After the Pro Tour March of the Machine, where I made Top8, I felt like the rest of the season would be more relaxing for me since I was already qualified for Worlds and two more Pro Tours. Feeling the same way I felt back in 2019, I was concerned that having less pressure would mean worse preparation and thus performance.
Results suggest I may have been wrong about that since I got another Top8 out of the Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings!
On Pro Tour Houses
I have briefly mentioned the Pro Tour House™ experience before, but I didn’t actually talk much about how I felt about it. For this Pro Tour, I worked again with the powerful Team Handshake but there was a slight difference. Since Barcelona is a somewhat popular destination and all our Americans felt it was good to travel before, we got every team player to be in the testing house for some days together.
I think our Internet work is actually excellent, as information flows and we get to test many matchups before actually getting there.
However, personally speaking, I feel that the testing house is where the actual Magic happens. I’m also conscious that I might be biased since I can be a little bit old-school in that regard.
My impression is that being all day focused on the same task in addition to what positive personal chemistry can add to the mix is what makes a team reach an extremely high level of understanding of a format or a deck. I really think having fun and enjoying time together actually leads into better productivity.
We also got to do some paper drafts. On that matter, I’m not as old school as I am for constructed as I actually think paper drafts are somewhat overrated. I like to do a few because it’s good to get to touch the cards and the such, but they take a lot of time and think it is better to have most of the limited work beforehand so there is more space to focus on constructed. Some of our players don’t particularly like paper drafts and some love them; we don’t have consensus there.
Small write-up after the PT 🤠🤠🤠 pic.twitter.com/X41K8u3dZP— Javier Domínguez "Thalai" (@JavierDmagic) August 3, 2023
I posted this write-up on X to talk about my overall Pro Tour experience.
There I talk, among other things, about how I felt a little bit underprepared for the draft portion of this Pro Tour. LOTR limited has felt like a very complex format in terms of gameplay and I found myself often losing games to very small mistakes. Early on I decided that I would fire more or less two drafts a day and see how I would feel. I probably played enough as I got to try pretty much all the uncommons but I didn’t play enough to have experience with all the rares.
Our strongest conclusion, similar to everyone else, is that black was the best color by a lot, with it having all of the best commons.
If having the best commons wasn’t enough, black also was extremely deep, with every single common being somewhat playable and a bunch of the uncommons being also among the very best.
Past that, we thought Red was totally fine and Blue and White were simply playable. Most players thought Green was the worst by a lot. That was the general picture.
On my Pro Tour March of The Machines I said “Predictably enough, I ended drafting white twice” when white was a color I didn’t like so you can probably tell what comes next.
I drafted White/Green with splash twice in the Pro Tour to a 5-1 finish. I actually didn’t feel Green was that bad compared to the other colors but I would have obviously been happier with a solid black deck.
For the LOTR draft, I played more games than I did for the March of the Machines draft. The biggest reason is obviously that we had more time. But even if we had the same amount of time, I would have tried to play more as the ring tempting mechanic felt extremely complicated to evaluate and play with and the whole format was quite complicated as a result.
Ultimately, I ended up trusting my teammates a lot when it came down to evaluating certain cards. I wasn’t that much of a huge fan of the tempting mechanic overall but in the last days I tried to draft more the way most of my teammates were doing and I felt a decent upgrade.
After going 5-1 again I’m very happy about my limited performance but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve things. Going forward, I will try to mimic other people’s drafting a little bit before the process.
The way I like to approach limited formats is first play enough to have my own ideas about the format, and then reach out and compare with everyone else. This time I didn’t calibrate the time we had left and ended up having less experience than I should have with cards like 《Birthday Escape》, which were very powerful but I had been underrating all the way.
I didn’t know which deck I would end up submitting for the PT by the time we gathered together, one week before the tournament. Usually, I try to narrow it down to 1 or 2 decks by that time, but for Modern the task of deciding a deck was extremely complex and felt like it would be decided on details.
This is what most of the team ended up submitting after some days of work.
Deciding to play Tron wasn’t exactly an easy step to take. It wasn’t for me and certainly, it wasn’t for some players in our team. Tron is what we could call a “Luck Deck” as its games are often not decided by in-game decisions but by how strong your draw is. Among strong players, it is common to be reluctant to play this kind of strategy as they can take away some of the technical advantages they have.
I do think this kind of agency is overrated. However, it would be also foolish to think it doesn’t exist. In this case, we needed a strong reason to play Tron but we found it.
After our testing process, we went through different decks. One of them was Rhinos, a deck a large portion of our team liked as it was good against Rakdos Evoke, the deck to beat for the weekend. However, one of its matchups, Tron, was certainly way worse than we would have liked. As we tried more decks, Tron kept being a formidable opponent except it would have a rough time against Rakdos.
At some point, it became clear that if we could make Tron decent against Rakdos we would have a great deck.
I’ve been a long-time Tron aficionado and I’ve played in some Grand Prix-level events. It’s also one of my “For Fun” decks that I play here and there even if I don’t think it’s a very good deck by raw power level. 《Dismember》 is a card I’ve always liked a lot in this archetype and after some matches, it felt it was what we needed.
《Jegantha, the Wellspring》 is a powerful tool in Tron because it’s a free card that you can cast somewhat reliably since you have access to so much mana. On paper that will make all the attrition matchups better since having access to a free 5/5 will impact the game. Except we found it didn’t work exactly that way. Most notably, against deck Rhinos or Rakdos where Jegantha was expected to be at its best, games were often decided before we would be even able to cast Jegantha.
During some testing games, I was actually forgetting that I was playing Jegantha. One of my teammates pointed out that you don’t forget a companion when it’s good, you forget it when it’s irrelevant, and he was quite right in my opinion. 《Jegantha, the Wellspring》 has some upsides, but 《Dismember》 felt stronger.
This decklist has a lot of 1-ofs like 《Talisman of Resilience》 that we put there to make the deck function a little bit better. As always, it is hard to know what was correct. Something I love about this decklist is that most of us working on the deck actually directly influenced how we ended up playing the deck. It was really a team design as many of the 1-ofs like 《Phyrexian Metamorph》 or 《Warping Wail》 were put into the deck by different individuals. Decks are often built by a few players and then adopted by others but this time It really felt to me that pretty much everyone added something to the final configuration.
That said, our bigger improvement was 《Urza’s Saga》.
Having access to 《Urza’s Saga》 means Tron can play a midrange game against decks trying to interact with their main plan. There’s a big drawback of this powerful card playing against the 《Blood Moon》 effects, though, so be careful sequencing them.
If you are not facing a 《Blood Moon》 effect, playing 2 copies of 《Urza’s Saga》 along with 7 land-searching effects makes it so Tron can actually win games against cards like 《Crumble to Dust》 or a bunch of Counterspells.
The 2nd copy of 《Urza’s Saga》 is there so the first one can get an 《Expedition Map》 that can get another copy of 《Urza’s Saga》. This way, with a single Saga we can get up to four tokens, often enough to end the game.
Wait, Javier, did you say 7 land-searching effects?
Yes, we played 3 《Sylvan Scrying》. But why?
The short answer is, why not?
As I said on my deck tech for the official coverage, our approach with Tron was not to tweak the deck. It was to build Tron from scratch as a new archetype. We identified 《The One Ring》 as an extremely powerful card and therefore we questioned that maybe the traditional way of building Tron wasn’t correct anymore.
If we look at Tron decks built around 2013, they do look almost the same as the ones we have now but with 《Karn, the Great Creator》. Now, with both Karn and 《The One Ring》 in the mix, the core of the deck is different than it used to be, and the games themselves often play differently, as we have two bombs that are castable without the full set of Tron lands.
The way I see it, there is no reason to believe that the 2013 way to build Tron is necessarily the correct way to build the deck in 2023. That’s why we questioned every single one of the slots. That included almost all of the cantrips and enablers. Even though we never considered cutting any of the 《Expedition Map》, anything else was on the table.
Anecdotally, once I tried to cut some 《Sylvan Scrying》, most of my teammates kept pointing out that they would just simply play 4. That shows how flexible the Handshakes can be as we all ended up playing 3.
During the tournament, our Tron deck felt extremely well-positioned to me. I understand it’s easy to say this in a tournament where you have made Top8, but I really felt the difference compared to the other Modern Pts where I made the top8.
The big difference here is that we actually had good matchups among the most played decks, like 4 Color, while the bad one, Rakdos, was actually decent even though it still required us to get lucky to some extent. I was lucky enough to win the die roll when it mattered against Rakdos and overall felt like the plans we have scripted were working in the tournament.
Because of the nature of Tron, having matchups that I had not played before like 《Grinding Station》 Breach didn’t feel that important as it would have been with decks like 4C Control, where any small interaction might make a huge difference.
I also want to talk a little bit about the “Luck Deck” label. It is certainly true that Tron draws are often what will decide the games. The issue I have found with tron is that games that are not ending very fast because either player dies, often become quite complicated.
Games with multiple 《Oblivion Stone》 or games where you have to expose your 《Karn, the Great Creator》 are examples of Tron games that can be incredibly complex. As an example, on the last MOCS event I played that was Modern I decided to play Tron only to lose two matches to my own mistakes. That is how hard I have found the deck in some games, even if they are not common.
The Pro Tour Itself
I’m 36 years old, but I still keep getting this feeling in my stomach that I experienced when I was 16, 20 years ago. I’m hoping for this to not change anytime soon.
I started losing the first round after not being particularly happy with my first draft deck. However, my deck ended up being decent and I got the right side of mana flood on the final round where I could beat the almighty 《Horn of Gondor》.
After that, I started my constructed portion losing to my friend Marco del Pivo on Rhinos. In game 3, I lead 《The Stone Brain》 on the play on turn 2 only for him to cast 《Commandeer》, which meant he got a turn 2 《The Stone Brain》 activation, making sure I would never be able to reach Tron. I also made a huge mistake by playing the wrong land that enabled his 《Obsidian Charmaw》. I would have probably lost anyway, but I’d like to point out that even if tournaments that you do well it’s very hard to avoid making a mistake here and there.
After 2-2, things didn’t look particularly good but you never know. A couple of hours and a few Turn 3 Karns later, I ended the day 6-2.
Day 2 started with a complicated pod with some strong players and teammate and friend Nathan Steuer who also made a decent day 1. I started the draft with 《Arwen, Mortal Queen》 and being somewhat comfortable with all the colors I ended up having a decent WG + splash deck that let me 3-0 the draft.
Everything really went my way on day 2. When my opponent’s played 《Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer》 I had 《Dismember》 and when my opponents needed to draw a land to cast their winning spell they simply missed it.
After a few rounds, I was 13-2 and I had made Top8 of the Pro Tour again!
Before the RC Sofia in October, I was not qualified for the Pro Tour. Now, I just made back-to-back Top8s and I’m qualified for all the Pro Tours of next season as well as Worlds in two months. I can say this has been a roller coaster even if for some people on the outside it might look like I was always there, I didn’t feel that way. Three times this year I was playing tournaments where it was my last chance to do well to qualify for the next event and all three times I felt the pressure of not having more tournaments in the future.
That said, making Top8 of a Pro Tour in my hometown was certainly special. It’s also yet another tournament where the Modern format kept smiling at me. I was all joy on Saturday.
On Sunday, I lost again on quarters. Dom’s Amulet Titan is basically a very bad matchup for Tron and the games themselves were not particularly close, even though I managed to win one of the games. Playing a deck like Tron means that if you run into a bad matchup chances are you often going to die without casting a relevant spell, and that’s ok!
I am very grateful for everything that happened this weekend. Grateful to everyone that supported me and to everyone that made this possible, including those working to keep these events as awesome as they are even though they sometimes run into unexpected problems.
I am Grateful as well to my family and my friends as they always try to makes thing easier for me so I can focus on the competition when a tournament is about to happen.
And of course, grateful to my dear readers that got this far.