Game 1, where I had the combo immediately after killing his Fang. He then valued me badly with Liliana, forcing me to spend a bunch of resources and opening the door for him to combo.
In Game 3, I thought I had it. I had a Goblin token and a flipped Fable, five Treasure tokens, and a bunch of lands to his nothing. Sadly, I drew a bunch of lands in a row and he drew a bunch of action spells, and I eventually died to a bunch of Chariots. It was a rough way to go down, but so it goes.
8-8, no invite, no marbles
As disappointed as I was in my finish, my team did awesome. We had Reid and Gabriel in the Top 8, Jakub at 26th, Logan at 40th, Jim at 46th and Sam at 54th. Two in the Top 8 is always great, and four more requalifying is not bad either (though Jakub was actually already qualified).
I had an amazing dinner with the Pantheon crew (including a Jamie Parke and Paul Rietzl appearance), and crashed after a long weekend.
Sunday is for the Drafts
After a brief appearance in the Sunday PTQ (I went 1-2 with the same deck, swapping the Secrets of the Key for a second Dig Through Time), I found myself in a money draft. I had Tom Martell and Sam Pardee on my team, and faced off against Matti Kuisma, Stefan Schutz (MentalMisstep on MTGO) and Jarvis Yu, the Legacy Lands champion. Despite Matti claiming he’s an 11 on the “1-10, where 10 is LSV” scale, I 3-0ed their team and we won, with Tom and Sam picking up a win each.
That was actually the only draft we did, because Reid dispatched the Pro Tour with ease, taking down his first one. Congrats Reid – it was a long time coming.
Revenge of the Horsecheon
The last event of the weekend was the most special, to me at least. I happened to turn 40, the big 4-0, on Friday of the PT. As such, on Sunday we had a birthday dinner, and a ton of people came. Paul and Marshall even arranged for a custom cake, which is a good answer to a long-running inside joke between Paul and I:
Capped off the weekend with an awesome birthday dinner (and amazing cake, courtesy of @HAUMPH / @Marshall_LR) thanks to all my friends for being there 🎂 pic.twitter.com/BclgRXXgNB
— Luis Scott-Vargas (@lsv) February 20, 2023
A lovely dinner full of friends, teammates, Brazilian steak and arguments about which Magic player from the 90’s was better – who could ask for more?
The magic of the Pro Tour was back, and I’d like to thank all the folks at WotC for bringing it back. They didn’t have to, but I’m so happy they did. Here’s a shot with one of such folks, and one of my best friends – the one and only Huey Jensen.
Huey deserves a lot of credit for the PT being as great as it was, though I know he’d be the first to say that so do many other people at Wizards, so props to them too.
The last thing I’ll leave you with is a well-earned beat by Reid, where he ratios Matt Nass like no other.
The tournament structure–where we played a bunch of rounds of MTG–gave me a big advantage over the rest of the field.
— Reid Duke (@ReidDuke) February 21, 2023
I went to bed late, woke up early, flew back, and normal life resumed. I can’t wait to make it to another one of these.
- My team for being awesome, and being a lot of fun to hang out with.
- Reid for winning the Pro Tour.
- Paul for getting me good with the HorseCake.
- Martin for being the last OG Team CFB Member I’m testing with – good stuff.
- The Amish bakery for making the best pastries I’ve ever had.
- Jakub and Brent for doing a lot of organizational work for our team.
- Siggy for also hitting 40, and having the fire.
- Gaby for watching our son while I was gone (as he was teething and generally being a holy terror).
- The waiter who guilt-tripped Paulo. I mean, c’mon.
- Marshall for enabling Paul to own me with that cake.
- The Amish bakery for being closed on Sunday.
- BK for skipping my birthday dinner (to be fair he went to all my birthday celebrations in Denver, and I see him multiple times a week).