With a Standard Pro Tour on the horizon tomorrow, I thought it was appropriate to throw back to one of the very first Standard Pro Tours, which was also my first time finishing in the Top 8.
It was my sophomore year of college at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. I had just started playing Magic competitively again after taking time off to focus on my senior year of high school and starting in a new place, but no one truly quits, and I got the fever again. I played in some local PTQs and made a bunch of Top 8’s, and despite the fact that I never won, I managed to earn a rating invitation to the 2000 World Championships, where I helped build the Tinker deck that Jon Finkel won the tournament with, beating Bob Maher in a mirror match in the finals.
After Worlds I once again found myself unqualified. I played in a number of PTQs over the summer while I was still home in New England but never won. I went back to school in the fall with no immediate prospect of returning to the Pro Tour. One night I came home quite late (and quite intoxicated) from a Barenaked Ladies concert to an instant message from one Dan Bridy.
“Yo dude you qualified!”
My heart did flips in my chest. I was what? I went and looked at the link of the players who qualified for the Chicago Pro Tour on rating and there was my name. This was around the time WotC had combined the Standard and Extended ratings into “Constructed” and when they did so they froze everyone’s ratings so as not to hurt anyone who had been relying on their rating for an invite. Apparently I had gotten something like the second-to-last post-ratings-freeze drop-down invitation slot. I didn’t figure all that out that night though. That night I spent running around my fraternity house screaming at the top of my lungs and sending messages out to all of my college friends saying “MISE MISE MISE MISE MISE!” They of course had no idea what that meant.
My playtesting was once again done on Apprentice where I linked up with much of the same crew as from Worlds. The expected field at PT Chicago was one of Fires of Yavimaya decks Rebels U/W Control with Blinding Angel and U/B Nether Spirit control decks roughly in that order. I set out to brew up a deck to defeat them all.
Early in my testing I came to the realization that all of the major decks in the format were exceptionally mana hungry. Fires needed lots of mana to cast Saproling Burst Rebels needed lots of mana to search up more creatures and the control decks needed a lot of mana to do just about anything. I decided I wanted to play a deck that could punish them with Armageddon.
The obvious partners to Armageddon were mana creatures so that made me green and white. I tried a straight G/W deck for a brief period but this was post-Swords to Plowshares and pre-Path to Exile so G/W decks were in rough shape when it came to dealing with opposing creatures. I didn’t want to be without creature removal in a world where even the control decks had must-kill creatures like Blinding Angel. I could have just played Parallax Wave like the rebel decks did at the time but I expected lots of enchantment removal to fight Fires, Burst, and Wave so I didn’t want to rely on that for my creature removal.
Enter Ancient Hydra. I played most of my test games on Apprentice against Ben Rubin and the Hydra was one unusual card he played in some of his Fires decks. I liked the idea of the Hydra since unlike most removal spells it would never be a dead draw. It provided enough damage to kill a Blinding Angel but could also take out multiple Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise to make Armageddon crippling. It wasn’t long before I shifted my deck to G/W/R.
As fate would have it one card in that color combination was Rith the Awakener. I came to the realization that because Fires decks had no efficient ways to remove big creatures the best way to combat them was to pack efficient removal for their enchantments (like Wax / Wane which could double as a pump spell in a pinch) and to just go bigger than they did. Rith was central to that plan since she could block Blastoderms and live (thanks to their shroud making them untargetable by their own Fires of Yavimaya) and if she got a single hit in to make Saprolings it was almost impossible for Fires to come back.
The last few nails in the Fires coffin were in the sideboard. Armadillo Cloak was a card that I’d seen in the sideboard of Jon Sonne’s G/W deck from the State Championships and it seemed like a perfect choice to shore up the matchup against Fires decks. The funny thing is that my whole plan was to cloak up a Jade Leech or River Boa just to dominate the board and gain a life buffer against a potential Fires/Burst attack but as it would happen I got the opportunity to do a whole lot more than that.
While Armadillo Cloak on Rith may have gotten the most press after the tournament the real heavy lifting came from the instants in the sideboard. Simoon and Tsabo’s Decree were the real MVPs all event. Both of them were late additions – Decree as late as the morning of the event – and they each were absolutely backbreaking against Fires and Rebels respectively. The Fires matchup was about mana more than anything else and specifically about keeping your opponent from having enough of it. Armageddon and Ancient Hydra did that job but Simoon did it faster and I stole quite a few wins with the two of them. Tsabo’s Decree was a huge surprise for all of my Rebels opponents singlehandedly turning around games that seemed like I had no right to win and swinging the inevitability of the matchup in favor.
If I’d gotten slightly better draws in my semifinal match and played a bit tighter Kai Budde may have had to wait a bit longer to become the German Juggernaut – and I may not have had to wait another ten years to win a Pro Tour.
In the meantime, I had to settle for earning myself the title of Dragonmaster.
The Red Zone
3 Wax Wane