Losing the Crane Game: A Pro Tour Dominaria Report

Writing reports is a hell of a lot more fun when you win, but you can’t win ’em all, and in the case of Team ChannelFireball at this Pro Tour, we would have settled for winning a few of them, or even half. At the end of Day 1, I was the only person on our 6-player squad in Day 2, and I had a record of 4-4, but that’s getting ahead of myself. Let’s see how this unfolded, listen to my claims that we did have a bad run in Limited, and hear tales of any and all action in Richmond.

T’ing Most of the Dubs in D.C.

One of the most exciting Sagas (narrowly defeating The Mirari Conjecture) was the story of Pat Cox trying to qualify for the Pro Tour. You might be asking, “why isn’t he already qualified—isn’t he Gold?” or “Who is Pat Cox?” so let me explain. Pat is not only of my closest friends, but he’s also a teammate and has been gold for the last six years or so, and hasn’t missed a PT in seven. But he dropped to Silver this year thanks to a streak of horrible luck, and not horrible luck like I routinely complain about—actual bad luck, which I saw over and over again.

He used his Silver invite to play in Pro Tour Albuquerque, won an RPTQ for Bilbao (which I even tested for), but lacked an invite to PT Dominaria. After a barrage of heartbreaking misses (playing for Top 8 of multiple GPs, 10-5 at PT Bilbao, the finals of an online PTQ), it came down to Grand Prix D.C. The squad of Pat, myself, and the surprisingly good Andrew Baeckstrom needed to win the whole thing to qualify Pat for the PT. We had the drive, the skills, and the incredible luck we needed…

…until I had to play against Shahar Shenhar for Top 4. We lost the first round of the tournament with a bad pool, ran it up to 6-2, opened a solid pool, and were 11-2, facing Shahar, Oliver Tiu, and Ondrej Strasky for Top 4. An Arcane Flight off the top spelled my doom, and we didn’t even need Andrew Baeckstorm to finish his match.

11-3. Good for three Pro Points, disappointment, and a lackluster breakfast at a Mexican place the next day. Pat chronicled his attempts here, and I’m probably the third-most disappointed person that he didn’t qualify (after Pat and his wife, though it’s honestly pretty close between her and me). Still, I enjoyed playing with Pat and Andrew Baeckstrom, and would run the team back again.

Secret Sandwiches in Richmond

By far the best part about Richmond was the Secret Sandwich Society. It was a sandwich shop about a block from our hotel and had truly excellent food. I ate there six times in six days, and enjoyed it every time.

Sadly, the tournament didn’t go nearly as well as the dining. What happened? Why did we register Implement of Ferocity? Did Glint-Nest Crane trick us once again? Is Goblin Chainwhirler just a joke? Let’s find out.

Things we learned (and things that happened) in testing:

    • Ben Stark thinks that Field of Ruin is a painless City of Brass. He used it to justify various BB, WW, UU spells at both this Pro Tour and PT Ixalan.
    • Team CFB will greatly benefit from Glint-Nest Crane rotating out. It also featured prominently in one of the worst decks before this one, Aetherworks Marvel at PT Kaladesh, though I avoided that by being on coverage.
    • With Goblin Chainwhirler in the format, Llanowar Elves is more Lotus Petal than Mox Emerald. Sadly, we thought it was still worth the risk, but that did not pay off.
    • Half the team liked black-white at the beginning of the week before realizing that it had no good matchups. We then all played a deck that somehow had worse matchups than that.
    • There was a 4-hour period where everyone on the team was going to play mono-green. That unfortunately led to everyone ordering mono-green cards, then all being off it and having to pay for said cards. Of course, Grzegorz Kowalski did extremely well with the deck, which is a recurring theme—he rarely plays the team deck and always wins. Maybe he’s on the team to find out what not to play.
    • Ben Weitz lost his Math PhD to Matt Nass in a battle of wills (and math).
    • There were multiple heated arguments about people trying to lose. It was a frequent accusation whenever someone lost a bunch of games while on the side of a specific deck, with the basis being that they didn’t want their deck to win or didn’t like the deck, so they didn’t try hard enough. Paulo kicked it off by accusing Siggy, and then Matt Nass accused Sam, and we had our theme from the week set. It’s tough analyzing matchup data when you have the extra variable of “heart,” which apparently many of our teammates lacked.
    • In the Limited meeting, we got some gems (with names removed to protect the guilty):
    • Ondrej submitted Red-Black, then when someone started making fun of Cinder Barrens, switched to Mono-Red, then at 11:50 switched to U/G Karn. His deck choices got progressively worse, unfortunately for him.

Eventually, we settled on playing U/G Karn. Here’s what we registered:

U/G Karn

It was an interesting spot. None of us thought the deck was busted, but we thought it was fine, and could maybe steal a couple of percentage points by playing some different cards here and there. It also did have a proactive game plan, and plenty of the individual cards were good (Karn, Verdurous Gearhulk, Ballista, Llanowar Elves, Harvester). In reality, the deck was just too much worse than the best “normal” decks, and especially against the slower versions of Red-Black. Playing against more 3-4 mana spells and fewer crappy 1-drops made our Ballistas a lot worse, and our lower overall card quality came back to haunt us.

It does do some cool things—it’s a great Karn deck, and Karn is a really powerful card. It also utilizes Ballista quite well, and Gearhulk works nicely with Harvester and Ballista alike. Unfortunately, it’s missing a couple of cards, and playing Implement of Ferocity isn’t a recipe for success (unless your goal is to make your opponents read your cards).

The Pro Tour

The big day was finally here, and it was time to find out what all our practice and planning would amount to. Spoilers: not much. Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of the weekend:

      • I was one of the featured drafters, and I tanked pretty hard on this important pick.
      • I lost round 1 to my opponent cracking Memorial to Unity and finding the one creature that killed me (Sporecrown Thallid). A little heavy-handed on the foreshadowing there, Lady Luck.
      • Gaby Spartz came to the Pro Tour to cheer me on and to be the team’s designated coffee runner. Thanks to our team’s performance, she did not Day 2 in these endeavors, which is really hard to do.
      • Our deck was inadvertently spoiled by coverage in round four. It was kind of a beat, since the deck was already bad and now lost any semblance of a surprise factor. I do think we still would have lost badly, but it sure didn’t feel good to have my round 5 opponent in game 1 say “I’m going to mull this because I know your list.” I did not win that round.
      • I finished 4-4 on Day 1, qualifying me for Day 2. The rest of the team could not say the same, and we are banking on a big finish in the Team Pro Tour to try to salvage the Team Series.
      • Ray, a fan of Gaby’s stream, invited us to a restaurant he manages, and we had dinner with him, his fiancee Emily, Wrapter, and Andrew Baeckstrom. It was sweet, and one of the better things about the trip. Peanut butter on a burger was surprisingly good.
      • My second Draft pod was only six people, but my deck still ended up great.
        After 3-0’ing Draft, I closed out Constructed with another 3-2, bringing my score to 10-6. Respectable, but not exciting, and not quite enough to make the tournament feel like a success.
      • One of the few bright spots was Matt Severa winning Constructed Master. Severa is awesome, so it’s sweet that he gets to play at Worlds.

We celebrated with sandwiches from the not-so-secret society, as was our tradition, and I got to rejoin the coverage bracket. A few red versus red matches later, and we had the champion of the 2018 Chainwhirler Bowl, Wyatt Darby. He played well and seemed like a deserving winner.

We closed the weekend out by playing various board and card games, even going to the trouble to Uber to a card store to buy more games. I had the urge to pretend that I got a really good deal on some Beta cards there just to tilt Tom Martell, but I’m glad I didn’t, since he got more than his fair share of tilting over the course of the weekend.

Overall, this Pro Tour pretty much sucked. I’m not one to completely measure tournaments by my own finish, but this was a bad tournament for everyone. When you get demolished, at least you can usually celebrate your teammates and friends’ victories, but here we all did so badly that there was none of that to be found. I did feel good about rallying from 4-4 to 10-6, but like I said, that wasn’t quite enough to salvage things. Nothing really seemed to go right over the weekend, and I’m glad to move past it.

Hopefully the next report I write is full of awesome tales of luck, skill, and victory, as all were in short supply this weekend. Still, there were some good times, and at least we had sandwiches.


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