Hareruya Pros Blog
Pro Tour Top 8 Report – It’s good to be back
Hareruya Pros Blog
For many players, including myself, the Pro Tour is a very special experience. Remarkably, it is still special after having played a bunch of them across the years.
With the end of the MPL era and the start of the new system, I found myself not being qualified for the following PT – Pro Tour: Phyrexia, and my chances for qualifying were not looking great as I lost four (!) qualifying matches in the last online set championship.
10-4-1 in Sofia, qualified for the PT #PogChamp #LECSofia #HareruyaPros https://t.co/OHQiZqOzVT— Javier Domínguez "Thalai" (@JavierDmagic) November 20, 2022
Fortunately enough, I got there in my RC in Sofia so I got to play that PT, which felt like a last chance to do well in one of these events. After an 11-5 finish, I qualified for Pro Tour March of the Machine in Minneapolis. I had another shot!
For this tournament, I needed 8-8 to qualify for Pro Tour Barcelona, very close to my hometown, so that was the clear goal.
The Pro Tour preparation is part of the tournament itself. I would even go and say it’s one of the biggest differences between a PT and other events, where preparation is way less focused.
For this tournament, I had the honor and privilege of working with Team Handshake. This team, who dominated the online Set Championships era is full of impressive and young talented players. These guys are not only players that will win a lot the future; they are already winning a lot now. On top of that, they also have some seasoned veterans like myself or Anthony Lee.
I also worked with them for Pro Tour Phyrexia and one thing has been a constant in these two events; they keep teaching me new slang words, which I appreciate.
A big part of the testing was done online prior to the trip itself, but we also scheduled a classic Pro Tour House™, where we would end our testing.
Relatively early in the process, it was clear to me that I would be playing a BRX deck. I’ve been playing 《Bloodtithe Harvester》《Reckoner Bankbuster》《Fable of the Mirror-Breaker》《Sheoldred, the Apocalypse》 for long enough that you could say I’m an expert. The other options were not really very appealing and the questions around the BR decks were hard enough that having a lot of time to answer them would be very useful.
The three options we considered were Rakdos, Grixis and Reanimator.
About Reanimator, we had David Inglis’s “tangrams” working exhaustively on the archetype, so when he decided it was not good enough for him, that made things even easier for the rest.
Deciding between Rakdos and Grixis was trickier, as 《Corpse Appraiser》 is an extremely strong card in the mirror matches.
The overall idea was that Grixis was better in the mirror but the three color manabase involved enough taplands that it was considerably worse against the aggressive strategies. Except it didn’t exactly work that way, because the scope of the taplands issue went way deeper than not having two mana on turn two to cast a removal.
Once we started looking carefully, we would observe that the Grixis deck would lose games to taplands even in turn 8, where it couldn’t do stuff like 《Corpse Appraiser》 into 《Invoke Despair》 for that reason.
It was still decent in the mirror, of course, but that made the perceived edge against straight Rakdos smaller than we would have thought. In addition to that, Rakdos picking up 《Chandra, Hope’s Beacon》 made it so it was able to come back from games where Grixis got an edge on the card advantage axis.
While we were working on that, Anthony brought some light to the table.
《Light Up the Night》 was the card that cemented Rakdos as the clear winner of those two archetypes for us. 《Light Up the Night》 is not only a decent removal against creature decks but also a strong finisher that goes very well with 《Chandra, Hope’s Beacon》.
Once it’s on the graveyard, if you ever reach 8 mana and have a 《Chandra, Hope’s Beacon》 in your hand, you can cast it, add mana, and then remove all 7 loyalty counters to play 《Light Up the Night》’s flashback, dealing a total of 14 damage which will often end games in a deck that already plays 《Invoke Despair》. Funnily enough, I never got to 《Fireball》 anyone in the whole PT.
While I was highly skeptical about the 《Fireball》 card, it became clear to me that the card was strong enough once we played a few games against Mono White, one of the matchups where Grixis is stronger. They simply could not interact with that effect.
To figure out the mirror matches what I did was simply play countless games against Nathan Steuer. One important benefit of playing against a matchup against him is that since he is basically impossible to outplay, If a plan works against him playing the deck, it will most likely work against anyone else playing the same type of decklist.
Ultimately some of the teammates ended having different takes on the archetype even if we all shared the same Chandra shell. There was a relatively big group playing the same 75, and then there were some small variations, like playing a second 《Light Up the Night》 instead of a fourth 《Go for the Throat》. With calls as small as these, even after the tournament, it is almost impossible to know what was better, as it really depends on the matchups, and every player faced different pairings on the tournament.
This was our final decklist:
Other than the basics, 《Rotten Reunion》 was also a piece of technology we had for that event. I actually never used it in the tournament itself, but in testing the card proved itself to be perfectly playable.
I didn’t draft as much as I thought I would before the trip itself, but once I got there the most important part of the limited testing was simply watching Karl Sarap draft and play the games of the format. Karl is surely one of the best drafters in the world and being able to understand his processes was key for me to do well in the format. Unfortunately for the amount of gems in my Arena account, he was also very good at tricking me into trying the different Companions in limited – I didn’t do very well with them.
Other than that, we had some long online discussions about the format and some in-house drafts where I simply didn’t win too much.
I found a little bit awkward that online queue drafts couldn’t replicate the PT because of the double-face cards. For those who don’t know, in the Pro Tour, before every booster was picked, we would reveal all our double-faced cards and would then sleeve all the pack before continuing the drafting. This had strong implications in how the drafting signals would work and I felt like I could have used more experience around those dynamics.
Overall, we thought black was the best color but we also liked many of the blue commons. We didn’t have that much of a consensus of what was the worst combination, but my general plan was to avoid white and try to draft black if possible, since the color was so deep.
Predictably enough, I ended drafting white twice.
My first started with the player on my right opening a Double-face black mythic and with me opening a very weak booster with one 《Realmbreaker’s Grasp》 as the only good card, which I reluctantly took. Turns out both blue and white were extremely open and I ended with a very strong UW deck.
One of the bigger overperformers of the deck was 《Aerial Boost》. I think of these cards as “Marcio Cards”. Marcio cards are cards that don’t look particularly good on the surface but they are able to give you enough tempo to actually outperform cards that look much better on the surface. In this draft, I picked it over a stronger card (I think it was a 2nd 《Realmbreaker’s Grasp》?) and the 《Aerial Boost》 actually ended winning multiple games.
After going 3-0 in the draft I needed to win 5 out the following 13 rounds to qualify for Barcelona, so things were looking pretty good.
I played some feature matches including a Mirror match against the Handshake teammate Eli Loveman and I ended the day 7-1, in a decent shape go for the Top 8 and needing only one win away from qualifying. My loss was against Yasooka’s Esper, and overall I felt like I ran quite well, including a massive topdecked Go for Throat against Nico Bonny on Round 7.
Pod number 1 in day 2 is always extremely hard in a Pro Tour, and this was no exception. In this case, there were 4 of us handshakers in the same table, and they had already beaten me in the testing house, so I knew it would be a hard one.
I started the draft with a 《Sunfall》 and a couple if white cards. I tried to navigate the rest of the draft staying open and eventually ended on White/Green with two 《Botanical Brawler》. While the deck was short on removal, I got enough +1/+1 synergy to make it a reliable gameplan.
I escaped the draft 2-1 after playing two teammates, Natan and Simon Nielsen, losing and winning respectively. Considering how medium the deck was, the result was perfectly acceptable. I was in a 9-2, qualified for Barcelona, and in a good position to make Top 8. But I have also been 9-2 and missed Top 8 some times before; I knew it was the time to keep playing sharp.
After that, my Rakdos deck simply delivered and after two more wins I had my first win and in; a rematch against Natan. This match had this strange feel of familiarity because we both had tested the mirror match extensively with each other, and we knew our plans for the matchup were the same. In a way, though, that made me feel relaxed.
Cards felt my way and I made Top 8!!!
On the new structure, once you get 12 wins you are removed from the tournament and you simply wait until the swiss is over, so I could celebrate and relax the rest of the day. It was also convenient, as all the pressure was certainly start to weight on my physical condition.
My Saturday team dinner was rather brief as I was literally falling sleep. For the next tournament I will try to be in better shape!
My Top 8 match wasn’t very long and I convincingly lost David Olsen’s Ramp deck. I think those were quite unlucky games and I also didn’t play very well. Overall, also, the matchup is not particularly good. My tournament was over, but having 8-8as an initial goal, making Top 8 was a huge success, one that I am very proud of!
The rest of the day I spent enjoying time with my friends on the tournament and watch Nathan win the whole thing. Speaking of Nathan: what he is accomplishing is simply amazing. Watching him take down the tournament was very exciting, and his words on his interview after winning the tournament certainly got under my skin and will be stored as a sweet memory.
He is clearly among the best players in the world right now if not the best, but that doesn’t make him stop trying to get better. He is very passionate about Magic and about learning how to understand the game better, and that is contagious. Talking and discussing with him makes me want to get better as well. As a man of certain age, having that kind of fire makes me feel young in a special way.
After the tournament we spent some time celebrating eating and… team drafting! Not only that gave me some memories of the old days, but I also got to pull the special 0-3 record but win the team draft regardless thanks to Nathan and Abe Corrigan.
This was quite a memorable Pro Tour to me. Not only it is my first Pro Tour Top 8 in a while, it also felt like the first one in a way, as it is really the first one of this new era. Who knows what’s next for Magic?
This Top 8 also meant to me that I am still capable of making a big result. I couldn’t have done without the help of my teammates and friends and for that I am really thankfull. But I am also thankfull of all the anecdotes and small adventures we had during the week, as those are the things we keep with ourselves, and even more if the tournament doesn’t go well.
I’m glad I’m still fortunate enough to be living adventures with awesome people. After all this years, it still makes me smile.
Thanks for reading!
Javier Dominguez He is the representative player of Spain. Grand Prix Top 8 is six times, including won the Grand Prix Paris 2014 and Grand Prix Rotterdam 2016 winning victories. At the Pro Tour level, he has brilliant achievement such as winning the 9th place in Pro Tour Battle of Zendikar and Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, and finally top8 in Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.