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A YEAR ON THE PRO TOUR (PART TWO) NIELS MOLLE 08/09/2017

In my last article, I described how I managed to get back on the Pro Tour (PT) and my experiences of the last Pro Tour of the 2015-16 season and the first of 2016-17. If you missed this article you can read it here. In this follow-up article I will share how the rest of my season went and my thoughts on if I achieved my goals for the year.

 

Pro Tour Aether Revolt

The Team:

Peter Vieren, Niels Noorlander, Branco Neirynck, Pascal Vieren, Jerome Bastogne, Mattia Rizzi, Jan Ksandr, Kayure Patel, Robin Dolar and Niels Molle.

The Belgian National Team had just finished as runners-up at the World Magic Cup. Niels Noorlander and I reached out to them and see if we could set up a team together to prepare for Pro Tour Aether Revolt in Dublin. After a while, we managed to form quite a good group of players to test with for this PT and this in turn formed the basis for the team we tested with for the remainder of the season.

The Testing Method:

Personally, I tested mainly on Magic Online for this particular PT. My reasoning for this was that I only had a limited amount of holiday left in the year and if I managed to hit Silver in the Pro Players Club I would be playing an additional one or two PTs during the year. As a result, I wanted to preserve holidays to attend the European PT. Despite my desire to preserve holidays, we decided that a draft camp was necessary and together with most of the team we rented a nice apartment in the centre of Antwerp. Frank Karsten, Bas Melis and Brent Vos travelled down from the Netherlands so we had a good group of people to draft with prior to the PT. The week after the Draft Camp, I flew back and forth to compete in Grand Prix Prague, where most of my team would stay to keep working on Constructed together. I tested mostly on Magic Online during the week while communicating with the guys testing in Prague. One of the mistakes we made during our preparation was to say that following the banning of Smuggler’s Copter Mardu Vehicles was lacking in power. We did realize that Heart of Kiran was a powerful card but we felt that the Crew 3 and the legendary clause were too much to give Mardu its power level back. We did, however, identify that Scrapheap Scrounger was one of the best cards versus control decks and we did expect loads of Jeskai Saheeli-Cat. This eventually led to Kayure, Jan Ksandr and I settling on a GB Snake deck with Scrapheap Scroungers instead of the standard Grim Flayers.

The Tournament:

After my great finish at GP Warsaw I found myself at 14 Pro Points. I also managed to put together a respectable 11-4 finish at GP Prague which scored me two more Pro Points putting me on 16 going into PT Aether Revolt. This also meant that I needed an achievable 9-7 finish at this Pro Tour to lock Silver in the Pro Players club. My tournament started off with a 4-4 record on the first day, barely making it into day two. Day two itself went much better and I finished with a 10-6 record. If I had just managed to win my final round against William Jensen I would have immediately been invited for the next Pro Tour, this fact did weigh on me for a while as I felt that I played the match suboptimally. However, I wasn’t too unhappy with my finish as this meant I achieved the goal I set for myself and locked Silver and even had two spare points to boot. What was even more exciting about this Pro Tour was that our teammate Jan Ksandr managed to make Top 8 with a deck designed by Kayure and myself.

 

Pro Tour Amonkhet

The Team:

Niels Noorlander, Peter Vieren, Mattia Rizzi, Martin Hrycej, Dominik Prosek, Brent Vos and Niels Molle.

The team had some changes compared to the players we tested with for Dublin, as some failed to qualify for this Pro Tour, and Jan Ksandr chose to test with ChannelFireball. Nevertheless the core of the team stayed the same as we felt we had a good synergy with each other and last Pro Tour we managed to get a player into the Top 8.

The Test Method:

As usual we tested a lot on MTGO and shared our findings with each other. Online we mainly tested some wild brews which were all soon discarded. Many of us met up in Rotterdam this time around to do a draft camp. Here we drafted with some other Dutch players such as Mitchel Manders, Bart van Etten, Frank Karsten and Thomas Hendriks. The week after the draft camp we all met up again in Bologna for the GP, after which we all travelled to Nashville, Tennessee.

Once we arrived in Nashville we wasted no time and began Constructed testing. As we had already written off most of our brews we came to the conclusion that the decks we need to work on for the last week would be Zombies, Temur Marvel, UR Control and Mardu Vehicles. During the testing we worked on these decks and eventually our team was divided between three decks going into the PT: Zombies, Temur Marvel and UR Control.

The Tournament:

My aim going into this tournament was simple - to get as many points as possible. I had qualified for this PT via an RPTQ so I still had my Silver invite for the final PT of the year. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out as well as I would have liked. I managed to get into Day two and even though I had a decent record in Limited, going 4-2, I ended up doing poorly in the Constructed portion of the tournament. This was mainly because we opted to play a Temur Marvel deck with only 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger with the other payoffs being Chandra Flamecaller and Ishkanah, Grafwidow. This in theory would not be that bad as it gave us a better matchup against Zombies, Mardu Vehicles and other aggressive midrange decks. However, this Pro Tour was dominated by Marvel decks and I had to play the mirror six times over the course of the tournament losing all of them.  Peter Vieren was the only player from our team playing U/R Control and had a good tournament because of this choice, he ended up going 11-5 and locking Gold in the process. I enjoyed a week of holiday in Orlando together with my fiancée and I reflected on what had gone wrong in the tournament. I came to the conclusion that while we correctly identified Zombies as a popular strategy, we adjusted our deck a bit too much to it, giving away major percentage points against the mirror. I believe this is the most valuable lesson I learned from this tournament and something I will try to avoid in the future.

 

Pro Tour Hour of Devastation

The Team:

Peter Vieren, Niels Noorlander, Branco Neirynck, Pascal Vieren, Jerome Bastogne, Martin Hrycej, Alex Stok, Bram Snepvangers, Marijn Lybaert, Bram Meulens, Charly Traarbach and Niels Molle.

The team for this PT kind of ended up as a Benelux team where almost all qualified Dutch and Belgian players tested together plus Martin Hrycej. This was due to the whole Belgian WMC team of 2016 managing to qualify again, as well as PT veterans Bram Snepvangers and Marijn Lybaert wanting to take this PT slightly more seriously. It was great to have them on board to share their experience with us.

The Testing Method:

The testing method was similar to before, the major difference was that the set was released two weeks earlier on Magic Online, which had not been the case for previous PTs. This allowed us to practise more on MTGO, it also made the draft camp essentially obsolete as it allowed us to draft for a longer time on MTGO. We shared most of our information in a private group on MTGO and by the time we travelled to Japan to test in real life we had over 40 3-0 draft decklists shared among ourselves to see what strategies and archetypes were the most successful. For Constructed we knew that a small set in such a large card pool would make only a minimal impact compared to before. The bigger change was the banning of Marvel, so the metagame would definitely be different from before. We quickly wrote off many decks and were testing a couple of decks as a group: Mono Black Zombies, Mono Red, UR Control, God-Pharaoh’s Gift and BW Midrange. Going into the tournament the team had divided into 3 groups with half of the team playing Mono Black Zombies and the other half UR Control, and two players playing BW Midrange.

The Tournament:

As I failed to get 3 extra Pro Points over 2 GPs I needed an 11-5 finish to achieve more than 35 points and lock Gold for the season. 11-5 was not impossible but I had never managed to do so before with my best finish being 10-6 (twice). The tournament started very well for me and I managed to 3-0 my first draft with a decent GB deck. I felt that my choice of Mono Black Zombies was a good one going into the tournament and the first two rounds of Constructed also went well as I managed to beat both Ondřej Stráský and William Jensen. In round 6, I was paired against the eventual winner, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and he managed to topdeck a Shock in game 3 to deal me exactly lethal damage when I had a large Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in play. The last two rounds were both a bit mediocre and I only managed to finish 6-2 after starting out 5-0 on day one. This meant I needed a 5-3 finish to achieve my goal. That night I had a horrible night’s sleep, waking up at 3 A.M. and being unable to sleep for the rest of the night. Fortunately, the adrenaline prevented me from getting too tired the next day and I managed to 2-1 the draft which meant that a 3-2 finish in constructed would get me there. After throwing away a match with a massive punt I managed to scrape myself to an eventual 11-5 finish. After my last round I was ecstatic but also in disbelief at the same time. I remember walking away with the result slip and just thinking to myself, "wow I did it, I got there!"

This was the best Pro Tour I can remember, as it allowed both myself and my good friend Niels Noorlander to lock Gold whilst fellow Axion Now team member Francesco Giorgio locked Silver for himself during this event. The cherry on the cake came the next day, when I found out that I had managed to secure the captaincy for England at the World Magic Cup by winning on the fourth tie-breaker. For people who are not familiar I ended the season with the same number of Pro Points as Samuel Tharmaratnam (37 points), so tie-breakers had to decide who would win the captaincy. The first tie-breaker is the number Pro Tour top 8s (both 0), the second is most match points at a Pro Tour (both 33 points), the third tie-breaker is number of GP top 8s (both 1), and finally the fourth tie-breaker is most match points at a GP. I managed to squeeze a few more match points in during the GP I top 8’d in Warsaw than Sam did in Las Vegas and this locked me as captain for the English team at the WMC.

 

Conclusion

During this past season, I made many sacrifices for Magic. Also I increased my goal a couple of times after I achieved my previously set goal. This put me in an incredible position as it will allow me to play in all the Pro Tours for another year and continue to compete with the very best.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my rollercoaster ride that was the 2016-2017 Pro Points season. And I hope to see you at the English Nationals in Derby in a couple of weeks where you will have a shot at joining me on the WMC team in Nice later this year!

About Niels Molle:

Niels Molle started playing Magic as a young kid during Stronghold. After a hiatus of a couple of years Niels returned to the game during Planar Chaos, and has been playing competitive events ever since. Niels’ resume includes two Grand Prix Top 8s, more than 10 Pro Tour appearances and he was the captain of Team England during the 2017 World Magic Cup. Niels is a casual player at heart that just never can play enough Magic. So, no matter if it is Kitchen Table magic or at a Pro Tour, Niels is always ready to sling some cards.