Hey there everyone and welcome to my first ever article for ManaDeprived! What better tournament to talk about than my first Pro Tour!
My testing process first started when I was contacted by a long-time friend Sam Rolph, who mentioned he would be trying to set up a European and Canadian testing team. Due to Wizards recently announcing the new 6 team system, we decided to break down into 2 different teams because our squad was so big.
Team Almost Finnished
Before I even get into how I reached my deck, some of you noticed I had some flight issues. I was originally supposed to leave Tuesday night and get to Dublin on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately due to many delays, I made my flight from Montreal to Toronto but missed my connecting flight from Toronto to Dublin and was almost stuck in Toronto for the night. Found my way back to Montreal and got rescheduled to leave and get to Dublin on Thursday morning. Wasted about 12 hours in the airport as well as flying for about 3 hours. My first Pro Tour journey was not running so hot at this point.
Once the spoiler was fully released, my team fell in love with a GB aggro list that showcased Greenbelt Rampager along with Heart of Kiran. Part of our team ended up settling on this, but I decided to focus my time on trying to beat it, the most success coming from different control decks. I tried UB control, UR Dynavolt Tower, Jeskai Dynavolt Tower as well as Grixis Dynavolt Tower all to relative success, but since my play style favours aggressive to midrange decks, I was second guessing myself committing to playing a control deck at my first Pro Tour.
Then I found the Jeskai Saheeli Rai combo deck and was hooked ever since. Even though the deck has been dominating the format for the past couple of weeks, I decided to lock in on it for the most part and try to tune the deck to beat the mirror match. I felt it was a powerful enough control deck to beat the hate and had the best win-rate in testing against the majority of the format.
I was pretty convinced I would be on it when all of a sudden on the last day, our team found a RB aggro deck that supposedly had an amazing win-rate against the Jeskai Saheeli deck. Three of my teammates (Samuel Thartmaratnam, Jamie Archdekin and Anssi Alkio) decided to audible to it at 11 p.m. the night before when decklists were due at 12 a.m. They tried to convince me to run it and looking back it might have actually been correct. At that point I should have realized that if we were able to find a deck with a really great win-rate against the Jeskai deck then the other teams should have as well, but I remained stubborn and locked in on my original choice. Here is the list I registered:
Jeskai Saheeli Rai – Mathew Stein
The deck at its core is a very simple yet powerful control deck with a combo finish as a bonus. The games you actually combo with this deck are probably around 50%, usually just winning on card advantage and Torrential Gearhulk beats. It’s not too uncommon to just run out different combo pieces at different points in the game such as Saheeli Rai if the opponent does not have a lot of pressure, or even Felidar Guardian as a blocker. Both interact very favourably with our own Torrential Gearhulk, which is why we wanted to bulk up on four copies in the maindeck and have the most value for the mirror match.
I ended up getting in about 15 drafts for this Pro Tour, I wanted to focus on Constructed more since I felt I would have to rely on it more. Immediately our team figured out white was very sub-par but still playable. Blue also kind of fell into the same boat as white but I actually really enjoyed blue in this format. The Jund colors (red, black and green) as far as power level goes were way above the latter two and since the format is very aggressive, they are able to trade up the most. After 3-0ing 7 out of my past 8 drafts online, I felt ready going into the Pro Tour.
The feeling I got sitting down at my first Pro Tour draft was irreplaceable. Getting the ceremonial round of applause from the other members for first-timers was also very nice. My first draft started with a very interesting Release the Gremlins. I believe this card is by far a first pick and going into Red early is somewhere you want to be. I then get passed picks 2, 3 and 4 Druid of the Cowl and know that green is very open to my left. After wheeling an Outland Boar, I know that I am in the right seat for my colors. I unfortunately don’t get enough payoff cards but was happy with my deck overall.
After I defeated Alex Bianchi in Round 1 playing a very aggressive RW deck that got out-tempoed, I end up playing what was one of the coolest draft decks I have ever seen in this format. Jeremy Dezani was able to resolve a turn 2 Sram, Senior Edificer both games and due to me only having a single shock in my deck as removal, I was unable to kill it. 2 Ice Over, 1 Malfunction, 2 Caught in the Brights later, I had no creatures left and he still had a grip full of cards. I believe he ended up 3-0ing our pod.
Round 3 against the youngest kid in the room Ethan Brown was pretty interesting since his deck had a bunch of flyers but also was trying to improvise in UW. 2 Barricade Breakers later and we are on to game 3. In game 3 I did something that I am not proud of but I actually kept a 1 lander on the play. My hand was Mountain, Implement of Combustion, Verdant Automaton, Druid of the Cowl, Outland Boar, Night Market Guard and Salivating Gremlins. I ended the game never drawing the Forest for Druid of the Cowl, but he apparently kept 2 lands on the draw and never got there. 2-1ing my first PT draft felt amazing, and definitely gave me confidence going into Constructed.
At first nobody knew what the metagame was going to look like, but after not even 1 round of action, everyone could spot most of the pro teams playing Mardu Vehicles. After defeating Julien Stihle playing 4c Saheeli, I get paired against Paul Rietzl on Mardu Vehicles. I had not seen any of the lists but after 2 pretty clunky draws from his deck I was able to take the match 2-0. Now sitting at 4-1 in my first Pro Tour, I definitely was feeling amazing and locked up day 2.
At this point things started to go downhill. In round 5 I get paired against Ben Stark, also on Mardu Vehicles. He handily won game 1 off of 2 Scrapheap Scroungers, and in game 2 I was able to stabilize the board. My board is 6 lands, and my hand on turn 6 or 7 is 3 Torrential Gearhulks with Glimmer of Genius removal spells in the graveyard. Seems good? During his attack step I go for the first one… Metallic Rebuke. I take a hit and he commits more to the board. Next turn I go for the 2nd one in combat… Metallic Rebuke. At that point I was way too far behind and lost 2-0 to his aggression.
Round 7 I am put in an interesting position on turn 5. My opponent Kouichi Miyabe during the first 5 turns of the game has played a maindeck copy of Implement of Combustion as well as a Prophetic Prism. On 4 lands I have Disallow and Anticipate up. After him not playing anything I decide that the coast is clear and go for Anticipate to find more action. What could go wrong? A lot it turns out. He taps 5 mana as well as both artifacts and Improvises Whir of Invention for 4, getting Aetherworks Marvel. He then plays a Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot and cracks it to spin Aetherworks Marvel, gets Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to exile 2 of my lands and the game is over. I end up losing 2-0 and fall to 4-3.
Round 8 against Christoffer Larsen I had one of the most unlucky moments I have had for a while. It’s game 3, I have 6 lands in play and 2 cards in hand. These are conveniently Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai for the combo finish. I spend the previous turn to Fumigate only a Walking Ballista because I need to set up my combo. He ends up tapping out for Gonti and I feel amazing. He has only a Swamp up afterwards and passes back. He puts his hands in his hair and says “Do you have it?” I show him right away since I thought there was nothing he could do to break up the combo. I was wrong again. It turns out he hit a 1 outer in my 2nd copy of Shock and the game ended afterwards. Going 4-1 into 4-4 felt bad, but I am still definitely proud to make day 2 of my first PT.
This draft I feel went a lot worse than the last one. I end up first picking a Shock out of a super weak pack and try to force into RG once again. I knew green was coming from my left in pack 1 but I saw no red after pick 3. In pack 2 I start picking a bit more blue and stayed open, being in just Green for pack 3. I end up opening Confiscation Coup and stay the UG course.
This deck actually played out way better than it looked on paper. It turns out that my round 9 opponent Danny Seet, who was sitting to my left, was also on UG so it was possible I was reading signals incorrectly. His deck was way bigger than mine, including an Aetherwind Basker that won him both games. Afterwards I end up defeating both Robert Shilander and Kristof Prinz to finish 2-1 in the draft. Both of my other opponents were playing decks that were lower to the ground so I was able to maintain board control and eventually overpower them. I also wanted to mention with this deck that I frequently boarded around 4 cards and that sideboarding in this format is actually very important. At 6-5 I was feeling a little bit better and the dream of 11-5 was still alive.
At this point in the tournament, a lot of the Jeskai Saheeli decks underperformed and I basically ran into a bunch of bad matchups since everyone was very prepared. Round 12 against Marcelino Friedman was a nail bitter. He is playing BR Zombies which feels like a horrible matchup. We end up splitting the first 2 games and in game 3 I am somehow able to maintain board pressure as the clock for the round is running out. I have an Oath of Chandra in play and with an Implement of Combustion on his end, I knew I couldn’t combo kill him. He is conveniently at 9 life thanks to 2 Torrential Gearhulk attacks and 1 previous Saheeli Rai ping. Saheeli Rai number 2, 3 and 4 later, I end up taking the match on turn 2 of extra turns thanks to Oath of Chandra shocking him every time they entered play.
In round 13 and 14 combined, I don’t think I was sitting at the table for more than 30 minutes. Ariel Nagy ends up defeating me in game 3 with 2 Bomat Couriers with 3 and 5 cards underneath them and no reason to crack them. Even though I won game 1 against BR Aggro, post board they get access to too many hate cards like Transgress the Mind and it felt unfavourable. Unfortunately against Tyler Schroeder playing WR humans, I lose both games 1 and 2 due to having Fumigate in my hand and no 5th land. At 7-7 I just hoped to finish with a positive record.
Round 15 was a fun match of Modern against Brandon Ayers playing 4c Saheeli. Game 1 he has turn 3 Saheeli Rai into turn 4 Felidar Guardian. Game 2 I do the exact same thing back to him. Even though I was in full control of game 3 for multiple turns, emerging Elder Deep-Fiends did give him a 1 turn window where if he had combo he won the match. He did not and I was able to win.
Round 16 I played against Kon Fai Wu playing Mardu Vehicles and even I was surprised I was able to beat this deck twice during the tournament. I felt that his draws were very subpar and I am very thankful that he did not draw Scrapheap Scrounger.
Finishing 9-7 at my first Pro Tour felt great and definitely something I could work on moving forward. I felt my deck choice was subpar and felt disadvantaged in most of the matches I played. Finishing 4-2 in draft felt amazing, especially due to the fact that I feel like Limited is the spot where I could improve on the most. I will most likely not be playing this deck at the next RPTQ but it is still a possibility. I did not end up exploring as much of Ireland as I would have hoped, but getting to test on a Pro Tour team and watching my teammates do well definitely made up for it. Shootouts to my teammates who went 11-5 (Samuel Tharmaratnam and Matti Kuisma) as well as my close friend Eduardo Sajgalik for getting his 2nd Pro Tour top 8 and securing Gold!
Hope to get back there soon, it was definitely an unforgettable experience.
Thanks for reading,