For Grand Prix Barcelona and Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad I had one goal: get the 3 points I needed to lock Gold, an achievement that I hadn’t reached in my 3 years of Pro Tours. I came home with a PT Finalist Cup and 55 Pro Points.
Before the PT, Christian Calcano invited me to join Team MTGMintCard and the PT testing started in Barcelona with a group of five people: me, Calcano, Jeremy Dezani, Raphael Levy, and Thierry Ramboa. We met in Madrid with the rest of the team: Lee Shi Tian, Faye Lai, Antony Lee, Jason Chung, Maitland Cameron, Paul Jackson, Tomoharu Saito, Katsuhiro Mori, Hao-Shan Huang, and Wing Chun Yam.
Our Constructed preparation focused mostly on tuning the stock decks and figuring out which was the best deck among them. Some tried new brews, but they failed for the most part. Levy and Dezani came up with an Abzan version of Company that didn’t do well even in the hands of those two great pilots at the PT.
For the most part, it was Katsuhiro Mori and I who worked on Bant Company—we played tons of mirror matches to figure out the key to win them. The best way was probably Eldrazi Displacer, but the idea of playing 1 Waste and 4 Yavimaya Coast kept me from including it.
My favorite part of tuning stock decks is the mana base, especially in a format like this where it’s hard to figure out the best way to build your tri-color mana base. I knew that I wanted to play zero shadowlands—I think they are very bad in a tri-color mana base since they come into play tapped in the late-game and they make your battlelands come into play tapped in the early game, which is a nightmare. While Yavimaya Coast wasn’t the best land and you can’t afford too many UG duals, you needed as many untapped lands as possible. For that reason, we chose to play 2 Coasts and only 3 Lumbering Falls. I truly think that the mana base I ended up with is the best version.
The creatures were the easy part since we had to play at least 24 creatures with mana cost 3 or less, and they were pretty easy to identify. We choose to play 4 Dromoka’s Command and 1 Ojutai’s Command since the first is fantastic against Humans and good versus Bant (the two most expected decks) and the second is there mainly to face Archangel Avacyn.
As you can see, the sideboard was mainly for Humans and Ramp—Humans because it was a very popular deck, and Ramp because it’s a very poor matchup.
Bear in mind that if you are playing a deck with Collected Company that you can never go down to 22 creatures when sideboarding.
I lost to Teruya Kakumae in round 8 masterfully playing Mono-White Humans. The game was very close and I lost due to a sketchy keep game 3 with a 2-land hand on the play. The matchup is close, and if you resolve a Tragic Arrogance, it’s very hard for them to recover.
I would board like this against every Ramp version (Goggles or otherwise). The matchup is quite bad, and I was quickly defeated by Joel Larsson in round 12. On the other hand, Calcano and Lee Shi Thian went 7-1 against it during the tournament, mainly thanks to Invasive Surgery and Surrak, the Hunt Caller.
This is the only matchup where I go to 21 creatures. It’s mostly because those creature don’t matter since they end up clogging the board only for an Archangel Avacyn to swipe them away.
The matchup is grindy and Dragonlord Dromoka can take over. Planeswalkers are the key in this fight. I tried other tech such as Profaner of the Dead and Sphinx of the Final Word but they disappointed me, so I stuck with Dragonlord Dromoka, which turns out to be helpful even against UR Control—I faced that 3 times during the PT.
Every control deck is a good matchup for Bant Company, I managed to defeat Ivan Floch and Shota Yasooka, and I would have much rather played versus Seth Manfield and his Esper Control in the finals. In order to win, you have to grind your opponent out with cards like Tireless Tracker and Duskwatch Recruiter. Play around Languish and Grasp of Darkness—always hold Sylvan Advocate until you have 6 lands (also true against BG Seasons Past)
The matchup is hideous. I got completely crushed by Steve Rubin in the final—planeswalkers are a nightmare, and I don’t think that boarding in more Negate solves the problem.
The best way to deal with them is Tragic Arrogance, but it’s situational. Since this matchup is that bad, I’m not sure Bant Company is still tier 1—maybe the metagame will shift a little bit away from it.
Shadows over Innistrad Draft
Let’s now dive a little bit into draft, where I went 2-1 both days.
My preparation was mostly by online draft. During the week in Madrid, I watched plenty of drafts by draft masters Jason Chung and Christian Calcano who taught me that red/white was the best archetype and that black/blue were the two worst colors.
I happily first-picked Fiery Temper, followed by Sinister Concoction and Dead Weight. I ended up with a red/black deck with a very high power level, only losing to an Italian fellow due to an insane mana flood in 2 games.
I was in a very tough pod, which usually happens when you are 6-2 at the PT. I first-picked a Bound by Moonsilver and second-picked Incorrigible Youths out of a weak pack—it turns out that Ochoa, to my left, made only red picks during the first pack, and I made only white picks as a result.
I was locked into red/white going into the third pack and opened Nahiri’s Machinations and Spiteful Motives. I chose the Aura and wheeled the enchantment, which is insane in a very aggressive deck. I ended up with 5 Thraben Inspector—the best white common according to the team. I also followed Calcano’s advice and picked Ethereal Guidance—that helped me win against Ochoa in a very interesting game. I finished 2-1, losing to Lukas Blohon and his great RG Werewolf deck.
The Top 8
My Top 8 bracket was a nightmare—I had 3 Hall-of-Famers between myself and the finals. It turns out that my deck was well equipped versus Jon Finkel’s BG Season Past and I managed to defeat him 3-1. Beating Jon Finkel is not something that happens to you everyday—I will remember that moment forever.
I then got to play against Shota Yasooka, one of the best control players in the world. He played the game at an incredible speed, even when we had no time limit in the Top 8. We played 5 great games that I really enjoyed.
Ivan Floch told me in round 14 that he thought the matchup favored him, but I have many doubts about this statement. I think that post-sideboard, Bant Company has an edge. Those were probably the best games of my life and I recommend you watch the match.
In the final, I faced my friend and ex-teammate Steve Rubin.
Funny Fact: I picked Steve Rubin in my Fantasy Team Draft and I managed to win it when the second player picked Finkel and Yasooka—I wisely managed to defeat those players in order to win the Fantasy Draft.
As I said above, the matchup was really bad. I did the best I could but came up unsuccessful.
Losing the finals is always a bit bitter, but I only found the sweetness in it. I couldn’t have been happier raising my finalist cup, handed to me by Head Judge Riccardo Tessitori during the awards ceremony.
I couldn’t have been happier than seeing my whole team hugging me and high-fiving me.
I clapped loudly to celebrate Steve Rubin’s well-deserved victory.
Hopefully Ive gathered enough Points to compete in Worlds in August, which I never thought could happen to me.
But I won’t fly too high—my feet will stay on the ground. I will keep studying and I will keep writing, recording, and answering your questions for ChannelFireball.com, the website that offered me the option to become a Magic Professional Player.