Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, My first Pro Tour Top8

Javier Dominguez

Javier Dominguez

Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan is already on the books and it’s obviously been a great one for me. Making Top8 on the Pro Tour is something I’ve been chasing for many years, and finally getting there is an awesome feeling. But let’s start from the beginning.

Tournament Preparation

My Pro Tour testing started way earlier than usual. Being the format Modern meant a lot of things, but one of them was that I could make a lot of work before the release of Rivals of Ixalan. Right after the World Magic Cup, I played some leagues with every single deck that I considered remotely playable. Even if I wasn’t going to play them, knowing how they operate seemed like a good source of ideas and insights for a format that has plenty of different decks.

Training Grounds

After this process, I shortlisted the decks I was actually considering playing, and once I had trimmed down to approximately 10-15 decks, I started to rule out decks. My idea was aiming to have just a 2-3 deck gauntlet by the time Rivals of Ixalan would be released. This process turned out to be quite hard for me, since basically every deck had either a lot of extremely good pairings and also clear weaknesses, or on the contrary would just be very medium against everything.

After MANY Modern leagues my conclusion was that Shadow, Storm and Aggro decks were likely the best ones, and therefore the ones that concerned me most, since they were all proactive decks that could be chosen by many players at the PT. After analyzing all my data and realizing how I felt about the different decks, I decided to lock myself into playing BG/Abzan. They both had similar weakness and strengths and I spend most time of the last days of Pre-PT Modern testing tuning the different versions I had of these decks. When Rivals of Ixalan came out, I was feeling good about my Modern testing and my plan was mostly play all the Drafts I could before the PT.

As you may know, BG is not what I ended played in the PT. I played……5color Humans, a deck that didn’t even make it to late stages of my deck selection process.

After GP London, our team stayed together in a testing house in Bilbao, where the PT was held, as we usually do before every PT. What happened there made me change my mind about BG decks for the Pro Tour. The first day of testing, since I got into the house really late, I could only play a few games. In those games I really crushed Affinity with my Abzan, thanks to cards like 《Lingering Souls》. Little did I know that would be my only small victory playing that deck. On Tuesday, the day after my arrival, I started being crushed by every single Archetype that I wasn’t actively trying to beat. The most important and alarming part was that I was losing matchups that I considered actually quite good for certain versions of the deck. I obviously ran badly during all those series of matchups, but I carefully analyzed the games I perceiving that I was losing certain tight spots because my teammates were playing really well around my cards.

BG decks have been around for a long time already in Modern, and thanks to that I’ve gotten a lot experience with the archetype. There’s a problem I didn’t think about that comes along with that; the deck has been around forever also for your opponents, so if they are quite experienced playing Modern, they will know your archetype quite well. I think this factor takes away some of the edge you can gain thanks to your own experience. I also think it’s one of the reasons why 《Death's Shadow》 has been doing worse than some months ago. Overall, opponents knowing how to plan better against your deck is clearly a drawback.

However, I still felt locked to BG decks since I felt like those were the ones I would pilot better. I just felt that I would do better playing a medium deck really well than playing a great deck poorly. I was still toying with the numbers on Wednesday, but I was decided to play that archetype, even if most of my teammates were telling me that I should play a different deck.

This was what I wanted to register and what Alberto Galicia ran with a 7-2-1 Record. I’ve never been really happy with 《Grim Flayer》, but sometimes you really need to be proactive. I also wanted to play the 4th 《Inquisition of Kozilek》 Maindeck, but 《Collective Brutality》 was just better against most decks where I really needed the 7th discard.

However, it only took a full day of 1-9 and 2-8 series against the whole metagame of our house to turn my fears into “Panic mode”. Wednesday night, I just simply asked my teammates: – What should I play?

Dramatic Rescue

The answer I got was clear: – Humans.

At that point I didn’t even have the cards for other decks that were not BG Decks, so I also had to get a physical deck. Luckily, the Pro Tour was held in Spain and I owned the Human cards so with the help of both my girlfriend and Sergio Ferrer I was able to get a physical copy of the deck ready on time.

This is what I ran at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan:

I spent Thursday picking up the deck and learning its basic concepts. In my first game with the deck I happily tried to go 《Ancient Ziggurat》 into 《AEther Vial》. Andrea Mengucci stopped me, and after that game he told me about all the small things you had to be careful about, such as having the proper mana to play 《Phantasmal Image》. This means, for example, that if you already have 《Mantis Rider》 mana, you should probably name “Illusion” with 《Cavern of Souls》 just in case you draw a 《Phantasmal Image》. I had played the deck a little bit, but it was before the 《Phantasmal Image》 addition so that card really scared me a little bit.

Some say Modern is all about knowing your deck perfectly and knowing how to sideboard against every single deck. Others say Modern is all about positioning, that matchups are so important that knowing to play them is less important than actually being on the right side of the table. In my opinion, it’s just a balance of these two factors. As usual, balance is key. Knowing your deck perfectly is obviously a great advantage, but the edge you’ll get thanks to that will just be smaller the better your opponent is. However, matchup edge is just the best way to win % against very good players.

We expected Burn, Storm and Thoughtseize-based decks to be among the most played decks, and Humans is decently positioned against all of them. Also, if we completely missed the metagame call, Humans would be at least a decent option anyway, whereas if we played a deck like BG in a sea of Tron decks, it would just kill our PT. Overall, we thought Humans would perform well unless we faced a lot of hate cards.

Most teammates were happy with a singleton copy of 《Kytheon, Hero of Akros》, but the few games I got to play with my teammates on Thursday made me feel quite bad about that card. Instead of 《Kytheon, Hero of Akros》, I ran 《Kessig Malcontents》, which overperformed the whole weekend. We were settled on the other 59 cards.

Kytheon, Hero of AkrosKessig Malcontents

I also made a sideboard I would be comfortable using, so I didn’t run the same one as my teammates. I didn’t want to play cards that didn’t seem very good to my eyes like 《Gut Shot》. I understand this “free” instant can gain a lot of tempo, but at the same it felt like an awkward topdeck. I wanted to play more impactful cards in my sideboard. I also didn’t want to be cold to an opposing 《Ensnaring Bridge》 and that’s why I played a copy of 《Vithian Renegades》, which was probably a mistake, since 《Kataki, War's Wage》 felt way more powerful. We also had a different perception about how the metagame would look like, since I expected more Burn and Storm.

While I think I made the right call on the maindeck last slot, I think my sideboard was just straight worse as theirs. I decided to play a 《Mirran Crusader》 over an 《Auriok Champion》 only based on the huge amount of times I’ve died to that card since I started playing Modern. I Couldn’t pass on the chance of being that guy.

This is the list Andrea Played:

My Limited portion preparation was similar to every PT, where we draft a lot and then discuss together about the set as a whole. I drafted less than I did for the last 2-3 sets, but I still felt OK in terms of knowing the format. While I knew I wanted to stay open, I had certain preference for Green and Black decks. Scientific research has proved that opening 《Tetzimoc, Primal Death》 was the best strategy.


Draft 1 started with 《Bishop of Binding》 and after seeing no other white cards for a while I ended playing BG with a small white splash for the bishop, Sun-crested “Chicken” Pterodon and 《Squire's Devotion》. MVP of the deck was 《Ravenous Chupacabra》, which I skillfully opened in booster 2 while already being deep on black. Some hours later, I was 3-0.

Sun-Crested Pterodon

Constructed went 4-1 on day one, putting me into a great position going into day 2. I played against two Affinity decks, Eldrazi Tron, WB and Humans. Highlight of the day was having Turn 2 《Kataki, War's Wage》 in both game 2 and 3 against my round 4 opponent.

Kataki, War's Wage

《Kataki, War's Wage》 being a Spirit is a little bit awkward, but I just underrated how impactful it was. After a night of good sleep, I was looking forward for day 2. I was excited but not nervous. I’ve been putting some efforts into my mental game during tournaments during the last months, and I was happy to see it paid off in that situation.

You can see my 2 draft here in WOTC replayer: The player seated two spots on my right opened 《Profane Procession》 in Pack 1, and I think it heavily influenced the draft. I really don’t like double-face cards affecting drafts like that in Premier Events, but that’s the world we live in.

I ended quite happy with my RG Dinosaurs deck. I had a lot of sideboard cards and a decent plan against all the archetypes I thought I could play against. Sadly, I didn’t get to assemble the 《Forerunner of the Empire》 + 《Polyraptor》 combo. I went 2-1 losing the finals of the draft to Jon Stern’s Merfolk deck.

Going into the Constructed portion with a 9-2 record put me in a decent position to try to top8. Instead of focusing in how many times I’ve been close to reach it, I just tried my best to put my focus only on the next match I would play. I faced two Humans, Affinity and Lantern Control . As you can see, my Pro Tour metagame were basically colorless decks and mirror matches, which means I didn’t get to use a few of my sideboard cards. After beating my teammate Andrea in our win and in, I intentionally drew with Pascal Vieren. On that moment, it just became real. I had finally made top8 of a Pro Tour. The moments after that were very intense and I was just all happiness. But there was another happy moment left on the day, and it was when they announced Andrea had made Top8 as well as 8th on tiebreakers. We both had made it and it was a great feeling.

Shared Triumph

I got destroyed in my Top8 match. I didn’t play very well and it was a bad matchup against a great player. Gerry was very friendly to play against, and I just felt I was having a lot of fun during the quarterfinals match. I’m also very happy for Luis taking it down. He is one of my favorite human beings on the circuit and I really enjoyed seeing a friend like him taking the trophy home. Now the world knows he’s also an awesome player.


Modern is in my opinion, a great format in terms of both diversity and gameplay. Lately, there’s been some discussion around if it was or not a good PT format. My take on this matter is that it’s a decent PT format, although I prefer Standard. The reason for that is that Modern being a matchup-centered format means that it has more variance. That’s a fine price to pay for such a diverse format. I actually like Modern a lot as a GP Format, but when it comes for the PT, I think I prefer playing Standard for those super-important matches. Also, if we’re going to have a Modern PT each year, I’d rather have it after worlds and with the release of a new set.

Making Top8 on a Pro Tour is an awesome feeling. Winning my win-and-in at the Pro Tour is something that has eluded me for so long, that I felt like I’ve been waiting for that moment for years. I want to say thank you to everyone that made this possible and everyone that helped me along the (really) long way until getting there. Also to everyone that gave me their support. And, of course, to my teammates and my girlfriend, whose help and support have been priceless.

Magic is an amazing game. See you at the tables!

Javier Dominguez

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