Pro Tour Fate Reforged tournament report: Anthony Hodgson
What I loved about the Pro Tour was being worse than everyone else. Okay, not everyone else. But most people. Playing any game competitively in an environment where you are one of the best players can be extremely limiting to one’s growth. By far the best way to improve is by playing a lot against people who are better than you. (The ‘a lot’ part is, of course, an issue for South Africans.) But playing against strong opponents is not enough on its own. In fact, it’s almost worthless in the absence of an appropriate critical attitude and willingness to take responsibility for one’s mistakes and losses. It is in this vein that I thought it would be apt to focus my PT review on the many mistakes that I made at the event.
My first draft got off to a shaky start but ended up going very well. This draft is probably the thing I’m most proud of from the event. My first pack started poorly but I managed to stay calm and look for signals and ended up drafting what felt very much like a 3-0 deck. The deck actually 2-1’d but decks of 3-0 quality but 2-1 records are actually fairly common in this format.
Since the release of Fate Reforged, drafting changed quite a lot. To start with, almost every player in almost every draft has a pick 1 pack 1 bomb. Consequently, it’s a lot more common than usual for players to commit to colours early in pack 1 and also it’s a lot more common than usual for players to compete over colours early in pack 1. In this draft I didn’t open a bomb and, to make matters worse, I got cut out of both of the first two colours I was picking. About half way through pack 1 I decided to stick to those 2 colours for the rest of the pack (to get a fuller idea of what was really being cut) but focus on looking for signals as to whether or not any colour or clan was wide open.
Ultimately, I ended pack 1 with a bunch of red cards, a bunch of white cards, and a strong notion that Blue was more open than it should be (including a very late blue white dual land that I picked up). It was a risky call to make because Blue has by far the most playable (and arguably the best) cards in FRF. Still, it seemed like my best plan and as a result I proceeded to first pick the Jeskai tri-land. It turned out I was right and I ended up being the only Jeskai player in my pod, getting passed ridiculous things like 7th pick Jeskai Charm and 8th pick Mantis Rider in the 2nd and 3rd packs.
Round 1: Jose Rodriguez, Spain (Draft)
In round 1 I faced a Spanish player playing Mardu Aggro who was also new to the Pro Tour. He seemed quite nervous and that made me feel very confident. The first game was easy as my opponent stalled at 3 lands and I didn’t. The second game was even easier because of a well timed Jeskai Charm giving me a big 2 for 0 trade and a whole lot of life gain in what was ultimately a racing matchup.
Round 2: Lee Marino, USA (Draft)
Round 2 I faced an American who was at his 3rd Pro Tour – again playing Mardu Aggro. He seemed extremely confident and was very chatty right up until I won the first game. Interestingly, we were seated next to another match from our pod which contained a 3rd Mardu Aggro deck. It’s pretty much the best archetype in the format but when you’re in a pod where everyone wants it it feels great to be in Jeskai. In this round I drew and cast Mantis Rider on turn 4 and the game was probably over at that point.
Mantis Rider lived until the end of the game and was backed up by a Jeskai Charm several turns later which led to my opponent scooping to his inevitable fate after not drawing an out. In game 2 I kept a 2 land hand on the draw (with a 2 drop and two 3 drops) and didn’t see a third land all game. In game 3 I kept a 2 land hand on the play (with a 2 drop and a 3 drop) and again didn’t see a third land all game. I’ve wrestled with myself over this decision because general sentiment at the PT seemed to be that you definitely keep 2 land hands on the play but the majority of decks were running 18 lands and I was running only 17.
That said, my curve was pretty low and I had cards I could play in my hand. It wasn’t clear to me that my 6 card hand would be better but, at the same time, I lost against a deck I felt was weaker than my own. There is no hand that would have won me that game if I stalled on 2 lands but that might be beside the point of whether my decision was correct or not. I’d love to hear more opinions on this – I probably can’t expect more than 2 lands from a 6 card hand but maybe I want to mulligan for a slightly better 2 card hand (like one with two 2 drops).
Round 3: Alexander Pasgaard, Denmark (Draft)
Round 3 I faced a Danish guy at his first Pro Tour running Abzan. He was unhappy with his deck and before the round even started he asked me if I was the guy who got the late Mantis Rider. I didn’t give him an answer but he decided from the get go that if I was that guy he’d probably struggle to beat me. And, well, he was right. Game 1 turn 3 Mantis Rider. Game 2 no Mantis Rider but curving out very well against turn 3 Morph turn 4 Morph did the trick. I had mixed feelings about ending the draft 2-1 because, on the one hand, I had come into the tournament thinking 2-1 would be a good draft result and my draft had started very badly. But on the other hand, I was pretty sure I had drafted a 3-0 deck and not lost any games of actual Magic with it.
Round 4: Mitchell Greenlee, USA (Modern)
Round 4 was the first round of Modern and I faced a very friendly guy from Alaska who said it was his 20th Pro Tour but that he had never made top 50 before. I should probably point out at this point that I was one of the two people running Bogles at the Pro Tour. I’d love to discuss why I chose the deck and why, in hindsight, I’d probably choose it again but I think this article is already going to be way too long without such a discussion.
Anyway, my round 4 opponent was playing RG Tron. This is a matchup that I’m supposed to win. Sometimes Oblivion Stone can blow me out and I will always lose against Ugin. But the power of RG Tron is that it gets Wurmcoil Engine or Karn out fast and I actually play very well against both of those. The match was pretty straightforward. I won game 1 on the play. I lost game 2 against turn 2 Spellskite. And I won game 3 with turn 2 Stony Silence. There wasn’t much room for me to make mistakes from what I can tell.
Round 5: Alex Majlaton, USA (Modern)
In round 5 I faced another American who had a TCGPlayer shirt. I didn’t recognize him so I asked him if his shirt meant he was famous. He laughed a bit and told me he had been to over 20 Pro Tours and his best finish was just outside of top 16. Either the fact that I was at my first PT or the fact that he saw I was on Bogles made him relax a lot and seemed to become extremely confident as the match started. It might also have been his opening hand in game 1. He was on Affinity, a matchup that my testing suggested depended a lot on who won the roll. I won the roll and he played 8 cards on his first turn, including a Cranial Plating.
So I lost that game. To my surprise, though, I managed to take the second game despite not drawing any of my sideboarded cards. In game 3 I drew Stony Silence but only after he already had an Etched Champion with Cranial Plating on it. My choice that turn was to cast a second Daybreak Coronet on a medium-sized Bogle and race a little harder or cast Stony Silence. I opted for the Coronet because I was already losing the race.
He then slammed a second Cranial Plating and swung for the kill. I’m still not entirely sure if it’s a mistake to not play Stony Silence when your opponent already has an equipped Plating (on an untouchable creature, of all things). Certainly the game would have lasted a few more turns if I did.
Round 6: Martin Bisterfeld, Germany (Modern)
Going into round 6, I was a little unhappy to be 3-2 having expected myself to be 3-0. I was even more unhappy to see a turn 1 Serra Ascendant because I thought that meant Martyr Proc, a matchup that I find very difficult. It turned out that my opponent was on Soul Sisters and this is actually a very good matchup for me. (Oh and by the way this was a German guy with a dozen or so Pro Tours but none in the last 4 years.)
Despite the matchup being an easy win for me, I managed to lose one game. After an easy win in game 1, I decided to keep a 7 card hand in game 2 with no creatures excluding a Windswept Heath that could become a Dryad Arbor. I thought for a while about Mulliganing because Path to Exile would probably lose me the game but I decided that my opponent would have sided Path out against me (having seen him sideboarding nearly 8 cards).
Long story short, he had the Path and I lost the game. After winning game 3 he told me that he actually wanted to side out Paths but he had nothing good on his sideboard against me. Apparently all he’d done is taken out the most dead cards and replaced them with slightly less dead ones. Even so, it’s clear to me that my keep was a big mistake. Probably I got carried away with being close to a win (and thus close to day 2) and merely rationalized my way into keeping. Bogles is meant to mulligan aggressively and against Soul Sisters pretty much any hand with a Hexproof creature would win me the game. My decision was too hasty and it forced a completely unnecessary game 3.
Round 7: William Jensen, USA (Modern)
In Round 7 I faced William Jensen who was on Infect like most of his team. I asked him if he had played more Pro Tours than anybody else and he laughed, saying he’d maybe be in the top 10 but that Jon Finkel and Patrick Chapin had nearly double what he had (a humble 42, if I recall). This was a matchup I expected to be very difficult. We don’t interact that much with each other, infect kills a little faster than I do, my life gain doesn’t help the race, and Infect players at the PT were all mainboarding 1-2 Spellskites. I think possibly he kept bad hands against me – though this is really the one advantage of Bogles over Infect, that it mulligans much much better – because his deck didn’t seem to play out how it’s meant to in any of our 3 games.
I won game 1 despite making a very obvious mistake, attacking with a Bogle with just an Ethereal Armour on it into an untapped Noble Hierarch. This was a stupid play because I should have expected the Mutagenic Growth in his hand and because it’s something you learn very early playing Bogles that in the absence of Totem Armour you should be very conservative and careful about your attacks. It should say something about his keep that I won that game anyway. Game two was a lot closer. He locked down the board with an early Spellskite but didn’t have any infect creatures for the second time. Eventually I drew some hate to get rid of Spellskite and began to race. Only, there was no race. This, again, might be a mistake. I attacked with my only creature (without a Coronet) while he had 4 cards in hand and a Wild Defiance + Noble Hierarch on the board. And it turns out that Infect decks can very easily deal 20 regular damage if they have Wild Defiance out. In game 3 it was me who drew Spellskite and I won the game fairly quickly as a result.
Round 8: Michael Henson, USA (Modern)
At 5-2 I felt a lot better than I had at 3-2 and my final round matchup made me even more confident. I was against Michael, an American who Andrew and I had met before the event and tested with a bit. And he was playing Burn. Burn, I thought, was my best matchup. But then I also knew that this was a guy who was playing mainboard Deflecting Palm (mostly because he expected a lot of Infect). Game 1 was over before it began after I had to Mulligan to 4 before I saw a hand with both a land and a creature. Then, I made a very similar mistake in game 2 to what I did against Huey Jensen. This time I had a Bogle in play with an Umbra and a Daybreak Coronet on it. My opponent attacks with Goblin Guide and I block, walking straight into Destructive Revelry. With the previous match still hot in my mind, I had decided I was only worrying about Mutagenic Growths and that 2 x Mutagenic Growth would be both unlikely and a worthwhile trade given that my creature would live.
The point here, though, is that no matter what he’s holding I had no reason to block. And I should expect him to have a good play if he’s attacking at all. At this point I feel like this error had a lot to do with surrounding circumstances. I was a game down, had made a bad mistake in the previous round, and had just generally had a very long day. So, yeah, I made essentially the same mistake two rounds in a row, allowing my guys into Combat they need not be in. Probably, Destructive Revelry had that game won anyway but that doesn’t make my play any less bad. After the match Michael told me he had Deflecting Palm in hand both games and that I thus would have struggled to win either regardless of all that happened. Even so, mistakes were made.
I came into Day 2 with mixed feelings. Despite the way in which I lost round 8, I still felt like Burn was a matchup I was meant to get ‘free wins’ from. I was beating myself up for not winning my 1st draft and for not beating a Burn Deck with Bogles. But I was also very happy to be in day 2, and very happy to be 5-3. My second draft went a lot worse than the first. This time I did open a bomb – one of the biggest there is: Mastery of the Unseen. But then I got cut really really hard. I pretty much didn’t see another white card in pack 1. Instead, my pack 1 ended up being a few good cards from each colour but mostly the beginnings of a Mono Red deck. If I had the presence of mind I had in draft 1, I would have moved into Temur at this point. It’s an underdrafted Archetype in general and green is normally the most open colour in the format. Instead, I was stubborn and tried to stay in White. Not seeing enough cards in Red and White, I ended up getting a few Black cards too. This ended with me having a pretty awkward Mono Red deck splashing both White and Black for a few cards. Even so, I had managed to open a Sarkhan and my deck felt like it had the tools to 2-1.
Round 9: Nathan Holiday, USA (Draft)
In round 9 I faced Nathan Holiday of CFB – playing Abzan. I asked him if he was happy with his deck and he said it depended on if he beat me or not. I curved out well in game 1 and beat him. Game 2 was much more difficult on the draw and he managed to stabilize quite fast, with an unreasonably early Gurmag Angler after a bunch of trades. In game 3 I had the exact same situation as in game 3 of my round 2 from draft 1. 2 lands, a 2 drop and a 3 drop on the play. Having discussed my previous decision with anyone who cared to listen and being told by all of them it’s a keep, I decided to keep again. And again I stalled and again I lost. I later found out that Nathan 1-2’d the draft.
Round 10: Toru Inoue, Japan (Draft)
I was a bit disheartened going into my 10th round and this time I would face a Japanese player who was not new to the Pro Tour but who had never made top 50 before. He was very unhappy with his draft and it seemed that yet again the issue was that more than half of our pod had tried to make some kind of Mardu deck. My opponent’s solution in this case was to build a four colour aggro deck with elements of both Mardu and Jeskai. His lands worked out well in game 1 and that was enough to mean his power level was a lot higher than mine. Game 2 was very racy and very close right up until the point that I shot myself in the foot. Probably my most comedic of errors in the tournament, I made an all in play to deal my opponent 7 damage, only to notice soon after that it was I that was on 7 and he was 9. I will never know if I would have won game 3 but I think the chances were good given how easily I could sideboard into a 2 colour consistent deck and punish him for playing four colours (because surely he would eventually have mana issues).
Round 11: Jonathan Anghelescu, Germany (Draft)
Thankfully, I would not 0-3 this draft at least. My final round of draft was against another German guy who was new to the Pro Tour. He seemed distracted and told me he was having a very bad day but that it had nothing to do with Magic. His Sultai deck was pretty terrible in my opinion. I won the match fairly easily despite game 2 lasting over 30 minutes, staring down a Sultai Ascendancy which led to a big boardstall. Barrage of Boulders is a good card though.
Round 12: Owen Turtenwald, USA (Modern)
And now for the big one. As we returned to Modern, with my record now sitting at a precarious 6-5, my first round was against none other than Owen Turtenwald. Owen was on Infect just like Huey and by the looks of it had more or less the same 75. As with my last run in against this deck, I won the first game without running into any annoying mainboard Spellskites and was grateful for it (since I only had 2 mainboard Paths and no other way to beat Spellskites). Game two was a lot more interesting.
Owen played turn 2 Spellskite and I replied with my own turn 2 Spellskite. This situation favoured me a lot because I could dump Auras on my Spellskite but he couldn’t use any of his spells for anything. To make things even better, I eventually drew a Path and got rid of his Spellskite. I continued to dump Auras on Spellskite and started to attack. At this point, every time I played an Aura he’d wait a bit then say ‘Yeah, OK.’ so I got the feeling he had a Vines of Vastwood in hand. I was confused because he let through pretty much all my strongest Auras. He had a Blighted Agent on the board but I couldn’t see any way he could deal with Spellskite so I just kept attacking him. Then, one turn before he would die, sitting at 3 health, he started off his turn by casting Vines on my Spellskite. I sat for a while trying to figure out what was going on. I called a judge just to check that Vines didn’t somehow work like protection to remove the Auras from my creature. The Judge, of course, confirmed that this was correct. So a sat a while longer then suddenly realized that Vines would interact with Spellskite’s ability, blocking it from redirecting spells. I made some remark about how brilliant the play was.
Owen responded perfectly, instantly showing me his hand full of pumps. And I conceded. Only a few hours later did I work out, with the help of an Infect-playing friend, that Owen’s play had been a bluff. Vines can stop Spellskite redirecting my spells to it but wouldn’t stop it from redirecting his spells. I felt pretty stupid for losing to a bluff and even worse for complimenting his play and him thanking me for it. That said, I do think this was a pretty sophisticated bluff.
When I confronted him later, he owned up to it and said it was his best line to take and that he’d have tried it versus anybody. First, representing that he definitely had the card but not using it when it seemed obvious. Then, using it when I thought I was about to win to add the extra suggestion that it must be doing something. And lastly flashing his hand at me right after I fell for it so as to avoid giving me any time to reconsider things. I think also the fact that he’s such a great player gave me a really strong urge to see sense in the play he was making. And discrediting something that I knew was wrong, but seemed the most intuitive thing, made me even more inclined to accept the next thing I thought of. As Owen said to me, knowing the rules is part of the game. And absolutely, if I understood the relevant interaction and, especially, Vines of Vastwood itself well enough there wouldn’t have even been a chance I fell for it.
Round 13: Kenji Tsumura, Japan (Modern)
That loss put me at 6-6 and this meant that any more losses would put me out of the running for any prizes at all. And just when I was hoping for a breather to ease my way back into things, I got paired against Kenji Tsumura. Of the pros I had faced so far, he was by far the friendliest. There isn’t a lot to say about this match because I don’t think I made any mistakes. The only interesting thing is that Kenji was on Junk, which a lot of people think is excellent against Bogles. It really just isn’t though.
Turn 1 Thoughtseize into turn 3 Liliana is pretty much unbeatable for me. But the thing is that I win almost every other game. And despite what you may think, turn 1 Thoughtseize into turn 3 Liliana is not the majority of games. In fact, it didn’t happen once in the two games I took to beat Kenji. This matchup actually favouring me (contrary to popular opinion) is part of why I think Bogles was a better choice than it was given credit for – especially when so many people chose Infect over Bogles thinking it was better against Junk when I’m pretty sure this claim is very controversial. Unfortunately for me, I only got to face Junk once in the tournament despite it being by far the most played deck.
Round 14: Brian Braun-Duin, USA (Modern)
Having just faced Owen and Kenji, and having beaten one of them and nearly beaten the other, I felt pretty confident because I thought I was unlikely to play any more names of that stature. The Pro Tour disagreed and paired me against BBD in round 14. BBD was running Mono Blue Tron. As with most of my matches, I won game 1. Game 2 of this match was one of the most epic and enjoyable games I’ve ever played. At the end of the game, he was on -78 and I was on something higher than 100. How? Platinum Angel. And I lost that game – because I drew my Path to Exile one turn too late and then he Mindslaver locked me.
I should have won this game but for a subtle misplay. See, the game was in a state where I had 2 Kor Spiritdancers out and was just trying to draw to a Path and hope he doesn’t have a Counterspell. As it turned out, he only had a Remand at the end but I had to tap my last mana to play the last Aura that drew me the Path. And the mistake was playing the second Spiritdancer slightly too late. Right after he played Platinum Angel and still had a positive life total, I had 2 lands out and 1 Spiritdancer in play and 1 in hand. To me, it seemed incorrect to play the second Spiritdancer if I wasn’t able to also play an Aura that turn.
This reasoning regularly holds in normal games. 2 draws right now is usually better than maybe 4 draws next turn. However, had I correctly identified the situation from the beginning, I would have known that the entire game had been reduced to me digging for Path before I lose. And since there were several turns of digging, having the Spiritdancer out earlier would have won me the game. Game 3 ended up being quite similar to game 2 except that he got his Platinum Angel out before drew my first Spiritdancer. Time was against me and I ended up losing quite convincingly. I should also note that BBD was even nicer than Kenji – definitely the nicest pro player I met at the PT. I actually told him that and he made a joke, asking me if I meant he wasn’t the best one.
Round 15: Bill Chronopoulos, Greece (Modern)
At 7-7 I was out of the running for any prizes or additional Pro Points but I wasn’t about to give up. I wanted to see how well I could do. After all, 9-7 would be 1 win away from prize money and that would feel good to me. Unfortunately, my 15 round was against a Greek guy who was also new to the PT playing Bloom Titan (or Amulet Combo, if you prefer that name). This matchup is nearly unwinnable for me and I had hoped there wouldn’t be a lot of it at the PT or that the multitude of Abzan decks would knock them out of my way. To add insult to injury, my opponent went off on turn 2 twice in a row. Not that it was necessary. Again, I didn’t have much space to make mistakes here.
Round 16: Osman Ozguney, Turkey (Modern)
In the final round of the tournament I faced a French/Turkish guy who was at his first Pro Tour and had qualified online. I had a nice chat with him about that since I’ve been playing a bunch of online ptqs lately myself. He was playing Faeries and though I had no experience playing against the deck, except in Standard many years ago, I decided it should be a good matchup for me because it does itself a lot of damage and has a lot of dead cards against me. Sure enough, I won game 1 easily. Game 2 was a lot more difficult since being on the draw meant Spellstutter Sprites could counter spells and create threats. After the 2nd Sprite the EOT play was a Mistbind Clique and at that point the game went out of my control very fast. And finally there was game 3, where I made my final mistake of the tournament. In this game I had taken firm control of the game with a very big Bogle in play but 1 that had no Umbras on it. The fact that the 1 spell my opponent had chosen to counter was an Umbra should have been a hint to me. But I missed it. Instead, when it came to crunch time, I sat for a long time deciding if I should play a second Bogle or not. My hand was packed. If he played any sack-effect the massive one on the board would die, and I’d regret not having played a second creature. However, what he turned out to have was a Damnation. To start with, if I knew Faeries better I would know that as a rule they run Damnations in the board and not edict effects. But also, given that my hand had plenty of gas, I would have simply played the odds better by holding onto my backup creature. As things turned out, I didn’t draw another creature and lost the game.
I’m happy I made day two but very sad about where I went from there. Going from 5-2 to 7-9 is hardly something anyone can be proud of. I am proud though, of being able to beat top players. Especially since neither of the wins were in matchups that are considered to be free wins for me. The Pro Tour taught me both that there are players out there who are much better than me – and in ways I didn’t even know people could be good at the game – and that the gap is not insurmountable. I think we are quite a lot worse in South Africa than the best players in the world but I think there’s no good reason things need to stay that way. Unfortunately, the best thing for any SA player to improve is to attend as many GP’s and PT’s as possible and, well, that’s pretty difficult for most of us. On this note, I want to use what little voice I have here to strongly encourage as many South African shops to try start running events which get people to GP’s. Many will recall that a few years ago Brian Shepherd led an initiative which ended up sending Adam Katz to GP Manchester where he top 8’d. These kinds of events are probably going to be vital to the long term growth of competitive MTG in South Africa.
Another interesting observation, especially for those who lamented the recent bannings as heralding the end of Modern, is that I managed to play 10 rounds of Modern at the Pro Tour against 9 different decks. Is that not awesome? Lastly, thanks to all the Capetonians who lent me cards for the tournament (my entire deck was borrowed) and to those who helped me prepare (especially at the Luckshack) and thanks to Dracoti for giving me this opportunity to air my thoughts on the tournament!
Editor’s note: Anthony has supplied us with links for his Modern decklist as well as both of his drafts: