Falling Just Short at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary

Two weeks ago, I talked about the deck I played at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. Today, I’m going to focus on the story behind the tournament, and the Silver Showcase.

The first decision of PT 25th Anniversary happened way before the tournament itself: choosing a team. A lot of people already knew who they were going to team with. In fact, they had formed Team Series teams with this in mind, by getting together two three-player squads, but we had formed our team before the announcement of the team PT, so we were pretty clueless about what we were going to do. We knew that because of the Team Series, we had to make two teams with ChannelFireball, but that was about it.

The first thing I knew was that I wanted to play with Luis. Luckily, he shared the sentiment and no one was opposed, so we locked that pair in. Figuring out who our third member was going to be was much harder. How would we do it? We could randomize it. Or we could let the other four members send a player our way. In the end, no one seemed to feel that strongly, and people said they were fine with us just picking a player to play with us, assuming that person also wanted to. So, we just had to decide.

The most important factor in the decision was splitting the Legacy players. There were three people who were willing to play Legacy: Luis, Josh, and myself. I think Martin would accept playing Legacy as well, but it wouldn’t be his preference, and Ben and Siggy really didn’t want to. Because of this, we figured it made sense to avoid a team of Luis, Josh, and myself, because it would leave no Legacy player to the other team. So, Josh was out.

We also knew that neither Luis nor I wanted to play Modern. In all likelihood, Luis would play Legacy and I would play Standard. So we had to choose a Modern player for our team. In the end, we went with Siggy, which left Josh, Martin, and Ben as the other team.

Testing for PT 25th Anniversary was a bit weird because we had several people on our testing team who had different teams for the tournament. After talking about it for a while, we decided that our approach would be to keep people on our testing team on the condition that they wouldn’t communicate with their teammates, since their teammates would also have a team of their own that they would be talking to. This wasn’t a great solution, and I personally would not have been OK with not talking to my team about things, but I feel that it was the best we could do in this spot, and some people were fine with it.

At this point in time, Andrew Baeckstrom didn’t know exactly who his teammates were going to be. He wasn’t bound by the team series, and had to wait to figure out who was actually going to be qualified. He ended up teaming with Jack Kiefer and Justin Cohen. They weren’t too keen on not communicating, and Jack Kiefer lives in Denver, where most of our team also lives, so we figured it made sense to just add Jack and Justin to our squad.

Once we added Jack, we had to figure out what we were going to do about Quinn, who was also qualified. It seemed weird to add Jack and not Quinn, especially considering the logistics of it, so we added Quinn and his team (Willy Edel and Marcos Paulo) to our team as well. Funnily enough, Quinn brought Willy to our team, and not the other way around.

When the dust settled, this was the team we were working with:


Martin Juza
Sam Black
Ben Weitz
Grzegorz Kowalski
Steve Rubin
Jack Kiefer
Quinn Kiefer


Mike Sigrist
Matt Nass
Ivan Floch
Ben Stark
Stanislav Cifka
Justin Cohen
Willy Edel


Luis Scott-Vargas
Josh Utter-Leyton
Sam Pardee
Andrew Baeckstrom
Alexander Hayne
Marcos Paulo de Jesus Freitas

This was a very big testing group, but we figured that was OK because we mostly split into groups by format anyway. Personally, I didn’t want to touch Modern with a 10-foot pole, and while I had opinions on Legacy, I didn’t do any testing. Most people kept to their own formats, with the notable exception of Matt Nass, who was locked into KCI on day 1 and figured that he didn’t have to play any more Modern and could just help with the other formats. Matt Nass went something like 1-10 in the tournament, so I’ll let you judge the validity of this strategy.

I prepared a lot for this tournament—more than I usually do. I knew that we wouldn’t have a lot of time once we met (only three days), so most of my preparation had to be done online. Historically speaking, I always spend a lot of testing time trying to come up with something new, since the rewards of finding a broken deck are so big. Lately, however, I’ve been burned by this approach—there’s simply nothing to find most of the time, and when there is something to find (such as Turbo Fog, for this tournament), there’s no guarantee that we’ll be the ones to find it. In the end, I think we were trying too hard to break it and not hard enough at having good versions of the established decks.

To fix that, I gave myself a few weeks to try new things and, when those didn’t work out, I played a lot with every deck that existed at the time. By the time I left Brazil, I was pretty sure that I was going to play either Red-Black or Mono-Blue. I’d have a good version of either and I’d know how to play either.

I arrived in the U.S. on Friday, and then went straight into casting GP Minneapolis. In hindsight, doing commentary for GP Minneapolis might not have been the brightest idea, as it took me the entire weekend, whereas if I had just played the GP I’d have potentially an extra day and almost certainly an extra half day, but oh well. That left Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for us to test.

A lot of the Standard crew was excited about Mono-Blue. At some point in time, Sam Black, Ben Weitz, Jack Kiefer, and Quinn Kiefer were all into it. Martin and Greg didn’t love it, and were focusing more on B/R and Grixis.

In the midst of it all, I also had another task—I had to test for the Silver Showcase. I knew most of the Beta cards, but I knew almost nothing of Legends and Antiquities, and I had no idea how the cards would interact with each other besides what I’d seen from the Beta Draft in Las Vegas.

Luckily for me, Stan Cifka and his assistant Jan Kotrla, also known as KK (yes, he has an assistant. And yes, all the Czeck/Slovak players have nicknames that are similar and confusing. Jan is KK, Petr Sochurek is kiki, and Ivan is cooki. It’s maddening) had devised a method for testing—they randomly generated Draft sets identical to those we were playing, and then printed out playtest cards to match them. As a result, we could actually practice Rochester with Beta, Antiquities, Legends, and Arabian Nights.

They had enough material for three Drafts. One they did in the Czech Republic. The other two I would do with them in Minneapolis. For the first Draft, we got Cifka, myself, KK, and Ivan, and decided that each of us would draft for two people.

It was a weird experience. Originally, I assumed that decks would be horrible, similar to the Beta Draft in Las Vegas, where people ended up with 20-land aggro decks and 4-color monstrosities, but they weren’t. With five packs, you could actually draft a real deck. This was a radical change in how the drafting went, because you no longer needed to prioritize mediocre cards. In the straight Beta Draft, people were ecstatic to pick up a Grizzly Bears or a War Mammoth, but those cards would often be medium or not even make the cut in the decks that we had. As a result, it paid off more to gamble with high-risk, high-reward cards than to pick a safe, mid-level card. I would always, for example, take a strong sideboard card like a Circle of Protection over a card like Grizzly Bears. It also made it more likely that someone would change colors and still have a playable deck.

I also felt like having Arabian Nights, Antiquities, and Legends changed the balance of the colors. In straight Beta, red and green were the best, and white was the worst. Green was very good because it had all those mid-sized creatures that were enough to win the game versus all the bad decks. In our Draft, I thought that black and red were the best colors, and blue was possibly better than green because you no longer needed to put a priority on 3/5s for 5.

In the first Draft, I had a very good U/B deck, with Demonic Tutor, Mana Drain, Recall, and three Terrors, and then a very weird deck that wobbled between the R/U/G colors. It was aggressive, with two Kird Apes, three Unstable Mutations, three Flying Men, and two Zephyr Falcons, as well a bunch of burn and Copper Tablets, but it looked like it was going to have a very bad matchup against my round 1 opponent, who drafted two Deserts and an Island of Wak-Wak.

If you have never drafted Rochester, it’s quite different than normal Draft—everything is face up and you always know who your round 1 opponent is going to be (the person across from you). Because of this, it’s possible to draft cards that are particularly great against them specifically, and also to hate-draft cards that they could use against you. Island of Wak-Wak and Desert aren’t particularly amazing cards, but they were very good against my deck. Later on, in another practice Draft, we hit a spot where Sam Black had a pretty decent G/R deck, but then his opponent drafted two Circle of Protection: Green and he was left with no ways to win the game, so he had to pivot into a different color altogether just to be able to answer the COPs.

In the end I only played one match since I didn’t really know what my Standard deck was going to look like, but KK and Stan played the matches with all the decks and in the end, my two decks were in the finals! That at least made me feel good about the upcoming tournament.

Being part of the Silver Showcase was obviously great, but it was also awkward at times. A lot of people on my team resented the tournament (rightfully so, in my opinion), and I was a constant reminder for them that it was happening. Every time I said something like “I can’t, I have the Silver Showcase” I opened up wounds that hadn’t really healed. It didn’t help that I had to take time off testing for our tournament (the PT) to test for mine.

Most of my time between Monday and Wednesday was spent testing slightly different versions of Mono-Blue and B/R, which was actually focused on the Mono-Blue versus B/R matchup since we thought that B/R was going to be the most popular deck, and whether Mono-Blue was good against it or not would probably be the difference maker. All things aside, would I rather play Blue versus Red, or Red versus Red?

Our testing showed that, for the most part, Mono-Blue was good versus Red. Not amazing or anything, but over 50%. Given that it was positively great versus any control deck, it seemed like a good choice to me. I also found out that I was very good in the mirror, as illustrated by my pristine 8-0 record against Ben Weitz over multiple sessions in the 75-card mirror. I had almost forgotten to include this detail, but luckily Ben reminded me. Thanks Ben!

As a completely random aside, in Brazil, when we want to count incremental things on paper (such as for keeping track of a match score), we draw a square—each “point” is a side of the square (so when you get to 4 it completes the square), and when you get to 5 you slash it diagonally (and if you want to be really avant-garde you can slash them from the other direction too to form a 6). This tracking method always puzzles my U.S. teammates, who use four parallel lines to keep track of things, slashing them once they get to 5—you can see it in any movie where a character is in prison for a long time and wants to keep track of time. I don’t think either method is particularly better (though I do think it’s slightly easier to see the difference between a 3 and a 4 in boxes rather than sticks), but it’s funny how we grow up assuming everyone would do something exactly like we do and then when we go out in the world it turns out that the most random things are completely different.

As time passed, some people that were previously on Mono-Blue decided they didn’t like it very much anymore. Sam Black said he started losing over and over online, to green, to red, and to, and I quote, “even that meme Fog deck.” He felt that the deck had too many bad draws by virtue of having a lot of legends and situational cards, and you had to hit the right side of the variance too much. I couldn’t disagree with that statement, but thought that it was good in spite of that.

A day before the tournament, only Ben Weitz and I were on Mono-Blue, and the rest were on B/R. We had an issue with the post-sideboard matchup versus Grixis, so we tried to come up with a good post-sideboard plan. We tried a variety of things, and in the end we concluded that the reason we were losing so much post-board was because we were making our decks worse—we took out all Ornithopters, all Cranes, and some Moxes, and boarded in a hundred Negates, and then our deck just didn’t work and we lost topdeck wars. We decided that we wanted to make sure that we kept our normal game plan in this matchup. Not only would we not board all of those cards out, we’d bring in more Glint-Nest Cranes.

Since we were bringing in Cranes, we wanted some high-impact artifacts to search for. My first attempt was to splash green for Lifecrafter’s Bestiary (and Manglehorn—I thought the mirror would be much bigger than it was). That proved reasonable, but kind of too fancy, so we settled for Treasure Map. We didn’t actually test Treasure Map before we submitted the deck list, but we knew it’d be good. I think it’s a mistake not to play any in your Mono-Blue deck.

At this point, Luis had been locked into Death’s Shadow in Legacy for a while. He was really happy with it and everyone was playing it, so I trusted that it was good. Siggy spent most of the day agonizing between Hollow One, KCI, and Humans. He wanted me to just go ahead and tell him what to play, but I hadn’t played a game of Modern in ages, so I didn’t feel comfortable making a decision, and I told him I trusted him to do whatever was right. By the end, he was desperately looking for someone to pass the responsibility to, but I think no one caved, and he had to choose Humans on his own.

On Thursday, I woke up early for the second practice Rochester. Since deck lists were already sent (which is a change that I personally love), we actually got eight people to draft with us. My deck was much worse this time around, and I ended up with some Esper Control deck that was salvaged by a great last couple of packs. We didn’t have time to play any games, but we got a spectator to look at the decks and declare the winners of each matchup. My deck handily won round 1 against Tom Martell’s deck that had more copies of the card Atog in it than artifacts, but then I was declared a “close loser” to Mike Sigrist’s B/W control deck.

In the afternoon, I left my team and went to the actual Silver Showcase. The whole thing was pretty exciting, and I felt I could actually have an edge against some of the field if people were still operating under the assumption that decks would be bad like in the Beta Draft. I doubted anyone else had gone to the length of printing cards for practice Drafts like we had.

After a brief intro, where they told us to make some sort of “fighting intro” for the camera and I failed miserably (seriously, I’m a Magic player, I don’t want to do a fighting intro), we sat down to draft.

The Draft started OK. I was seat 2, which I think is one of the worst ones for Rochester but shouldn’t make much of a difference. As far as I can tell it wasn’t super easy to follow the Rochester Draft on coverage, which is unfortunate because it’s a fascinating format. I started with a Steal Artifact, which is a card that can be pretty good against the right deck, and then had a sequence of unplayable picks as I took the wheel in every pack. If you’ve never opened a Beta pack, well, most of them are over half land, and of the cards that exist over half are unplayable, so it was a while before I’d see a playable again.

Instead, I spent most of the time paying attention to what Kibler was drafting. Very early on, he got a lot of 3/5s and 3/6s for 5, which made me feel like attacking on the ground was a losing proposition, at least with mid-sized creatures. By the time the boosters got back to me, I felt like my deck had no playables and I would never be able to beat him.

So, I had to make a decision. Either I’d continue to draft normally, and probably lose to Kibler, or I’d try to make a deck to beat Kibler and probably lose the following rounds. I had a Deathgrip from very early on, and Kibler was base green, so I pivoted into a black deck and eventually got some very aggressive creatures. I even took Paralyze over Counterspell at one point, which is a pick I would almost never have made, but I wanted to be super heavy black to be able to have an aggressive start with Hazban Ogress and Frozen Shade, and Paralyze would help me push through.

By the last packs, I had actually acquired quite a bit of power (not literally power, since we opened pretty badly, but just powerful cards), so I regretted going all-in on beating Kibler, but I felt like it was too late to change strategies. In my second-to-last pack, I actually opened the infamous rare Island, and first-picked a Scathe Zombies that I ended up not playing. There was also an interesting spot where I could have taken Winter Orb, which would have been good in my deck, but instead took Rod of Ruin, because I read the card and thought I could use it as many times as I wanted in a turn. Of course you have to tap it, so you can only do it once, but back then those cards didn’t have the tap symbol and were just called “mono-artifact,” and in the heat of the moment I simply forgot it could be used only once a turn.

In the end, my deck looked like this:

I felt that my deck was very good against Kibler, given that his deck was U/G and my deck had two Prodigal Sorcerers, Sorceress Queen, and Old Man of the Sea. I thought I was very weak to cards like Fireball, Pestilence, and Pyrotechnics, but Kibler only had one of those (everyone else had two or three), and it was a Pyrotechnics out of a splash.

Day 1 of the Pro Tour started badly, since Siggy and Luis lost in basically no time. In round 2, Siggy and I lost in no time, and, in round 3, Luis and I lost in no time. Just like that, we were 0-3.

Round 4 signaled the start of our comeback, since I got paired against G/W Cats. Nothing against G/W Cats, of course, but, playing Mono-Blue Storm, there aren’t many openings you’d rather face than turn-1 Sacred Cat.

After that, we won rounds 5 and 6, and then in round 7 we were paired against the team of Martin Mueller, Corey Baumeister, and Lukas Blohon. We knew that they were playing Storm in Modern, and at this point I was thrilled because Siggy finally had a good matchup (remember, Siggy is playing Humans)— he hadn’t won a match all day. Rumor has it he actually dealt damage in some games, but I certainly never saw it, as every time I looked over it felt like he wasn’t even close to being close to winning.

I lose to Corey on B/R and Luis beats Lukas on Grixis (which is theoretically a bad matchup but Luis beat it four times throughout the tournament), and then it’s all up to Siggy, who is up a game in a very favorable matchup, so we’ve basically got this in the bag—right? Right? A turn-2 Blood Moon later we’re shuffling for game 3, and then we get hit by Grim Lavamancer + Lightning Bolt, Abrade, and Fiery Impulse, and we end up losing that match too. So, we finish the day 3-4, which is very disappointing. Our sister team, on the other hand, is 7-0, so we actually have a shot at the Team Series, pending a good result from us.

At the end of Day 1, I played Kibler for the Silver Showcase. Game 1 started badly, when he played a very early Lifeforce that countered 75% of my deck. Luckily for me, I drew some of the cards it didn’t counter, and I managed to force through a Frozen Shade.

I made two mistakes this game. First, I missed a point of damage with Prodigal Sorcerer at the end of the turn, which ended up giving him one extra turn to topdeck a burn spell to kill me (he didn’t). It’s funny because, a couple of episodes ago in our podcast, we were talking about the kind of mistakes that we make, and I said that I was the type of player who played well strategically but missed obvious things, like Prodigal Sorcerer pings at the end of the turn. Voila, I was right.

The second mistake was not attacking one turn I could have. I had eight Swamps in play and a Shade, and Kibler had a 5/5 and a 3/5. If I attacked, he had to block, but even if he double-blocked, I could pump the Shade to a point where I kill one of his creatures and don’t lose my Shade. I think I just looked at eight Swamps and thought I had 8 toughness, which would have been a very bad attack, forgetting that the Shade itself has 1 base toughness. Oops.

Game 2 he mulliganed to 5 and I ran him over.

Day 2 started much better for us, and especially much better for Siggy, who finally hit some more good matchups. We had an interesting situation where Siggy was playing against Death’s Shadow, and his opponent attacked with Death’s Shadow. Siggy activates Vial on 2, and the opponent casts Temur Battle Rage to play around Meddling Mage. Siggy then Vials in a Phantasmal Image, and blocks a 6/6 double striker with a 5/5 Shadow. The opponent assigns 5 damage to the Shadow and 1 damage to Siggy from trample, but, from the way the rules work, the Death’s Shadow won’t actually die, since it grew to a 6/6 mid-combat. Because of this, the opponent has to deal more damage with the Death’s Shadow in the “second strike” which means that they can’t kill us and we attack for the win the following turn.

At this point, Luis is just winning matches left and right—I believe he had two losses total—including a match in which he Thoughtseized his opponent turn 1 and left them with Ancient Tomb, Chalice of the Void, and three other 2-mana spells (I think Ravager, Overseer and Jitte, or something like that). The opponent played a turn-1 Chalice on 1, and Luis untapped and played Throne of Geth, proliferating Chalice to 2 and making it so that his opponent couldn’t play a spell for the rest of the game.

With Luis winning every game, Siggy and I manage to alternate our wins pretty well and we actually rally back to a very respectable 9-4 record after our 3-4 start. We’re doing it, etc.

It turned out that Martin, Josh, and Ben were also doing extremely well, and we had a good shot for the Team Series.

In the last round of the tournament, I win my match against B/R, and Siggy loses his to Affinity. Luis is playing Miracles, and he’s in game 3. At this point, we’re playing for a lot—if we win, then we’re locked in the Team Series, and Ultimate Guard is out (since we get an extra 4 points each).

The game is looking great for us. Luis has down a Death’s Shadow and a Gurmag Angler, both of which are lethal. In hand, he has a Stubborn Denial, a Daze, a Force of Will and a Dread of Night. His opponent has one turn to live, and we have two counters to stop him.

He untaps, draws, and plays Supreme Verdict.

The game goes on for several more turns until the opponent eventually sticks a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and we lose.

This was one of the most disappointing moments of my Magic career, because I felt like we got the highest of highs, and then came down crashing in an instant. If we had just lost our round 3 of Day 2, then sure, whatever, we weren’t doing well anyway, and I had no expectations. But after going 6-0 and staring at a game state where I didn’t think we could lose, it was very painful to have reality hit me so hard.

I didn’t have much time to lament, though, as I had another match to play—the semifinals of the Silver Showcase against Amaz.

I thought that, overall, I had a bad matchup versus him. He had two cards that were excellent against me (Pestilence and Fireball) and some problematic creatures. I also had a lot of cards in my deck that were bad against him, like Wall of Vapor and Wall of Shadows. Still, I could certainly win, especially if he stumbled on colored mana, which was very possible.

Game 1 was very interesting, as I managed to beat the best card against my deck (Pestilence) with what I believe was pretty heads-up play. From the way my opponent played, I felt like he probably had Howl From Beyond, and I played around that for the rest of the game, whereas I think some people would just have let themselves die to that card.

Game 2 was a bit of a letdown, as I felt like I had the game well in my favor and then drew something close to 12 lands in a row. Game 3 was equally frustrating, as I had Deathgrip in play for a while but he played a bunch of black cards, and I died to Hypnotic Specter with Old Man of the Sea in my hand but no double-blue. Overall, I won the game I thought I was supposed to lose, and then I lost the two games I thought I was going to win.

I wasn’t too disappointed to lose in the semis, though, and actually just a bit relieved that everything was over and that there was no more pressure to do well at anything. I’m happy for Cifka that he won the tournament, as I think he prepared more than anyone else did by a lot.

I got there earlier the next day and watched most of Martin, Josh, and Ben’s game. At that point, if they won the tournament we were in the Team Series finals. If they lost, we were out. The finals of that tournament was probably the highest stakes match of Magic that’s ever been played—it was worth the PT prize times three, Worlds and Platinum for Josh, and Team Worlds for the six of us. In the end, it was not to be, and they ended up getting 2nd, which, while obviously an amazing result, was again just a little bit short of what we needed.

Overall, we did well as a team, but I still couldn’t think of the week as a success since I basically just fell short on all my goals.

Deck wise, our Legacy deck was really good. Several people had outstanding performances with it and it was almost certainly the best Legacy deck in the tournament. In Modern, we didn’t really get anywhere. Some people played KCI, some played Spirits, some Hollow One, and some Humans. I felt like Siggy’s choice of Humans was fine but not spectacular, but that’s Modern for you. It’s very hard to predict what you’ll be paired against. Personally, I would not have played Humans as I do not like the deck, but I don’t know what I would have played.

As for Standard, well, I didn’t think my deck was bad. I went 7-4 in matches played, but I was up a game in what I thought was a favored matchup in one of my matches and up a game in the mirror in another, so I give myself a gentleman’s 9-4 record. I wish I had played Turbo Fog, since it was the best deck for that tournament, but we weren’t even close to it, and, from the decks we did have, I think it was a fine choice. It’s possible that I should have played B/R, but I am not sure I would have done better.

At this point, things are a little uncertain for me. I’m not playing Worlds or Team Worlds, so I’m traveling for Richmond and Detroit and then I’m taking a little break to put my life in order. I’m going to get married, go on a honeymoon, and then come back in time for PT Atlanta. I don’t particularly mind this Standard, but I like rotations, and I’m eager to see what the format looks like with a new set, and without Kaladesh.

See you soon,



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