March 9, 2018

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Going for the Gold: My Experience at Pro Tour Bilbao

Welcome back to Going for the Gold!

I took a few days off after Grand Prix London to hang out with family and test with my team. Testing for Pro Tours is always pretty tough because everyone has their own priorities. I was lucky that my teammates Sam Rolph (highly motivated by his quest to achieve Silver) and James Stevenson were always willing to either meet up or play over Google Hangout. If you haven’t used Google Hangout, it’s just a better version of Skype that doesn’t require you to install or update any software.

Most of the time when you test Modern you aren’t trying to break the format, but instead trying to tune your deck versus an expected metagame. Modern was, and continues to be, wide open so you have to decide what decks you want to beat and what decks you will just fold to.

The metagame that we expected at the Pro Tour was:

Death Shadow variants
Uw control
Mardu Reveler

As usual, I waffled between so many different decks. I would play leagues with Gerard Fabiano at night, trying to see if we could tune his Temur deck (to no avail). I also played so many matches of Death’s Shadow with Sam Rolph, who had 1000+ matches with it under his belt. I must have sleeved up four different decks in the last few days before the Pro Tour.

Due to my long relationship with Snapcaster Mage and Serum Visions, I eventually ended up on Grixis Control since I was hoping that I could utilize my playskill… What a mistake that was!

I don’t have the deck list anymore but it was very close to Corey Burkhart’s list, and I would suggest that you stay away from it if you like winning in Modern!

I chose to arrive at the last possible moment in Bilbao, which was probably the most correct thing I did all weekend. Bilbao is touted for being a very tourist friendly city but it felt nothing like it. We couldn’t get dinner after a certain time, the locals mocked us, and at one point Alex Majalton was rebuffed when he complained about the hotel wi-fi with, “you foreigners are taking all our internet speed”. We even wound up at a casino where they would speak in Spanish and all of the regulars would stop playing and deal 21 to the dealer multiple times in a row. Then some Spanish words were said and everyone went back to playing.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there was nothing to do in the city and it was raining the entire time we were there. Suffice to say, I am never going back to Bilbao again and I was extremely disappointed with the experience. Some people even made jokes that Bilbao was a representation of the Modern format. I was ready to play some Magic and get out of that city. Friday morning couldn’t come soon enough!

When I sat down to draft at my pod, I only recognized a few people. This is always something you hope for on day one. Pro Tour fields are stacked and your first pod is likely to be the easiest part of the tournament. The most notable in my pod were Yuuta Takahashi (the faerie master) and Thien Nguyen.

My first pick was pretty innocuous in the form of a Waterknot. In the time since GP London, I had completed about another 30 drafts and discovered how great the Ascend deck was. It was typically Azorius but you could get away with including some black cards too.

This archetype really focuses on being able to generate multiple permanents with one card and permanent based removal. I was surprised to get a Ravenous Chupacabra passed to me in my second pack. Of course, I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth so I slammed it and continued on. I continued to draft black and blue cards until I got passed a Resplendent Griffin which I also slammed.

The rest of the draft was pretty elementary, and I even ended up with some removal in my sideboard. Here is my deck for those who are wondering:


I was super excited by this deck and hoped that I would 3-0. I played my first round against the player who passed me the Ravenous Chupacabra. Turns out that he had taken Tetzimoc, Primal Death over it. Oh, and he got another Ravenous Chupacabra later in the draft anyways. I found out about Tetzi the hard way after he used to to annihilate my board in game two and I kept it from winning game three with a Hornswoggle.

After my match, Thien told me he lost against the guy I passed to and he was was quite despondent before even playing that match.

“I figured that he would have the nuts merfolk deck since you were passing to him”

“and he did….”

I didn’t end up playing the Merfolk player in round two, but instead one of my idols in Yuuta. He had a very slow RG deck and I was able to overrun him in two quick games. In the final round, I played against the amazing Merfolk deck. I had kept a five land two spell hand and never cast more than the Vehicle since my other spell was Recover. In game two, I was able to overrun him and his pesky unblockable merfolk creatures. Once again, I was staring at the Recover in my hand that was doing nothing.

This is where I make my first big mistake of the tournament. I chose not to sideboard it out for another piece of removal. I could have brought in the Expel from Oracza that didn’t make the maindeck.

This would end up costing me as I was one turn away from killing him and needed to draw a removal spell to prevent dying the turn before. Of course, I once again have Recover in my hand and get maximally punished. I endup suiciding a creature into his board but only draw a land off the Recover, so I have no one but myself to blame for that loss. I thought it was pretty fitting that I had to… recover from that loss.

So there I am, 2-1, going into the constructed rounds of the Pro Tour. I feel a little uneasy considering that my last Pro Tour started the same way and I couldn’t sneak my way into day two. I grab a quick lunch and shuffle up for Round 4.

My opponent is playing a UW Eldrazi deck and I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad matchup for me. It doesn’t help that I mulligan to five twice and he double Thought-Knot Seer s me. I am able to get to a game three, but get locked under an Aether Vial with multiple Spell Quellers while he has an Eidolon of Rhetoric which is stopping me from interacting. I didn’t think that card would be good against me, but in the exact combination of cards that we both drew, it felt unbeatable.

Okay that was just one round, easy enough to shake off right?


In my next round, my opponent was playing RB Hollow One.

This is a deck that we had tested extensively and ran into in leagues a couple times. It never seemed to be consistent enough and felt like you had to luckbox your wins.

Game one gets into a crazy position where my opponent has three Bloodghasts that continue to recur themselves. I get my opponent to zero cards in hand with a Tasigur on board and am able to chain Snapcaster Mage into Kolaghan’s Command for a couple turns to ensure my opponent never draws a card, and I put on enough pressure to end the game. The second game comes down to a clutch topdeck of Gurmag Angler when my opponent is at four life and facing my Tasigur. I don’t find any removal or Snapcaster Mages in this game and am forced to chump with Tasigur when he swings out for lethal with multiple Phoenix. Game three is anti-climatic as I keep a very strong hand and discard all three of my lands to a Burning Inquiry.

I don’t remember what I played against in Round 6, only that it was over really fast and I was down to a 2-4 record. Not again!

My fourth round of Modern, forces me to play against a mechanically poor Eldrazi Tron player. I end up winning the match 2-1 due to some missteps on his part. My big grief with this game was that he cast a Grafdigger’s Cage which would have won the game had it resolved, but he had a Chalice of the Void in play on one. I wanted to ensure that my opponent was not trying to cheat so I waited for him to announce the Chalice trigger. Instead he said “Go”, so I called the judge and he said, “oh well I was going to call that on myself”.

Sidenote: The judge told me that since it was caught there was no problem, but I said “what happens had I not caught it? Because my opponent is claiming he knew about the Chalice countering it.” The judge told me not to waste time on a hypothetical and he had other issues to attend to.

This is definitely not the right kind of behaviour because it is what drives people not to bother calling for judges. I wasn’t trying to angle shoot my opponent and I was clearly going to win that match. But there is so much rampant cheating that is going on these days, that it is so easy to just say “oh yeah, oops,” whenever you get caught doing something that you shouldn’t. Judges should be standing up for the integrity of this game, and this judge was clearly not. At the very least, I was hoping that a warning could go on record.

I don’t even care that the judge was dismissive of me when I brought this up, since I have tough skin, but imagine he acted this way to someone who was more sensitive? We need a higher standard for judges and this is just not acceptable for the stewards of the game.

Phew. I finally won a match of Modern and now I had a win and into day two with my flimsy 3-4 record. I really wanted to get back to Rivals of Ixalan draft!

My final round of Modern pitted me against a GW Counters Company deck. This was a very frustrating round since my opponent was clearly inexperienced with his own deck. That being said, since it was Modern it came down to our deck matchup, and my deck did not line up well against his.

He played three copies of Collected Company in game one and easily took the lead. Since his deck interacted so much with the graveyard, I chose to bring in two copies of Surgical Extraction to help me in the post-sideboard games. He slammed a Collected Company on turn four and I decided to Cryptic Command and Surgical Extract his remaining copies. I was shocked to see that he had boarded out his remaining three copies and that he had brought so much anti-graveyhard hate against me for Snapcaster Mage.

We had a board where he had multiple Kitchen Finks, and he cast Rest in Peace prior to combat. I then killed both of his creatures who didn’t come back and he cast a post-combat Eternal Witness to return nothing. I still lost handily. Gross!

I was 3-5 and eliminated from the tournament. I’d had it with constructed Magic. From then on, I agreed to never allow myself to pick my own decks as I always pick wrong and try to get too fancy. I had a week left before GP Toronto (also Modern), so I was going to talk to people who I thought were better at deck choices than myself.

See how that went, next week!


Sammy T