Pro Tour M15 was pretty incredible for me. I made my second career Top 8 and proved to myself that the first time wasn’t just a fluke. Before I left for the PT I went to my local card shop and bought a couple Elspeths, Caves of Koilos, and an Urborg—I knew what I was getting myself into.
My testing process was about what you might expect. I knew from the get-go I wanted to play with 4 Thoughtseize 4 Pack Rat and I was going to do everything in my power to test every possible version of every deck with those cards.
Now this may seem like a waste of time, since the deck has been played week in and week out, and the methods it uses are tried, tested, and true. But I know that, for me, I have played the deck in a ton of tournaments and each time I relied on my own previous experience to decide the card choice and I never challenged my own preconceived notions.
Immediately following GP Chicago I had the realization that my preparation with the deck just wasn’t up to my previous winning standards. The main reason I felt that way was because I lost to Mono-Blue Devotion twice in the tournament, a matchup I spent very little time and effort trying to improve. My logic behind that was simple: I played the matchup countless time online and at GP Albuquerque, and I always just won it.
Maybe I was running good or I just had the correct formula for the matchup before and now people are back up to speed. I rested on my laurels and they weren’t close to good enough this time. On top of all that, the deck list that got 2nd place in the tournament made the smart swap of cutting all the Devour Flesh in favor of four Bile Blight—something I had not considered but would have been excellent for that metagame. Devour Flesh almost always trades for Judge’s Familiar and can very rarely kill Nightveil Specter or Master of Waves which are the cards that contribute the most to a loss for Mono-Black Devotion as opposed to Bile Blight which is always awesome. None of this is even mentioning the power or Bile Blight in the mirror match.
I showed up to a Ski Lodge in Portland about 10 days before the Pro Tour to meet up with The Pantheon, which this time consisted of Matt Costa, Reid Duke, William Jensen, Gabriel Nassif, Jon Finkel, Paul Rietzl, Andrew Cuneo, Tom Martell, Jamie Parke, Jelger Wiegersma, Sam Black, Patrick Chapin, Gaudenis Vidiguris, Zvi Mowshowitz, and myself.
I started out testing the Orzhov control flavor of the deck and I really didn’t like it. I can’t explain fully why I didn’t like it but I must have played about 50 games and dismissed the deck. It was slow and unexciting. When I play the version of black devotion that I previously had liked best, with 21 Swamp 4 Mutavault, I felt like the deck was brutally punishing of bad draws. You could always play Thoughtseize into removal into Lifebane Zombie and shred people’s draws to pieces.
That deck was capable of broken draws and appealed to me much more so that I could get more lucky hands. I spent well over half the rest of my time testing either Mono-Black Devotion or Black Devotion with a green splash for both Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm. I loved that version of the deck and I almost played it. My list looked like this:
This deck slaughtered control. I felt like I could never lose the matchup in a million years. Ultimately it wouldn’t have worked out as well for me, because part of the value of this deck against control is using Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm to destroy their Detention Spheres, which the successful control builds didn’t even play.
I liked this deck in the mirror since I could use Abrupt Decay to destroy Underworld Connections and break parity in games where both people had Connections. In practice this was far less exciting than it sounds. One problem you run often is they will Thoughtseize your Abrupt Decay then play Connections or just play Connections and draw 1 card before it is destroyed resulting in you getting 2-for-1’d. There aren’t many good winning strategies that involve you hoping to get 2-for-1’d.
I felt really strongly that a Thoughtseize, Pack Rat, Lifebane Zombie deck was the best choice for me and I knew it had all the tools to win every matchup, but the biggest problem I kept running into was the mirror match which felt like a coin flip no matter what cards I put in my sideboard or how I played. Some mirror matches favor the more prepared player in terms of skill or sideboard choice, and the Mono-Black Devotion mirror in Standard is not one of them. It’s almost entirely decided on the cards drawn and no other factor.
Patrick Chapin spent a ton of time in the house trying to cook up builds of various decks with the express purpose of beating black-based decks. It didn’t take him long to just put Blood Baron in his main deck and beat me silly with it. I even had lists with 0 Devour Flesh and 3 total Lifebane Zombie, which means my deck is even softer against the Baron. Late in testing I went back to my original configuration of the deck, with 4 Devour Flesh 4 Lifebane Zombie and 4 Thoughtseize in the main deck, all as outs to Blood Baron, and the more I played the matchup the more I came up short. I tried to make my deck as good against it as possible and I played 10-game sets over and over and each time the score came up 6-4 in favor of Orzhov Midrange.
Once I settled on the Orzhov list everything else was elementary, I used my flex slots to try and plug all the holes in my previous versions of Black-Devotion, this was very effective. Voice of Resurgence and Chandra’s Phoenix are really difficult to beat—but not when you have access to both Banishing Light and Last Breath. I used to always lose to Domestication, but with access to Deicide I had a chance. Lastly, the addition of Blood Baron and Elspeth to the main gave me huge trump cards for the mirror. I loved my deck list and it’s not clear that I would even want to change a single card if I had the option to go back.
The tournament itself was pretty absurd. I felt like I was one of the most prepared people in the event, and weilding Thoughtseize and Pack Rat my confidence was at an all-time high. I felt like it would take a miracle for me to do poorly in the event. A miracle did happen… kind of.
I was in a 7-man pod for the draft and that means someone gets the bye round 1, this time it was me. Getting a bye in a Pro Tour is just a freak occurrence of good fortune and along with just winning without playing, it also grants you excellent tiebreakers which can come up later (but probably not).
I finished the first draft 3-0 with a haphazard collection of commons. I literally had only two cards in my deck that were not common—Quickling and Wall of Mulch. In a 7-man pod the quality of the decks drops off a bit and I got good pairings and good hands.
I finished the rest of the day going 4-1 in Constructed beating Mono-Black Aggro, GW Aggro, UW Control, UW Control with Planar Cleansing, and taking a loss to Mono-Black Devotion. I felt a bit crummy to end the day with a loss as I knew I had a chance to be 8-0 and even be 8-0 alongside Huey, which would have been extra sweet. On top of that, I made the conscious decision to play Orzhov over Mono-Black Devotion purely so I could be advantaged in the mirror match. I got the desired pairing and the cards just didn’t break right for me. Obviously I’m still supposed to lose about 40-45% of the time but I wanted to win pretty badly and I was advantaged, so losing stung.
The second day started with a mediocre 1-2 draft from me. My draft was recorded, and on a second viewing I feel like there was very little I could do to change my result. Sometimes a draft just goes poorly and there’s nothing you can do. I won my first round, lost to Huey in a feature match, and lastly I lost to Christian Seibold who drafted THREE Cones of Flame.
Back to Constructed and I rattle off a quick loss to Mono-Blue Devotion splashing red off Shivan Reef for Turn//Burn. I played three close games and my topdecks late in the games didn’t match his and I lost. At this point I felt truly awful. I was 7-0 and now I am 8-4. I felt like I squandered one of the best chances I would ever have to make Top 8 of the Pro Tour. I felt sick. I did know that it was possible for a person with a 12-4 record to make Top 8 still, so I wasn’t about to give up, and if someone did make it with that record it would all come down to tiebreakers. I got a bye round 1 and I lost to Huey who was 11-0 or something ridiculous, so if anyone had good breakers it could be me, right?
Round 13, Win 2-0 vs. Martin Scheinin – Orzhov Midrange
Round 14, Win 2-1 vs. Dmitriy Butakov – Bant Control
It was at this point Patrick Chapin took a look at the standings and said to me “do you have any idea how extremely live you are for Top 8?”
Jon Finkel predicts if I win my final two matches I have a slightly better than 50% chance to make it in.
Round 15, Win 2-0 vs. Scott Markeson – Mono-Black Devotion
Round 16, Win 2-0 vs. Neil Reeves – Mono-Blue Devotion
Neil extends his hand and says “congrats on the Top 8.”
Reid Duke predicts I have about a 33% chance to make it.
William Jensen predicts I have a roughly 20% shot.
Gabriel Nassif claims he “hasn’t looked at the numbers at all” but claims I’m less than 5%.
Ben Friedman wins his match to advance to 12-4 and tells me we’re both in for a sweat.
The french do the math and tell Jeremy Dezani if he wins his match and if Jon Finkel loses his match Jeremy is approximately 95% to get 8th place.
There’s nothing left to do but wait. I nervously paced around the site hoping someone would have more information than I did. It was all out of my control at this point. They announce the Top 8 one name at a time and there’s two people who make it at 12-4.
7th place is Jackson Cunningham—no big surprise there.
They slowroll it for a minute. In 8th place……………………FROM THE UNITED STATES, OWEN TURTENWALD.
To say I was excited is a bit of an understatement. I lost my mind. Pure joy and elation overcame me. In a crowd of friends and teammates jumping up and down and cheering, screaming. Everyone hugging me and going crazy. I’ve never felt anything like it before in my life. This is why I play. I live for this.
The rest of the night involved filling out the Top 8 profiles, countless handshakes and pats on the back, and building the Top 8 decks. I played about 25 games before I was too exhausted to continue.
The actual Top 8 playoff was a bit lame. I beat Pat Cox 2-0 in a matchup where I’m sure he’s favored, but I had good hands and he had poor draws. Then I lost to the eventual winner Ivan Floch in a matchup that traditionally for me has been either a coin flip or slightly in my favor. He played excellently, and in the end I think the cards just weren’t drawn in a way where I could win the match. I felt deep down in my heart of hearts there was nothing I could do and I was OK with that. Top 4 is an amazing finish and I’m proud of myself.
I’d like to thank the entire Pantheon. The greatest Pro Tour team Magic has ever and will ever see. Without them to help me prepare I wouldn’t be the player I am today.
With my win in the quarterfinals I locked up the captain slot of the US team for the Magic World Cup. So I look forward to that event and I’m honored to represent the country.
It’s been a wild ride but it’s not over yet. For me it’s full steam ahead with Magic and with the results I’ve had recently if I can keep that up it’s going to be unreal.
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