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Preparing for Pro Tour Aether Revolt with CFB Ice

I was more excited for Pro Tour Aether Revolt than any PT I can remember. First, I got to see my closest friends after a couple months’ hiatus from Magic tournaments. Second, Wizards decided to ban 3 cards in Standard, which would make testing way more interesting. Finally, it was the tournament where WotC kicked off the Team Series.

Creating a team has not been easy, but in the end I landed on one of the best squads in the game—ChannelFireball Ice. The team consists of 3 Hall-of-Famers (PVDDR, Eric Froehlich, and Ben Stark), a former PotY (Mike Sigrist) and PT Champion (Joel Larsson). Oh yeah, and then there is me—don’t ask me how I conned them into teaming with me, because I have no clue.

As always, I prepared with the best testing team in the world now: CFB Ice, plus the members of Team F2F (Rubin, Wilson, Hayne, Pardee, Floch, Tiu), and two members of Hareruya (Sochurek, Nakamura). Another nice thing about the PT was that we got to test in Prague because there was a Grand Prix here the week before. Prague is my hometown for the time being, so I just had to get out of bed and take a 30-minute bus to our testing house. The house was actually a whole mansion that we rented for ourselves, which came with breakfast and a cleaning lady. It was also secluded, with nothing around us except for one small convenience store. That was especially useful, because we could just concentrate on testing, free of distractions.

We started our testing late on a Monday before the GP, when normally we start 3-5 days earlier. This meant that we started testing after the first SCG tournament, and we knew what to play our brews against. This is my least favorite part cause I’m not very creative and therefore terrible at brewing, I’m usually the person who plays a bunch with the stock lists from SCG and beats people up. We tried improvise decks with Inspiring Statuary and Paradoxical Outcome decks that were as bad as I expected them to be. I quite like Herald of Anguish, but unfortunately the improvise deck is missing some good artifacts. Playing cards like Cogworker’s Puzzleknot and Servo Schematic is embarrassing.

As for the decks I liked, we had a 4C Marvel build with the Copycat combo, which impressed me at the start was a little bit too clunky in the end. The next deck I liked was a G/B heavy energy build with Cub, which was quite different from the G/B Delirium version that won the SCG Open. We basically replaced the bad cards (Mindwrack Demon, Grim Flayer, the random removal spells) with cards that were pretty good (Longtusk Cub, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Bristling Hydra). That deck was nice, but it slightly worse against the Delirium version. It turns out that going a little bit bigger is still a good strategy in the aggro mirrors. At that point, I was unsure what to play, as our 3 best decks were B/G (lost to the mirror and was even with Jeskai), Jeskai (good, but hard to play and had a target on its back), and Mardu (was beating everything, yet no one wanted to play it because it’s Mardu).

I believe it was on Monday morning when I woke up and got news that Joel had built a Metalwork Colossus deck he was winning with. It was beating G/B both pre- and post-board, and had a reasonable matchup with Jeskai game 1. As for the sideboarded games, we came up with a plan of siding in Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Transgress, and Anguished Unmaking. With that configuration we were basically even post-board, plus the matchup was really hard to play from the Jeskai side, so I thought we would have an edge in an unprepared field. I played quite a bit with Colossus for the next 2 days, and I was pleased with the deck. We were set to head out to Dublin on Wednesday morning, and the night before I was soft-locked on Colossus with Jeskai and Mardu as my secondary choices.

Then a little disaster struck. Petr and I were on a different flight than the rest of the team and our flight got delayed for 6 hours, which basically meant we lost a whole day of testing. Because Colossus was an unknown deck, I didn’t want to play it online, so we just played a couple of Drafts at the airport. When I arrived, I got some bad news from my teammates. They said that they played the post-board matchup versus Jeskai and got different results than before. That was weird to me because I personally played those games and knew that the matchup was even.

I challenged Sam to some games, and after playing a couple, I instantly knew they were right. The first time I played the matchup, our Jeskai sideboard was pretty bad. It was just a bunch of cards thrown together. But now after more days of testing, it got a lot better, and it was very hard to win any post-board games. That meant I was off Colossus and I had to decide between Mardu and Jeskai.

Joel wrote about the Colossus deck yesterday. I had a lot of fun with the deck, and I might just play it at a GP at some point.

Colossus

My teammates made the decision of what to play easy, as everyone but Petr and Siggy chose Mardu. I had only played 6 games with Mardu before the tournament started, so I was a little scared. That’s a little loose, but I had some experience with the previous Vehicles decks with Smuggler’s Copter, so I wasn’t too worried. I was actually very happy with our deck selection, and thought we did a wonderful job. Luckily, that turned out to be right, as Mardu went on to be one of the most dominating decks in Pro Tour history with 6 of the Top 8 slots and great numbers overall. Our specific list was merely decent as we didn’t have much time to actually test the deck, and so we mostly theorized. I think the main deck is solid, but the sideboard needs a lot of work (#spirebluffcanal). We all played a slightly different version, but I was smart enough to select the one PVDDR played to his 11th PT Top 8:

Mardu Vehicles

Ben Stark is writing about Limited, so I’ll let the master explain the format. I had only played like 8 Drafts before the PT, but thanks to our Limited meeting I felt like I have never understood a format so well before. It really helped to finally have Limited specialists in Ben, EFro, and Joel on our team.

Day 1 Draft

My first Draft started well. After first-picking Shock I was passed a Ridgescale Tusker and I just kept picking red and green cards after that. The final product was likely the best deck I have ever had at a PT.

ondrej

I made the stupid mistake of playing only 16 lands. I thought it was enough with 2 Servants, but my deck had a lot of mana sinks and I unnecessarily risked getting mana screwed. I went 2-1, losing both games in one match due to mana problems.

Day 1 Standard

Constructed got off to a rocky start as well as I tried to bluff Disintegration with no black source (my artifact for Spire of Industry got destroyed on the previous turn) instead of playing an extra threat, which almost lead to me losing to Brutal Expulsion. Luckily, I still won the match and gained more confidence in our deck. I then won two more matches, but lost the last two to finish with a mediocre 5-3 after Day 1. All the matches were basically the same. One game I would have the nut draw and win, one I would get mana screwed or flooded and lose, and then a close one where I either won or lost.

I had one interesting situation where my opponent mulliganed to 6 on the draw, thought for a long time about his keep, kept, scryed to the bottom, and then died with only Aether Hub in play after missing a couple of land drops. Now the question is what deck do you sideboard against, if any? After talking to a bunch of people, I got answers ranging from Mardu and Jeskai to B/G Energy. I went with Jeskai, mostly based on my gut feeling and my opponent having thought for a long time. I think you are likely to keep 1 Aether Hub in B/G or Mardu, but in Jeskai the decision is much harder. He turned out to be Jeskai, and I lost game 2 anyway.

I went to bed feeling sour after losing the last two games. I also couldn’t sleep very well, so I didn’t like my chances on Saturday.

Day 2 Draft

 

The second Draft was odd, but I ended up with a decent B/G deck. I had to play some bad cards, but I also had Noxious Gearhulk and Winding Constrictor so I was just hoping to draw them every single game. In the first round against Mark Jacobson I was up a game and ahead on board with Gearhulk and two other strong cards in my hand. Unfortunately, I didn’t play a super tight game and Mark punished me with some good draws and excellent plays. I went on to lose the game and then the match. I was told by three people that they were watching the game and walked away when it was obvious I couldn’t lose…

Luckily, I redeemed myself in the next two rounds.

The highlight was casting a sideboarded Renegade’s Getaway on a 7/7 Lifecraft Cavalry that was blocked by 4 creatures, followed by casting Prey Upon on the creature that was left over.

Day 2 Standard

Back to Constructed, and I yet again won the first 3 rounds. One of them was miraculous as my opponent, who was on 7 life, brainfarted and conceded to my Unlicensed Disintegration when I had Heart of Kiran out but no creatures to crew it with and no cards in my hand. What do I know? Maybe he knew how lucky I always am and predicted a creature off the top, but I was so surprised that I forgot to check.

I had a similar thing happen to me in the next round against Nassif. After losing game 1, I played Toolcraft Exemplar on turn 1 and then Shocked his Thraben Inspector on turn 2 and attacked for 1, even though I had Pia as my play for turn 3. Gabe obviously punished me by playing a Motorist that traded with my Exemplar, and I lost the game shortly thereafter. I guess I need to work on my stamina, because I didn’t sleep very well throughout this tournament and it showed. I lost the last round as well where the deciding moment of the whole match depended on whether I could manage to draw a way to crew my Heart of Kiran. I didn’t, and finished the tournament a disappointing 10-6, which earns me only 6 Pro Points.

Overall, this kind of reminded me of Pro Tour Eldrazi (Oath of the Gatewatch), where I felt incredibly good about my team preparation but personally made a bunch of mistakes and finished the tournament with a disappointing result. Magic is a hard game and everyone makes mistakes but it still stings. Half of the Magic season is behind us and I’m currently sitting on 26 points, which is exactly halfway to my goal of Platinum level. Hopefully I can make it, but I know I need to step up my game to do so.

Moving forward, I wonder if Mardu is going to keep doing well in Standard. The deck definitely felt strong, but the mana base is clunky. I also think people weren’t giving it enough respect before the PT, which is sure to change. I’m looking forward to the results of GP Pittsburgh. I will be playing some Standard for the Monthly MOCS that’s happening this weekend, so root for me there.

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