GP Bologna was great for Team Axion Now. Between Kayure winning it and myself missing the top 8 on tiebreakers, but still securing the PT invite, the team successfully snuck 3 team members into PT Madrid. For a team that’s only existed for a few months, this is a great achievement and everyone involved should be proud. Now we’d have to go and show the world we aren’t just a fluke.
PT minus 30+
I landed back in the UK and had a message waiting for me from Eduardo Sajgalik of PT T8 fame. He congratulated me on my finish and asked whether I knew Kayure. A brief conversation followed explaining that Kayure and Tom were both qualified teammates and he invited all 3 of us to join his PT testing team. Some changes happened over the next few weeks, but this was the roster of Team Quietscheentchen (or Team Rubber Ducky for the non-Germanics):
Simon Görtzen (Pro Tour Champion)
Eduardo Sajgalik (Pro Tour T8)
Daniel Gräfensteiner (Pro Tour T8)
For a trio of newcomer British players, this is about as good a team as we could hope for. Dominik and Eduardo claimed (accurately) that they would be able to crack the Limited format quickly and needed help in Constructed, which is an area Kayure and I are strong in. This team looked very good on paper and we were keen to demonstrate it on the big stage. We quickly set up both a Facebook group and a forum and we were ready for the challenge at hand.
PT minus 28
After a week of hype, the full Shadows Over Innistrad spoiler is released. The Team Axion Now’s data analyst George ‘British Karsten’ Channing whipped up some nifty spreadsheets for us in an attempt to create a draft pick order. As for Standard, we were high on Arlinn Kord, Archangel Avacyn and not much else, which ended up being a little disappointing.
All aboard the hype train!
The prereleases all went reasonably well for those in the team, we quickly worked out blue was to be avoided and confirmed SOI is a great format. Our testing was momentarily derailed by the announcement that made Matt, Raoul and myself extremely happy (Thopter Foundry and Ancestral Vision are back!), before being dragged back down to earth and playing some more Standard.
PT minus 17
Mike Sigrist posts an article on SCG with a bunch of decklists. We had the beginnings of a gauntlet formed up (RDW, Bant Company, RB Vampires, RG Ramp, Esper Dragons, BW Control) and played some games between all these awesome lists. Moreso than trying to outright break the format, we wanted to get a feel for the new cards. We got to some early conclusions – Goldnight Castigator is worth exploring, Tireless Tracker is bananas, Sorin, Grim Nemesis is far better than we thought, Archangel Avacyn is a pain to play around (especially in conjunction with Secure the Wastes) and Vampires are unplayable.
With a preliminary draft pick order in place after the pre-releases, we were happily bashing some more games, with Eduardo and Dominik sometimes getting involved with the Skype calls. Dominik was high on BW Eldrazi, which we quickly adopted as the natural successor to BW Control, but the going was still pretty slow.
Enter Wednesday and a single message from James Allingham flashing on our screens – ‘Cryptolith Rite is broken’. We wasted no time in finding the decklist and quickly dropped black (Catacomb Sifter) for blue (Eldrazi Skyspawner, Kiora, Master of the Depths and Drowner of Hope). Everything we threw at the Cryptolith deck seemed to fold and the more we adapted the deck, the better it was.
PT minus 14
The first SCG Open is underway. BW Control and Bant Company are both featured on Saturday, confirming our suspicions about the format. We all go to a PPTQ and crash hard (mostly because we had to play blue) then return to the SCG coverage to see the top 8 flooded with Humans. The format being monopolised by a single aggro deck was great in theory, as this meant a removal heavy deck could pick it apart.
But this wasn’t the case. Humans were annoyingly resilient. But more than that, Humans were really good. Cryptolith was too slow, UR Thing played bad sweepers, Bant Company had too many tap lands, Ramp could barely get to 6 mana before dying… nothing we threw at the deck seemed to actually beat it. Even the removal decks were getting destroyed by the synergy between Dragonlord Ojutai and Always Watching.
I was extremely down for most of that week, as our efforts from the previous couple of weeks all seemed to vanish into thin air. Everything was either too slow or lacked removal to compete against the ridiculously powerful Humans deck. Thankfully there was a GP to take a break from testing.
PT minus 7
GP Barcelona was great. We met with the remaining members of our PT team, enjoyed glorious sunshine and great food. I don’t have much to say about the GP as I was judging it, but it was a breath of fresh air to not think about Standard for a couple of days. Kayure impressed again by grabbing a top 32 finish, putting himself at 14 Pro Points for the season, but everyone else had a fairly mediocre weekend.
PT minus 4
We flew to Madrid on Monday morning, met up with Dominik, Daniel, Autumn and Francesco at the airport and made our way to the PT house, where Rubén was already waiting with the keys. A quick grocery shop followed before we stopped at a local restaurant to eat and get to know each other.
The ’small’ grocery shop
We had just heard that the latest SCG results had Bant Company quite literally everywhere (20 out of 32 slots) and was easily the deck to beat. The problem was that we didn’t really have an idea on how to actually beat it.
We went back to the house and proxied up copies of Humans and Bant Company for testing purposes, before Dominik bashed some games with BW Eldrazi. After dinner, we had a draft with a long discussion on our picks and results before heading to sleep. Time was quickly running out and we had to find something for Standard very soon.
PT minus 3
We started the day with breakfast and another draft before all getting our heads down for Standard. Francesco let us know about the Demonic Pact-Dark Petition-Crush of Tentacles deck that a friend had cooked up, he sleeved it up and spent most of the day tinkering with it alongside Eduardo. The German guys all tried various different known decks against each other to know how the matchups went, whilst Tom created the Jeskai Goggles deck and tested against Kayure, with me watching and making notes. We did nowhere near as much testing as we should, though – soon it was time to eat and draft again.
At this point, we have some spectacular results with both Jeskai Goggles and UB Pact against the gauntlet decks we had in the house. The crucial mistake we made, however, was forgetting to update the gauntlet decks. So whilst Pact had an extremely positive Humans matchup and Goggles had an extremely positive Bant matchup, we were testing against non-updated week old lists. We took these results as useful, where our decks were still very subpar to where they should be.
Rubber Duckys at work
Tom also showed us some drafts of a GB sacrifice deck (and even one splashing blue for Sidisi’s Faithful alongside Liliana, Heretical Healer), but these looked like ‘bad Rally lists without Rally’, so we didn’t explore them.
PT minus 2
We decide that pre-SB games are now pointless and we should be testing post-SB configurations for the team decks. Simon is mostly in the house for drafting, so he agrees to pick up the Humans deck to test against us. What then happens is that Simon crushes everyone. It doesn’t matter what decks or configurations we throw at the lithe 18-land Human deck, Simon ends up with a positive record against everything.
There’s a sense of panic in the house as we realise all the flaws our decks have, although it’s too late to explore other options. We split into 3 groups and lock ourselves in for the decks we know best – Eduardo, Francesco and Autumn lock UB, Kayure, Tom and myself lock Jeskai Goggles and everyone else locks in Mono White Humans.
PT minus 1
It’s the day before the Pro Tour and we have until 4pm to finalise lists before having to go and register. We found the Sphinx’s Tutelage tech for both blue decks to beat the mirror (and for UB to have access to game 1 as otherwise the mirror is unwinnable) and fix the numbers to maximise the win percentage against Humans, Bant and Control. This is the final decklist we settled on:
4 Evolving Wilds
4 Prairie Stream
4 Wandering Fumarole
3 Drownyard Temple
1 Battlefield Forge
4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
3 Chandra, Flamecaller
2 Dragonlord Ojutai
2 Nahiri, the Harbinger
4 Fiery Temper
4 Lightning Axe
4 Tormenting Voice
3 Magmatic Insight
2 Fall of the Titans
2 Pyromancer’s Goggles
1 Fiery Impulse
1 Ojutai’s Command
4 Sphinx’s Tutelage
3 Radiant Flames
2 Dragonmaster Outcast
1 Declaration in Stone
1 Dragonlord Ojutai
1 Fiery Impulse
We had strong sideboard plans against Humans (Radiant Flames), Bant Company (Dragonmaster Outcast), random midrange (Sphinx’s Tutelage) and random creature decks (Radiant Flames, Declaration, Ojutai), but we were weak to control and extremely weak to Ramp. I don’t think for one second that the deck was the correct choice, but I think the list was close to optimal within the archetype. Neither Kayure nor I felt comfortable enough switching to the agreed best deck in Humans and this looked both powerful and fun, so worse case scenario, we get to have some fun, right?
We head off to the venue and wait for around 15 mins in the queue to get our badges. A small aside – I attended GP Barcelona all the way back in 2009 and went to the venue at around 3pm on Thursday. This was basically a barren parking lot and felt very weird to be in, as they were still setting it up. I then returned at 8pm to confirm registration for main event as well as Friday side events and found the room buzzing with people. It’s hard to forget the moment where I turned the corner from that quiet street to the buzz inside the venue
The atmosphere inside the PT hall is, quite simply, unique. You walk in to find a helpdesk of smiling staff to get your bag, shirt, deck box and sleeves. Then you turn around and see the PT trophy in all its glory. This is the end goal, this is the thing we are all here for – and it’s right there in front of you, teasing you.
We were at the venue for a while longer and went to the play area too, again feeling this sense of sheer humility. This is the arena and we are the gladiators eagerly awaiting the tournament… except it’s eerily quiet. You can hear some faint chatter in the background, but on Thursday evening, it’s mostly just a really bizarre humbling experience.
Back at the apartment, there’s time for one last Limited exercise, consolidating all the knowledge we learnt from our drafts. I’ve played in many tournaments before, but I’m still a wreck as I nervously wait for the seconds to pass. I can’t thank Simon enough for taking the time to have a late evening chat to calm me down before heading to sleep.
Pro Tour Madrid – The Big Day
This is it. This is the moment we’ve been practising for. Arrival at venue well before the event starts was a success and soon the pairings are up. I go to my pod and can barely stomach the pod I’m about to draft in:
Antonio Del Moral Leon
I’m sitting between one of Brazil’s top pros and a strong Hall of Fame contender. The table also contains a Pro Tour winner and I recognise 6 of the 7 names. Yikes!
We go through the traditional ovation for PT first timers and before a brief pause, we start the draft.
I start off with a Duskwatch Recruiter over a couple of green cards and an Angelic Purge. The second pack is very weak, but contains Limited all-star Uncaged Fury, so I snap it up. My third pick is a second copy of the double strike spell before receiving a fourth pick Hinterland Logger and assuming green was open. I make it a point to grab some Rush of Adrenaline and get a few late gifts – I can’t remember much of what else happened, but the deck I ended up with was reasonably sweet:
1 Insolent Neonate
1 Duskwatch Recruiter
1 Hinterland Logger
1 Breakneck Rider
1 Howlpack Wolf
1 Ulrich’s Kindred
2 Solitary Hunter
2 Voldaren Duelist
1 Hulking Devil
1 Pack Guardian
1 Thornhide Wolves
1 Watcher of the Web
1 Flameblade Angel
1 Kessig Dire Swine
3 Uncaged Fury
2 Rush of Adrenaline
1 Explosive Apparatus
1 True-Faith Censer
2 Magmatic Chasm
1 Briarbridge Patrol
1 Dual Shot
1 Humble the Brute
1 Sigarda, Heron’s Grace
I should have maindecked the Patrol over the Watcher and possibly the Chasm over the Apparatus too. Neonate, Watcher and Apparatus aside, though, this was a good deck, only short of a couple of 2 drops.
Round 1 – Pedro Carvalho - BGr
G1 I get run over very fast with large green dudes and Morkrut Necropod
G2 I play a T3 Rider which flips into a T4 Pack Guardian and T5 Uncaged Fury
G3 He plays a T1 Vessel of Nascency and a T2 Duskwatch Recruiter into a T4 delirious Soul Swallower which greatly punished my mulligan into single Howlpack Wolf draw. My opponent gave me a way to get back in the game by blocking the 3/3 Wolf on 14 life (his Swallower suddenly Aimed High) and I had the Fury-Rush combo to take the Swallower out as well as a Confront the Unknown from his hand. I stabilised with both my 6 drops, but he found an Epitaph Golem to put the Swallower back on the bottom, then Traverse the Ulvenwald for it. I had 2 draw steps to find the 2nd Fury, didn’t and died to a huge trampler.
Round 2 – Adrian Sullivan - UBr
G1 wasn’t very interesting as I made 3 threats which died and the next 5 were brickwalled by the Call the Bloodline-Indulgent Aristocrat combo (as well as a Twins of Maurer Estate). When the tokens became 3/3s, I could no longer race and died.
G2 I made a T4 Solitary Hunter in the face of his Sinister Concoction, which was stopping me from pulling the trigger on the Fury-Rush combo. My T6 Flameblade Angel was enough for him to crack the Concoction and he then tapped low for some X/1s. I attacked, cast Fury for exacts, he tried to Jace’s Scrutiny and I showed him double Rush to make it exacts again.
G3 was the highlight of the tournament for me. Adrian started very strong with a Call and a Crow of Dark Tidings as well as an Alms of the Vein to put me to 9 in short order. A flipped Solitary Hunter formed my defence, but it was looking bleak. He sent in the Crow, 4 tokens and the 3/5 Twins and after deducing that I can’t beat a Grotesque Mutation anyway, I ate his 3/5 with my 5/6. I added a Howlpack Wolf to the board, before he alpha’d again, putting me to 2 life and going to 23 – he passed with a card in hand. I untap, play the 7th land and send the dudes in, prompting him to discard his last card, a land, to make a 1/1. He blocks the 3/3 and I go into the tank knowing I can’t beat the 2/1 flier. After failing to add several times, I finally got 23 damage as both my guys were furious all of a sudden and the Wolf got a Rush of Adrenaline to deal exactly 23 damage. Adrian collapsed in his chair in shock, but was gracious in defeat, allowing me to claim my first lifetime PT win.
Sometimes, you just need 23 damage out of nowhere…
Round 3 – Tomonori Hirami - GW
G1 My draw is a little slow and he curves 2-3-4-2+3 and I die very quickly.
G2 We both curve 2-3-4, except I’m on the play, so I can keep attacking and eventually Rush-Fury him out
G3 We again both curve 2-3-4, except he doesn’t have a way to deal with Flameblade Angel, which buys me a crucial turn to deploy more threats. He finds a Humble the Brute, but his momentum is gone and a Voldaren Duelist swings the race in my favour before he can amass enough fliers.
I’m extremely hyped about surviving the pod of death (especially being a traditionally weak Limited player) and think my chances of day 2’ing with the Goggles deck are pretty good. I feel like Pedro’s draw game 3 was fairly unreasonable and with a bit of luck I can even 3-0 this pod, but 2-1 is a fine result. Onto Standard then!
- Peter Vieren – Esper Dragons
G1 I draw many lands, Ojutai falls to a Foul-Tongue Invocation and he gets to Dragonlord’s Prerogative. I am nowhere near Fall of the Titans range and we quickly go to G2.
G2 I land an early Tutelage, but he has the Jace immediately after. I don’t have an answer to the pesky 2 mana planeswalker, which allows him to cast Anguished Unmaking from the graveyard – I couldn’t find a 2nd Tutelage and died to an Ojutai.
Round 5 – Jefferson Dillon – Bant Company
G1 This is the matchup we prepared for and I win game 1 very easily, despite trying to Fiery Temper an indestructible Nissa. Thankfully that misplay doesn’t come back to bite me and Chandra makes short work of him
G2 I keep 5 lands, Insight, Voice and die having drawn 18 cards, all of which are lands, Insights or Voices.
G3 I mull into a mediocre 5 and die quickly to a reasonably aggressive draw backed by Company and countermagic.
Round 6 – Magnus Lantto – RG Goggle Ramp
G1 we both durdle for a long time, the only threats being an Ojutai which dies to a Chandra. Magnus finds a World Breaker with about 20 cards left in his deck and before I can find Goggles, Nahiri, Chandra or a 2nd Ojutai and I die in short order to the recurring 5/7
G2 I ramp on turn 3 with Temple before making a Tutelage and a T5 Chandra to kill his Tracker and Den Protector. When he doesn’t immediately make his own Chandra and instead draws some cards, I get to deploy Goggles, draw 4 off Voice, draw 6 off Chandra and leave him with single digit cards in library. He tries to fight back with a World Breaker, but a 2nd Tutelage and an Insight finish him off.
G3 I went through 21 cards without finding a blue source and died with double Tutelage in hand. I actually think this matchup is fine given a reasonable draw.
With my back firmly against the wall (and an extremely poor 0-3 in Standard), I knew I needed to rattle off 2 wins to day 2.
Round 7 – Connor Delaney – Bant Company
G1 I was extremely happy when he led on Lumbering Falls and this game was a prime example of this deck’s power. His Company was Negated, Goggles came down allowing me to throw Axes at things that moved and his follow up was eaten by Chandra. Despite losing the planeswalker to the hexproof land, Tormenting Voice allowed me to draw 4 and establish a firm hold on the game and I won with 7 cards against his 0.
G2 was also pretty straight forward – we 1 for 1’d a bunch, then I made Outcast and Dispel’d his attempt at Company. 1 Dragon and he could no longer attasck, 2 and the game was over.
So, the match for all the (figurative) marbles. And against a Hall of Famer, no less…
Round 8 – Olivier Ruel – GR Ramp
G1 I was confident when I played a T2 Voice discarding Temple, but that quickly evaporated as his Evolving Wilds found Wastes to fuel a turn 2 Ruin in their Wake. I made a T4 Ojutai which was matched by a World Breaker and my T5 Goggles into Insight was beaten by a T5 Ulamog. So much for my god draw then…
G2 My hand was a little slower than I wanted and Olivier made a World Breaker on turn 5, then another, then another, then showed me a Kozilek and an Ulamog and just like that, the Eldrazi that allowed me to play in this PT finished me off.
A reasonably quick match against our worst possible matchup ended my tournament on a sour note. For the level of preparation we had for Limited and after going 2-1 in a very hard pod, going 1-4 in a format I’m meant to be at least OK at and failing to make day 2 is a very disappointing result. The team actually had overall pretty embarrassing results, with only Eduardo hitting the ‘bare minimum’ 9-7 for a point. What we did do, however, was learn a lot. I’m convinced that when we qualify for the next one, we’ll be much better prepared and have no trouble day 2’ing at least.
The single most frustrating part of this PT was easily how close we were to the top decks and how bad ours was in comparison. We had the BG Cryptolith deck and we had a BG Sacrifice deck, we just never thought of putting them together. We deduced Goggles would be the top engine in the format and tried to pair it with U, W, UW and B, just not G. We had a Petition-Languish deck, but we got stuck on Demonic Pact and never tried splashing green instead. Our White Weenie deck was low to the ground (18 land), but we never thought of adding Anointer of Champions or Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. We were very close to breaking all these decks, but for one reason or another, we didn’t quite get there.
fall of the titans
Overall, a fairly disappointing PT for the team
Kayure made a good effort to almost day 2 from a 0-3 start with a poor deck. Tom did day 2, but his draft in day 2 didn’t go so well. I feel like I was on the wrong side of variance for the standard rounds and could have day 2’d with a little more luck. The results were bad for a team with the names ours had, but we didn’t embarrass ourselves. We were scared, worried and we thought we weren’t up to it, but having played the tournament, it’s just like any other, except your average opponent is a little better. Truth is, over 50% of the field are just as good as any of us, we just need to make it count.
I need to top 8 GP Manchester to make Sydney and that’s what I’m going to put my heart to. If I don’t make Sydney, I’ll redouble my efforts to make it to Honolulu. Hopefully we can put more than 3 people on the PT this time – and hopefully we can also stay there.
- - Coming out of an insane draft pod with a positive record
- Simon’s Limited knowledge and pep talk
- Florian cooking (making 12 people happy isn’t easy!) and Eduardo’s idea for a Fajita night
- Dominik making every random situation hilarious
- Team draft where the Görtzens, Kayure and I destroyed Tom, Rúben, Florian and Moritz
- Uncaged Fury – easily the card responsible for the highest number of wins for us
- The rest of Team Axion Now in Barcelona - all your support and great company
- Mediocre Standard testing meant we were woefully unprepared
- Blue in SOI (it’s so bad!)
- Team results and most of us failing to hit Silver/Gold as required
About Joao Choca:
Joao started playing competitive Magic in England in 2007 and has been a Grand Prix grinder since then. Joao has retained Bronze status since induction and has been rewarded for his consistent results with a win in Grand Prix Turin 2018. He enjoys thinking outside the box and is one of the more creative team members when it comes to fresh ideas. His approach is one of gradual improvement and he is constantly looking for flaws to fix in his game. His aim is to achieve Silver and stay on the Pro Tour circuit.