by Robert Anderson
Robert Anderson is another writer for Mana Deprived that made his way to Pro Tour Amsterdam. He was testing for the event almost everyday as his house has become quite the playtesting headquarters. With the two Canadian Nationals finalists helping him out, the resources for success were there. Did it all work out in the end? Read about his experiences here!
Amsterdam is a great city. I had some preconceived notions about it, since all of my friends who decided to not play Magic as a hobby became huge stoners. The people I know who talk about Amsterdam talk about two things, drugs and hookers, and "It's all legal maaaaaaan!" The first time I ever tried weed, I ended up in the hospital and ever since I've had a fear of drugs in general. I don't like smelling weed or being around people doing any other kinds of drugs, but for the record I still think weed should be legal. My parents are seasoned travelers and have the same views towards drugs as I do, and both absolutely loved Amsterdam, so maybe the city isn't a huge red light-district of crack heads and hookers? After winning my second PTQ (my first being San Diego where I finished 2-5 drop), I was determined to see what Amsterdam was all about.
Having parents who travel a lot and having a nice house in Westmount is pretty sweet, but with great house comes great responsibility. My house became the testing den for the PT. Superstars like 1st and 2nd place Nationals champs Jay Elarar and Vincent Thibeault, Alex Hayne, Justin Richardson, Joey Smith, were at my house almost every day, and Andrew Noworaj, Nick Leblanc and David Schnayer made some guest appearances as well. St.Hubert's and Second Cup made a lot of money from our testing.
At the start of our testing, we made the correct observation that combo was very powerful, so we built up Ad Nauseam and immediately fell in love with it. It was beating everything except occasional losses to Mono Red, Faeries and Kithkin. We probably built 20 decks over the weeks, but after the PT, I felt that we were perhaps too dismissive of certain decks.
I have a special love for 5cc. I've always been the kind of magic player who prefers casting big game winning spells and countering things I don't like to playing creatures or combo decks. I built and rebuilt 5cc about 12 times, trying more aggressive, more controllish and more hateful builds to adapt to the meta that was being decided upon my dining room table. Every time I rebuilt it, Alex told me to give up and focus on other decks. A MTGO daily event had a Pyromancer's Ascension deck that went 4-0 and it immediately sparked our interest. After sleeving it up it was a powerhouse, beating every deck except having trouble against Ad Nauseam.
We were at a crossroads before the PT. We played the Ad Nauseam deck more and more and found that it had consistency issues. At first, Vincent and I were repeatedly getting hands with t4 kills with Pact of Negation backup, but later on, we found that there was a lot of variance in the deck and there were lots of hands that had you dead in the water. Pyro didn't have that problem as much, since with 4 Ponder and 4 Preordain, you can sculpt your hand to whatever you want relatively quickly. We liked Ponder and Preordain so much, in fact, that we played a third spell that serves a similar purpose, Telling Time. Telling time didn't appear in many lists at the PT but I still think it's a pretty good card. Maybe the maindeck 'goyfs are better; I don't really care at this point, to be honest, but it serves a good purpose and the only time it's bad is when it hits 3 lands (which it shouldn't with 23 lands maindeck).
Three days before Vincent and I leave for Amsterdam we're quite sold on the Ascension deck. Then Jay shows up to crush all of our hopes. Jay had been in Vancouver and didn't have any time to test so he was only able to show up a few days before Vincent and I had to leave. He had dreams of Blue White aggro and Doran decks that had to be tested. We built the Blue White aggro deck and were quite unhappy with it and got rid of it almost immediately. Regrettably, the same thing happened with Doran. We concluded that the deck was too 'fair' and we needed some unfair decks to win this PT. We got rid of Doran after playing ten or so pre-sideboard games.
Vincent left and I was leaving the next day, but Jay had one more day to test. He showed up to my house and told me to swear an oath that I wouldn't give this new deck list to anyone; it was White Weenie. Jay is a good friend of Gabriel Nassif and Nassif had built a list of White Weenie with Baneslayers and Elspeths that was apparently performing quite well. We sleeved it up and were moderately impressed. We only really tested it against Ascension but it was about 50/50 if not slightly favored, and there was definitely room for hate in the side. I was still quite sold on Ascension so I headed off to the airport with my girlfriend to have a week of vacation in Amsterdam before the PT.
Taking the tram from central station to our hotel was quite nice, as we got to see how the city really looks. The streets are very unusual, as there are the main roads for cars, trams and buses, then smaller roads for bikes and roads for pedestrians. Crossing the road was quite an ordeal because there were 10 different potential vehicles to dodge. Also, there are no leash laws so there are always random dogs walking around saying hello to strangers.
We got to our very nice room near Vondelpark and crashed at 9 AM. We got up, had dinner at a pub and crashed again, trying to get onto the +6 Amsterdam time zone. After a couple of days of sightseeing at the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and canal cruising, I finally got a call from Vincent, who was somewhat unreachable earlier. We met up with him at Central Station and had lunch at a pancake house.
He mentioned that he had been playing with Dutch Pros and they had a very cool Ad Nauseam deck which had a better manabase than ours and with maindeck Thoughtseizes. He said he was going back to the bar the next day, but I said I'd think about it. I decided to go anyways, but since I didn't give him a clear answer, he decided to stay in with Andrew, who had just arrived and was still pretty jetlagged. I met some Dutch players and played a few games of extended in the bar (still playing against my own decks, as nobody else had any). I learned that PTQs in Amsterdam were actually played in the bar's basement and could still hold a good 80 people!
Jay showed up the next day, so I met up with them at their hotel, which was conveniently across town from my hotel. Jay had worked his magic and brainwashed Vincent into giving up on Pyro and Ad Nauseam and playing White Weenie. Andrew was sold on playing Elves. Suddenly I was alone with my Pyro deck in a sea of little green and white guys. We did a draft with some Australian pros in the hotel lobby where Andrew passed me some sick green and I won the draft and a Primeval Titan! The Aussies were thinking of Pyro and 5cc but neither of us wanted to share tech so after the draft, we went to the site.
The site was called the "Amsterdam Convention Factory" and they weren't kidding, it WAS a factory. It was really big, but the walls and ceilings looked like they had loose cables sticking out and everything was extremely black. The site was pretty boring so I went back home with Christine and worked on my final decklist.
The PT was unspectacular for me, as I lost to my best matchup twice. R/G Scapeshift was a deck that we didn't really like because it couldn't beat the combo decks in our testing. I went against it in the first and fifth rounds, and both game 1's consisted of me not finding an Ascension in 30 cards, and both game 3's consisted of me mulling to 4 and crapping out. It was quite frustrating since in our weeks of testing, I probably lost one game out of 20 against the same 75 cards.
The second round I went against a mirror match, and in the third game he kept Mountain, Mountain, Pyro, Pyro, Ponder, Ponder, Goyf on the play and drew Cascade Bluffs into a third Ponder. I had a grip for one Ascension but couldn't stop the second. I easily destroyed a Faeries deck and a 5cc deck but still finished the extended portion at an unimpressive 2-3. Everyone I went with had the same record, Vincent, Andrew, Jamie Archdekin and Paul Dean, so team Canada was doing quite poorly, except for Jay, who was at a healthy 4-1 having only lost to Goblins.
My drafting went well, as I picked up solid U/W with no real bombs and was 2-0 in 4 games without too many issues. Owen Turtenwald was in my pod and people told me he had two Mind Controls and a Sun Titan, so I was a bit nervous for the third match. Little did I know, he lost his second round and I found out why. I went against a mono black deck that splashed 3 Lightning Bolts. He already had 3 Quags and a Doom Blade, so he effectively killed every creature i played and killed me with Barony Vampires, Nightwing Shades, Liliana's Specters and Black Knights. Jay unfortunately 1-2'ed his draft and barely made the 5-3 cut, but nonetheless finished the tournament in 32nd place (9-1 in constructed!).
What I learned from this PT is that testing is a lot harder than building decks and throwing them against each other. It's a good idea to test various ideas, no matter how stupid they seem in principle, and don't give up on things too easily. It's a common problem to play a couple of games with a deck, lose because of mana problems or a couple of inconsistent draws and throw the deck away. It's also a good idea to stay at the same hotel as all your teammates because we had communication problems due to lack of phones. It's also possible that I would have tested against WW and Jay would have convinced me to switch to it, which would have turned out to be a better choice.
I had a really great time in Amsterdam and I feel really lucky that I got to go on that kind of trip. I really love Magic and I want to get better, but playing on the Pro Tour requires so many things to go your way, from decks, matchups and draws. We can't all be Brad Nelson but if I can get some free trips for playing a game that I love, I don't need to win the big bucks to be happy.