Immediately after spoiler leak:
It has been a while since I have written an article for the Axion Now website. As some of you might know, the last half a year has been quite a busy time for me as I moved back to my country of origin (The Netherlands) and started my new job there. This means that during the last couple of months my focus has been shifting away from Magic and onto more pressing matters. Going into this PT I tried to leave my busy schedule behind and focus as much as I could. As soon as half the spoiler of Dominaria leaked out, Niels Noorlander, who I know live very close to, and I met up on a frequent basis to start testing decks in the new standard format. We concluded very early that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria was completely out of this world and that it would be a major player for as long as it was in Standard. At the time we came to this conclusion, we had not even realised it was a win condition all by itself; by virtue of being able to -3 targeting itself and preventing you from losing to decking. Another card we identified as being extremely strong, very early on, was Goblin Chainwhirler. Our first decks mainly played it in some hyper aggressive red decks and a Goblin God Pharaoh’s Gift deck. Further we had a UW control deck with Approach of the Second Sun as win condition, a mono white tokens deck and a mono green deck that mainly was built around the power of Llanowar Elves and Steel Leaf Champion.
Dominaria launches on MTGO:
As soon as Dominaria was released on Magic Online I immediately jumped into the draft queues and started drafting this format. Early in the format, I drafted many 4 or 5 colour decks as the Skittering Surveyors were not being drafted very highly and would be available late in the drafts. I had reasonable success with this until people started realizing after a couple of days how good this little guy was and I wouldn’t see any Surveyors after pick 3. I tried to adjust and find some other successful strategies and I soon discovered that this was a super deep format but that it also had a low amount of playables per draft, so identifying your colours and archetype early and sticking to it was important to be successful in the format. After a week or 2 of drafting I identified that I only had winning strategies drafting decks in the Abzan colours.
To prevent myself from only being able to be successful in these colours I tried to “force” myself to draft other archetypes like UW/UB historic and UR Wizards. Unfortunately, this was not a great success and I think I burned around 200 MTGO tickets trying to get more familiar with these archetypes. I discussed this with many other people within our Pro Tour testing team but even following their advice did not improve my win percentages with these colour combinations and styles of decks.
Buildup to GP Birmingham:
Two weeks prior to the event, I decided that I would be able to make it to GP Birmingham. David Calf was kind enough to offer me a place to stay and the flight was less than £200. I decided I was not going to focus on Legacy, even though I signed up and just played Show and Tell as it has never failed to get me at least get a couple of pro points. For Standard, it was much more interesting as the format slowly started to take shape and I tested a lot of different WB Vehicles and RB Vehicles lists leading up to Birmingham. I had good results with both decks on MTGO, achieving multiple 5-0 finishes with both of them in the week prior to the GP. I did feel RB had a better matchup against weird decks people might bring, so from Tuesday prior to the GP I decided to play RB in Standard at the GP.
I felt comfortable with the list I had, and in hindsight it would have been the right call for the tournament. However, it wasn’t meant to be. On Wednesday morning I tried to check in to my flight and I noticed I couldn’t find my flight ticket in my inbox. I didn’t know what happened and called the airline company. They told me that I wasn’t booked for the flight and I freaked out. What could have happened? I knew for sure that I booked my flight. After many phone calls with both the airline company and PayPal I manage to figure out what went wrong. Apparently when I paid for my flight with my PayPal account I tried to pay in USD, which the airline company did not accept. I did not get notified by either PayPal or the airline company so I assumed my flight was all booked. I looked at other options to be able still to attend the GP, but concluded that I was not willing to pay £500 for a flight from Amsterdam to Birmingham.
The whole affair which made me miss GP Birmingham did hit me quite hard and I didn’t play Magic for a couple of days. But then I realised that I need to get my act together and I spent the next days focusing on Standard. Below is a small summary of how the next two weeks shaped up:
17th of May*: Tinkered around with Mono Red Shard, a deck featuring Powerstone Shard and expensive red spells (3-2, 1-3), and Storm (3-2)
18th of May*: Played some UW control (4-1, 3-2 1-3) and WB vehicles (3-2, 3-2)
19th of May: No magic
20th of May*: Played UW Control (2-3, 4-1)
21st of May*: Only played drafts
22nd of May: Played GB (5-0, 3-2)
23rd of May: Immanuel Gerschenson posted a Gu deck, I proposed to try out Commit//Memory and we continued to work on the deck (4-0, 4-1)
24th of May*: Continued to work on the Gu deck (3-2, 4-0, 2-3)
25th of May: Flew out to the GP at Washington DC for the team GP, in my mind I was on Gu or RB
*Days that I drafted
GP Washington DC:
I teamed up with two Silver Level Pro players for this GP, both from the Czech Republic: Jan Ksandr and Dominik Prošek. Both players would also be testing with me and the rest of Catharsis/Eureka for the Pro Tour. The GP started well and we managed to end day 1 with a 7-1 finish only losing the round we were on camera playing against Stráský/Shenhar/Tui. The 2nd day we received a very tough pool and we weren’t even able to build two reasonable decks from it. It was a tragic event having to play these decks after having a reasonably successful day 1, and the most tragic thing of all was that we weren’t even able to play any of our 6 Tragic Poets in the pool. We ended up going 9-5 and not walking away with any pro points.
Testing in Richmond:
Our whole testing team met up from Sunday night onwards in a hotel in Richmond. We started with at team meeting and concluded that the two major players of the tournament would be UW Control and RB Vehicles. We tested various decks but most of our team decided that we didn’t want to play RB Vehicles as it had a big target on its head in our opinion. We were also having reasonably good results with our Gu Stompy deck. Only Niels Noorlander wanted to play RB as that was the only deck he kept on winning with. Getting closer to deck submission most of us were on Gu Stompy with a couple players being on Marc Tobiasch’s mono red deck featuring Flame of Keld. I ended up submitting the same 75 as many other players in our team, our version of Gu Stompy, with two players submitting the Flame of Keld deck and two others (including Noorlander, after a last moment switch) submitting UW Control.
The PT didn’t go as planned. I felt I played well below my abilities in my first match against David Williams, where I punted on multiple levels. Overall, I felt this just wasn’t my weekend. For example I was only able to play a turn 1 Llanowar elves once in 8 rounds of Constructed. In my first draft I opened a Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar, perhaps the best bomb in the format. However, there were at least 5 seal away in my draft and I manage to play against all of them, meaning my Multani only dealt damage once in all three matches. All in all, it was not the performance I was looking for going into the PT, barely making day 2 on a 4-4 finish and then crashing and burning on day 2. Unfortunately, tournaments like this are also part of Magic, and to see friends like Thomas Hendriks, Niels Noorlander and Dani Anderson achieve great finishes makes weekends like this a bit easier to accept.
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.