How to Win at a Pro Tour in the Modern Era: Don’t Try to Break the Format

Pro Tours feature two formats these days: Limited and Constructed. One is much more important than the other, and contrary to what most may believe, it’s Draft.

Step 1: Draft! Draft! Draft!

Modern-day Magic is all about Constructed: we test Draft and Sealed very little, and you rarely see those kinds of events, but at the Pro Tour Draft is the most important portion.

You can always netdeck a 8-0 list from the MOCS, read a bunch of articles, and have 80% of the knowledge that any pro has about Standard, but you’ll never reach that—not even half—if you don’t put effort into Draft.

Magic Online works perfectly! You don’t need a team full of pros to prepare well for Draft. The pod that you’ll face at the Pro Tour, especially Day 1, will be at about the same level as the Competitive Leagues on Magic Online.

I heard Team Genesis complain about their preparation online, and that they felt they needed to gather one week prior to the event to better prepare. I feel that that kind of testing would be good for the World Championship, but skewed for the Pro Tour.

I’ve been a member of Team MTG Mint Card for two years now, and recently we started gathering data for every Draft we do on Magic Online to give ourselves an idea of the archetypes that win the most.

Prior to the Pro Tour, I did about 32 Online Drafts. I went 0-1 in 16 of them, and trophy’d just 4, for a 50.88% win percentage, the worst among my team.

I learned my lesson, I learned what colors I hated and which colors I loved, I saw which archetypes were usually open and which ones were not. I learned more from my losses than from my wins.

I lost a lot, but continued playing until I found the strategy I wanted to draft at the PT.

I ended up going 5-1 at the PT, which follows up a 6-0 performance at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, putting me in 2nd place for Limited Master, an accomplishment of which I am particularly proud. It’s not one I would have ever dreamed to reach for, considering how badly I used to do in the Limited portion.

Why am I suddenly doing well in Limited at the Pro Tour? It’s because I’m putting way more effort into it than my opponents are—and it’s paying off.

If you play 32 Leagues of Constructed you won’t know too much more than a person who takes Corey Baumeister’s 75 from the MOCS Monthly one week before the event—you’ll probably be 55-45. I think I played 2 Standard Leagues overall and felt great about my deck choice.

Draft is where you gain an edge at the Pro Tour, not Constructed. Draft a lot (yes, it’s expensive, but success comes at expense) and once you understand what you are comfortable with, draft your way. Be the one to give direction to the Draft, and don’t let others throw you.

I find that my team and I draft much differently than most pros.

Don’t focus too much on reading signals. Be the one giving signals to the player next to you.

Of course, if you see 0 blue cards, even if you picked In Bolas’s Clutches first pick, you have to abandon the ship. But you don’t have to play green just because they passed you Song of Freyalise. You can pass that signal and exploit it during the second pack.

For example, I despise green in Dominaria. I realized that around my 25th Draft by looking at my win rate. I just wasn’t doing well with green, and I was doing great with Esper colors.

So what did I do during my first Draft at the Pro Tour? I passed all of those Llanowar Elves and Songs of Freyalise, I picked every Aven Sentry, and I flew to 3-0.

Unlike Constructed, you can’t just absorb information about Limited. You have to play the games yourself and see what you like. Bomat Courier and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria are played in just one way, whereas in Draft you decide your own destiny.

Step 2: Constructed – Stop Breaking the Format

Once upon a time, the internet wasn’t popular, and the last set on Magic Online came out four days before the Pro Tour. MTGGoldfish didn’t exist, and the Pro Tour occurred two weeks after release. In those days, you could have success at the Pro Tour by breaking the format.

Wizards is doing everything they can to make it so that everyone can do well at the Pro Tour. Pro Teams don’t matter anymore. We have perfect information, and the last time I saw some team’s deck and said, “Wow, they broke it!” was Team Genesis’ Marvel with Chandra, Flamecaller at PT Amonkhet.

Now the Pro Tour is months after the set release, and you have thousands of successful Magic Online lists, and even ones from GPs!

Testing Constructed is basically irrelevant.

Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister, the best Standard players in the World, played the same decks they played weeks before in other events, won with them, and wrote about them.

What do you even want to do better than them?

My last decks at Pro Tours have always been tier 1 decks with a target on their backs: R/B Midrange, Humans, Temur Energy, Zombies, Mardu, and Bant Company. And I’ve always done great.

The only time in the last two years where I completely scrubbed out in Constructed was when I brewed my own Jeskai Control deck at PT Kaladesh. Instead of playing Mardu Vehicles or U/W Flash I chose to beat those decks, I went 2-1 in Draft and 0-4 in Constructed.

Wizards, by putting PTs month after a release and having new sets on Magic Online weeks before the Pro Tour, is putting less focus on Standard. Whoever tries to break the format these days fails miserably. Take that into account.

Use the time that you dedicate to Magic and devote 95% to Drafting and 5% to watching streams of Standard.

A few days before the Pro Tour, when you’ve locked into a solid deck choice (like R/B Aggro or U/W Control for this past Pro Tour), start playing Constructed on Magic Online or against a teammate, write down a sideboard plan—after carefully taking into consideration what writers and streamers say about it—and you are good to go!


Draft, netdeck, don’t be afraid, and you’ll crush the Pro Tour!


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