Top 8 with Junk at Pro Tour Fate Reforged

For the first time in a long time, TeamCFB would not be testing at my place in Vegas for the upcoming Pro Tour. On the bright side—quiet time! And, I still managed to go to all the sweet restaurants that we would be sure to hit up otherwise. On the other hand, it meant far less preparation for me and not being able to contribute a fraction of what I (like to think that I) do. The team would be meeting in San Jose before the GP in the same location, I was getting ready to start a new job, so it just wasn’t going to work out this time.

This didn’t leave me feeling great about this Pro Tour. I managed to get in exactly 2 drafts of preparation, but I went to the prerelease, studied the set list extensively, and then managed to play every single solitary round of GP San Jose that they would allow a team to play. I didn’t feel like the format shifted too dramatically and my confidence in my overall Limited game is plenty high enough that it wasn’t the biggest of concerns. We also managed to win the GP, leaving me on a very nice stack of 32 Points with 3 PTs left.

Modern, on the other hand, is never something I look forward to. I know that people have given me some heat that Modern is just all skill and all the Modern masters do is win in the format (scoreboard!), but that certainly wasn’t close to it. For this tournament, there were no great decks. If you could completely predict a metagame, you could get an edge, but even the great matchups aren’t that great. It’s very hard to prepare any deck to beat the quick kills of Infect and Affinity, the combo powers of Twin, the discard and midrange of Junk, the control elements of UW or UW/r, or all of the other angles of attack in Burn, Amulet, Tron, Living End, etc.

Sideboard cards are super important in a format like Modern, and the cards themselves are busted. So many of them can singlehandedly invalidate an entire strategy—but you can also only play so many. Junk would be far and away the best deck in the format with bigger sideboards, as it has all the best tools available with a mediocre game-1 deck. Unfortunately, in Modern, many of the decks you will prepare for will be approximately 2% of the field, and there’s only so much you can do. This doesn’t mean I’m saying Modern is a “bad format,” or that anybody should feel bad for liking it. It certainly doesn’t mean it is not a diverse format. It is not a format conducive to high-level events, however, and the fact that it does so little to showcase the new cards and sets shows that WotC was correct in their original decision to move all the Pro Tours to Standard.

The first question people ask me about Modern was “what do you think about the bannings?” The answer was, and I imagine always will be, they seem fine and I don’t really care that much. That’s not to say I’m not heavily invested in the goings on of Magic, but I actually really enjoy seeing formats get shaken up. I’ve never been attached to any card of strategy, so even though I have played quite a bit of Birthing Pod and Treasure Cruise, it made perfect sense for them to go. I love going down a new path, but that wasn’t really going to be the case here. Junk was the clear front-runner and everything else would sort of fall in line. Tasigur, the Golden Fang was the only real new card for the format, and the card is quite good, but it also didn’t really spawn “new” archetypes.

My first instinct was to take a Zoo deck and cut the unplayable and awful Loam Lion. I wanted to a Doran, the Siege Tower deck by adding a bunch of Birds of Paradise to the Noble Hierarchs. This created more of a midrange Zoo deck with some other inclusions that would make the mana creatures have utility later in the game.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant was in the original list, and PV suggested Sword of War and Peace, which was decent. Doran wasn’t super outstanding, so we tried Savage Knuckleblade which was decent when you’re flooding out. The deck was solid but far from spectacular. On Thursday before the PT, it was my first choice, having tried BW Tokens, various UW and UW/x decks, and Esper, dismissing them all. My only other options at this point were one of the Junk decks, and trusty ol’ Burn.

On Thursday LSV picked up the latest incarnation of Zoo and just couldn’t win a game with it. That was enough for both of us to finally just drop it and try the more consistent deck. If you’re looking for the final list of that deck, Pat Cox covered it last week. The Junk deck that Wrapter had been working on with several other members of the team had basically all cards I liked and there were only a few changes I wanted to make. The list had 2 copies of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, which felt excessive. I wanted another copy of Overgrown Tomb, and after talking to Mike Sigrist who had been testing the deck a lot, confirmed that you often wanted to search a second copy of that land.

I also didn’t love the idea of playing 4 copies of Noble Hierarch. It’s a solid card and added another dimension to the deck, but you really want to draw exactly one copy and without a ton of quality spells to accelerate into, the downsides of drawing 2 felt much bigger than that of not drawing any. That slot became the sixth maindeck 1-mana discard spell.

I also wanted the third Path to Exile over the second copy of Dismember. Path is just a much stronger card, even though it comes with a very real drawback, but the tough matchups for the deck are generally a fast clock where Dismember is just bad to cast in the early turns anyways. Everyone was on board with the 3 small changes I wanted to make, so that made it easy to register what I felt was a solid if unexciting 60 cards.

The sideboard is where the fun began. Junk is not the best deck in game 1. In fact, it’s completely average with decent game against most things. After board, things spice up. I love 4 Fulminator Mages, even though I never boarded them in throughout the tournament. The card is fantastic, although if the metagame continues to shift away from decks that are weak to it, that number can be shaved.

Zealous Persecution was for any deck with Lingering Souls, in addition to Affinity and Infect. Considering these were the only decks I played against in the entire tournament, outside of Burn, they were easy MVPs.

The Creeping Corrosion/Stony Silence slots are cards that everybody knows by now. You need ways to beat Affinity because game 1 is going to be rough. If you have Lingering Souls with a decent draw, you are a small favorite, and otherwise you basically always lose game 1. Stony Silence hits decks like Tron, so it’s always an OK choice, but when you never board them in for 11 rounds it feels a little silly.

I wanted to add copies Leyline of Sanctity, Timely Reinforcements, and Choke from the original sideboard we had. Cutting a Noble for the maindeck discard spell helped free up one slot. I believe one Affinity card got shaved. Finally, Deathmark wasn’t as high-impact as the other cards, so it got the final ax. The white cards were excellent for me and I think Choke would have been nice if I ever actually boarded it in.

Here’s the final list I ended up playing in PT Fate Reforged:

Nothing special to see here. Honestly, I was hoping to go 5-5 or 6-4 and hope Limited could propel me to the 11-5 I needed to lock up Platinum (or, at the very least, get the 10 wins needed for 6 points to fight another day).

The festivities kicked off with a draft—2 seats to my left was Owen Turtenwald, with Pat Cox to his left, and Orrin Beasley to his left. Not too shabby. My opening pack would reveal the rare to be white and started with a D, and hopes and fears of Daghatar the Adamant raced through my head. Daghatar is completely busted, but it does commit you early. It turns out I was merely looking at a Dragonscale General. Good, but far from amazing. As with most Fate Reforged packs, almost all of the other cards were just straight-up bad, so while not the strongest opening pick it did leave me open.

I followed that up with a Reach of Shadows, one of the better commons, a Sandblast, and a pair of Typhoid Rats. A late copy of Hunt the Weak, Blossoming Sands, and Feral Krushok showed me that green was open, as well as a Sibsig Muckdraggers, a card I really like. I ended up playing 10 of my Fate Reforged cards in this draft (and I believe the average is between 5 and 6).

Pack 2 began with an easy Tuskguard Captain over Abzan Guide followed by an Armament Corps, having to ship a 3rd-pick Surrak. I picked up a pair of Savage Punches, a Ruthless Ripper (my 3rd 1/1 deathtouch for 1, with an additional Mardu Hateblade in the board), a Scoured Barrens, and I wheeled the Abzan Guide, leaving me feeling good about my BG-splash-white deck.

A beautiful High Sentinels of Arashin stared back at me in pack 3, giving my deck a nice bomb. It was followed by a Sultai Flayer, a Longshot Squad, Bitter Revelation, another Scoured Barrens, a 3rd Savage Punch, and some morphs like Sidisi’s Pet and Kin-Tree Warden. My deck seemed solid with decent mana and I didn’t have to pass much. I had some solid early defenses with the Rats and a powerful mid- to late-game with big creatures and lots of Punches.

I ended up boarding in Winds of Qal Sisma for Become Immense in all 3 rounds, so that may have been a mistake in deck construction. Become Immense is the far more powerful card, but isn’t great by any means in this deck, and I faced 3 different decks with cards like Rush of Battle, War Flare, and Trumpet Blast.

The rounds played out well. My opponent round 1 led on Mardu Shadowspear and I had a reasonable hand which made that card look silly. He gained some life and dealt some damage with Rush of Battle, but it wasn’t until the turn after I played Sultai Flayer, so I got to keep what I needed, preserve the life I needed, and in the end got to play around Mob Rule.

In round 2, I stalled on 2 lands, my only game of the draft with any mana issues, and he played Mastery of the Unseen. I ended up stabilizing and pulling ahead with bigger creatures like High Sentinels that 2/2s can’t stand up to, but Take up Arms with War Flare managed to deal exactsies right when it looked like I was ready to close things out. Game 2 I led on turn 3 Tuskguard Captain into turn 4 pump and morph vs. his morph. He tanked for a bit on his turn, ultimately passed, and I followed it up with a High Sentinels and another pump of the Captain.

He revealed what he was contemplating the turn prior, casting his Bathe in Dragonfire on my High Sentinels he declined to use on my ¾ captain the turn prior. I simply responded “resolves” and we have a short exchange where he picks the Bathe up out of the graveyard and puts it on top of the High Sentinels, informs me 4 damage to it, and I again respond that “yes, that will resolve.” At this time, he picks up the card, gives it a quick read, and the last words of the game are “oh *&#$.”

My round 3 feature match against Pat Cox had things mostly go according to plan. An Abzan Guide plus Savage Punch killed his biggest threat and a Become Immense in the same combat left me high in the high 30s against a red/white aggro deck. Game 2 was closer, but the High Sentinels stalled the game long enough to get a counter on Abzan Guide and a Longshot Squad into play. When his Abzan Falconer charged in, the Abzan Guide now with reach stepped in the way, gaining me a bunch of life and ridding me of the threatening creature, and the game was over not long after.

It always feels good to start off with a 3-0. In fact, the entire Pork Bun Oath, coming off winning GPSJ, had started the tournament 3-0. Now it was time for what I knew would be the hard part: Modern.

Now, here’s the thing about playing a tournament with Junk: there is no matchup where you get to sit down and “feel good.” There are no great matchups. There are barely good matchups. However, there are definitely matchups you don’t want to face, and round 4 I was facing down Burn. Luckily, as would be the case the entire event, my hands were solid. I led Tarmogoyf into Siege Rhino when he didn’t leave up to represent Skullcrack, and killed him turn 5 from a relatively safe life total. I didn’t draw any sideboard cards game 2, but had a hand that wouldn’t deal me damage while presenting a decent clock. He missed a trigger on his Eidolon of the Great Revel, which caused some nice controversy, but in the end the 2 damage proved irrelevant and a Batterskull made its way onto the battlefield.

The rest of the day offered only Junk mirrors, which even now I’m not sure how I feel about. Our deck matched up pretty well against some versions and pretty poorly against others (like the versions with Voices over Lilianas, a card that already isn’t good in the mirror). In the end, the one match where I played relatively poorly, I ended up losing in 3 games (including a game 3 where I had to play as fast as my hands could move due to the pace of the match. I’m not sure I could have won if I played perfectly, in fact I’m almost certain I still would have lost, but it was frustrating). That loss was in round 5, but the rest of the day went close to perfectly. My opponents stumbled on mana in one game each for rounds 6 and 7, and round 8 I faced Kentaro Yamamoto, one of the best players in the world today, playing the good-in-Junk-mirrors Junk list. We played an extremely tight 3-game match in which I think I just ran better, as he played very well. Luck continued to be on my side as has seemed to be the case for so long now, and it’s the first time in a long time I got to go to bed at 7-1 in the PT.

Being the featured drafter on Day 2 is a huge honor. It also happens to be about the biggest disadvantage you can have in the PT. Anybody in the pod can simply watch the big screens at the PT to see every single pick I made (or have anybody at home can message them the entire contents of my deck). My deck was solid, if not quite good. I opened zero rares, which is very bad for this format, but I made solid picks and none I regretted, and was passed a Sagu Mauler which is the card I would have chosen to open anyways. In the end I thought my deck was solid and potentially great for the poor card quality at the table, as I really did pass very little.

The Mardu Skullhunters definitely weren’t optimal early drops for this deck, but they could provide a little card advantage and a trade, so it was really all I needed. The morphs were super strong as Pine Walker is busted and Sagu Mauler is a fantastic bomb, so I had that going for me (and everyone knew I had that going for me).

For my first match, I faced off against a pretty aggressive UG deck that ended up Savage Punching my first morph, targeting his Wetland Sambar, just to get it off the table. Not a play you see very often, but it might be worth it against this deck? Honestly, I’m not sure. My deck played out nicely and I managed to kill him game 2 before his face-down Sagu Mauler of his own could finish me off. He also showed off a Supplant Form, so he may have had a very formidable deck, but I saw mostly 2/1s to go with those bombs.

I got annihilated by Jesse Hampton in round 10, falling to 8-2 overall. He was playing 4 colors with several completely unplayable cards in his deck, but was able to do some work with an Orc Sureshot and some delve cards to get giant beaters to hold the fort from a low life total before pulling away.

After doing a draft tech with BDM, I sat down for my last round of draft. My opponent’s turn 2 Smoke Teller into Map the Wastes into Hunt the Weak into Become Immense plus Temur Battle Rage had me feeling super bad. I came out perfectly game 2 to force the decider, and actually felt in control until he played Dragon-Style Twins. This card can be scary out of any deck, but considering what happened game 1, I was definitely worried.

I would try to set up the best blocks I could, hoping he only had the tricks to take my creatures down and not actually take me down. I cast a Wildcall for 6, tapping all 8 mana, and passed the turn. The Twins came in, my 8/8 stood in front, and he said “ok, trade.” (!!!!) He didn’t process that the 6 counters meant my guy was not actually a 6/6, and with no more relevant gas in hand, the game was over shortly thereafter as the manifest would reveal itself to be an 11/9 Krumar Bond-Kin next turn.

Back to Modern and my first crack at the Infect deck, piloted by Austin Bursavich. I won the roll, which is huge, and Thoughtseized turn 1 to see a hand of a couple lands, a Blighted Agent, and tons of pump spells. He never found another creature before Tarmogoyf took the game down. His draw was much better in game 2, but so was mine. I never felt in danger, got to rip his hand apart constantly, and had back-up removal to spare. I’m not sure how good or bad this matchup is exactly, but my draws were quite solid and I didn’t have to find out.

At 10-2, I was only behind 12-0 Seth Manfield, and being paired against him got me super excited. He was already locked for Top 8 and it’s a very good matchup for him, so I was hopeful to get the concession and get me one step closer to the promised land. It didn’t happen. He wouldn’t even consider it. Then he decimated me game 1 in what was a horrible matchup. Game 2, things looked pretty bad as I was at a low life total (I believe 9) and he had 4 cards in hand, so any 3 spells in his deck would basically kill me since he had 4 lands in play. I was in the tank about any way I could avoid taking more damage but also try to kill him next turn when he just conceded. I guess he somehow had nothing. He said after the match he kept a land-heavy hand he probably should have mulliganed and then drew more lands.

My hand was solid game 3, although his was great. I saw a hand that I didn’t think I could ever beat after being forced to Inquisition into an Eidolon of the Great Revel. He had more than enough burn in hand to finish me off, but it would take a few turns due to only having 2 lands in play. He ended up chumping with Eidolon, which I’m not entirely sure was good or bad and would need to go back and re-watch to figure out for sure since he may have just died to his own Eidolon before killing me, but it also meant I couldn’t cast more spells. I know it had to be close either way. Eventually he drew a second copy of Rift Bolt to join his 2 Skullcracks and Boros Charm in hand, causing him to suspend both. This gives me the opportunity to cast Timely Reinforcements purely as a gain-6, effectively countering both Bolts. My Ooze let me pull further ahead, and Liliana stripping 1 of the 2 Skullcracks sealed the deal.

The coolest part about being 11-2 was that I was now locked for Platinum! My lack of confidence in the deck was definitely hurting my psyche a little bit and I didn’t want to get overly excited and not have my eye on the prize. This is where having fantastic friends really pays off.

Round 14 would be against teammate Jacob Wilson, who was playing the good-vs-Junk Junk deck. My chances were about as bad as they could be for this matchup. I got pretty quickly annihilated in game 1 before we were both forced to mull game 2. My draw was solid, and it was on to game 3. He stumbled a bit and I applied pressure with Lingering Souls. The key moment came when he passed with Zealous Persecution in hand to try to “Time Walk” me when I used Gavony Township on my turn. Fortunately, I had my own copy of Zealous Persecution, and there was no answer for the now huge Spirit tokens.

Ok, so NOW I was excited. I again knew I probably needed to get an ID in the last 2 rounds, but once I secured that draw in round 15, it was time to celebrate. I was the #1 seed after the Swiss, meaning I would get to be on the play every round, and that’s huge in Modern.

Unfortunately, that ended up not mattering. I ran really good in game 1 with a near-perfect draw against Hampton, and had very strong early draws in both of the final 2 games. I thought game 2 was over against his deck with 2 Path to Exiles and 1 Maelstrom Pulse main, but he had them both after I activated Gavony Township, wiping my board and killing me a turn later. Game 3 also looked great after a lucky start, but I didn’t have the untapped land turn 5 for Batterskull, giving him an opportunity to stabilize. Seeing Lingering Souls right when it looked like I was going to close it out was tough, but I had a whole bunch of turns to draw many cards that would end the game basically on the spot (Gavony Township, Zealous Persecution, or Tasigur) before he drew his own Tasigur. It didn’t happen as I drew land after land despite thinning land after land from my deck. I should have played more defensively with my Batterskull and allowed him to gain a few less life by blocking instead of attacking, but I wanted to make sure I blew him out and win the game if I drew Zealous Persecution. It wasn’t right, but it also didn’t end up mattering.

Big shout-out to my teammates. It makes it so much easier when you work with a fantastic group of guys and the best team in the world. I have fantastic friends on the team and it’s great to share these wonderful moments with them. To those who couldn’t be there, including two of my nearest and dearest friends in the world in David Williams and Gaby Spartz, getting the messages all day every day and the fantastic support will never be forgotten. I love you both. Getting to spend the first half of what happened to be my birthday right after the PT with dear friends and the second half with my amazing parents was icing on the cake of an amazing week.

What else is there to say? PT Top 8 number 4! I’ve been waiting a while for this and to do it in my hometown was even more fun. The overwhelming, and I do mean truly overwhelming, support I received on social media was amazing. Having so many people you have never met who really care about your success and your well-being and can raise you up as much as so many of you have—thank you. I love this stuff as much, if not more, than anybody, and I assure you there isn’t a thing that’s been said that I haven’t seen and appreciated.

Until next time, boys and girls.

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