Heroic Efforts in Dublin

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The letter P!ro Tour Theros is in the illuminated manuscripts and it was a tournament for the ages. When we began the webcast on Sunday the assembled players had already participated in eighteen previous Top 8s; adding to his already mythical status, a returning Hall of Famer casually made the Top 8 with just a Prerelease's worth of preparation—in both formats; and three players who saw themselves come up just a little short on last year's Hall of Fame ballot all added one more compelling reason for the committees to reconsider them next year.

Set against a backdrop of heroic mythology, it was only fitting that the only players without a Top 8 coming into Sunday's action were the last two players standing, as Jérémy Dezani and Pierre Dagen dispatched their more-experienced opponents to face each other in the finals. It began with a handshake and ended in a hug as we all learned that Team Revolution was a force to be reckoned with and that Champion Dezani's outstanding win rate in Standard coming into the weekend was no fluke.

Dagen (left) & Dezani at Pro Tour Theros finals.

But you can find out all about that on the Sunday coverage. What I wanted to do this week was look at the heroic efforts of our 9th through 16th players who came within just a hair of the Top 8.

#9 – Patrick Chapin

Patrick Chapin is a Pro Tour Hall of Famer who played against's own Jake Van Lunen in the last round of Swiss to pull up just shy of the fifth Pro Tour Top 8 of his long and illustrious career. Chapin played the white-black control deck that also propelled teammate Paul Rietzl into the Top 8. He was attracted to the deck due to the strength of the trio of Thoughtseize, Doom Blade, and Hero's Downfall.

Chapin prepared for the event surrounded by fellow Hall of Famers and some of the best young players in the game, and the Top 50 of the event was riddled with teammates.

"I prepared for this tournament with the rest of Team StarCityGames," said Chapin. "Initially, I met up with Jon Finkel, Sam Black, William Jensen, Owen Turtenwald, Reid Duke, and Zvi Mowshowitz in New York City. We had a mailing list, but the real testing was once we got to Ireland. We stayed in a castle, about an hour north of Dublin, for a week. The Castle also included Kai Budde, Gabriel Nassif, Paul Rietzl, Matt Sperling, Brad Nelson, Matt Costa, and Tom Martell."

His deck carried him to a 7–3 record in Standard, and between him and Rietzl, the deck's combined Standard record was 15–4–1. Chapin was obviously thrilled with the success of the deck but would make one key addition moving forward...

"I would play the deck again but this time with Banisher Priests! Banisher Priest would have been amazing, as it is just so good against people without removal—like most devotion decks—plus it can actually exile a God!"

In a castle packed to the turrets with the best drafters in the world you can take some pretty rough licks as you prepare for the Pro Tour, but Chapin rolled with the punches and learned lessons with every loss leading up to the big weekend. He got paid off with a 5–1 record drafting Theros across the two days.

"This draft format is awesome, but very difficult. I started out 0–9 in our first three drafts, and it wasn't until the sixth draft that I even got a winning record in one," Chapin recalled. "Fortunately, this group is the best in the world for learning a Limited format and by the time the PT rolled around, I was pretty comfortable with the format."

Chapin plans to hit every Standard Grand Prix in the US to build on his successful start to the season and will be playing in Louisville this weekend as he looks to potentially land a berth in the newly expanded World Championship.

#10 – David Sharfman

Also playing his last round was Pro Tour Nagoya Champion David Sharfman, who landed in 10th place. Sharfman found himself without his usual network of support for this event, as some previous teammates had gone on to work with other playtest teams. Fortunately for the avid online player, the set was available to play with on Magic Online.

"All my drafts were done online," said the Grand Prix and Pro Tour winner. "My IRL testing was done at my local gaming store with a couple friends who wanted to help me out. I communicated with a couple other Floridians in a Facebook group to discuss our findings. The usual suspects I test with decided to try other teams so I'm grateful to the new people who helped me out to this great finish!"

Sharfman—who posted the same 5–1/7–3 split as Chapin—played a three-color Naya deck in Standard and was happy with that result in a field full of powerful new decks that he did not anticipate.

"My deck was great against the known decks, but was too slow against the new Nykthos decks that came out at the Pro Tour," said Sharfman, who is taking off this coming weekend in Louisville but plans to attend many more Grand Prix with this strong finish under his belt. "Overall I was happy to get seven wins with my deck. I feel like I would remove white from the deck altogether and play something closer to Brad Nelson's red-green deck moving forward. He only has to play two colors and his creatures are better than mine—which is the main selling factor to include white in the first place."

#11 – Raymond Perez, Jr

Perhaps the most compelling story from the Top 16 is Raymond Perez, Jr., who was playing in his first-ever Pro Tour and was the most successful of the first timers in the field. Look for a more in-depth conversation with him at the bottom of this column.

#12 – Lukas Jaklovsky

Lukas Jaklovsky was not happy with his deck and seemed pretty dismissive of it during the deck tech we did about it but he still managed a 7–2–1 record with Demons and Dragons—a deck that was able to demoralize an opponent with hand destruction and creature removal while mopping up with Desecration Demons and Stormbreath Dragons. You can see the deck tech with the player from the Czech Republic who has one Top 8 to his resume.

#13 – Christian Calcano

It should not come as a major surprise that Christian Calcano was playing Esper in Standard. He has developed a reputation for riding his horses in any given Constructed format and had recently placed highly in a Standards Open playing a Theros-fueled Esper list. While many of his teammates ended up on a different deck, he stuck with the deck he knew and did a Day One deck tech with Zac Hill about one of the early pillars of the format.

"I headed down to College Park, MD, for a week to test with my teammates from Team Mishra's Twerkshop—Ben Friedman, Gabby Izsak, Lance Hartbarger, Dan Jordan, Peter Ingram, Alex Majlaton, and Jonathan Morawski," said Calcano of his preparation for the tournament. "We rented a hotel room for a week and played various games and drafts there. The team ended up for the most part playing Naya; however, I felt more comfortable with Esper and the only deck I was losing to consistently was the Naya deck the team was on."

Calcano was cagey about any changes he would make to his list going forward, perhaps wanting to keep new developments under wraps for this weekend's Standard tournament at GP Louisville. The strong finish in Dublin catapulted Calcano into 25th on the Pro Tour Top 25 rankings and he will be looking to maintain—and improve—that ranking with some strong GP finishes this season.

"I'll be in Louisville this weekend then probably take a break until GP DC in November. However, I know for sure I'll be at all the Theros Limited GPs in North America since I'm a huge fan of this format. Even contemplating GP Kuala Lumpur but we'll see!"

#14 – Michael Majors

Michael Majors was playing in the third Pro Tour of his career. His best finish at high-level play came when he was 2nd at Grand Prix Atlanta in 2012. He came into this tournament with a Silver invite that he was hoping to perform some alchemy on despite a couple of failed experiments last season.

"My goal coming into the event was to chain PTs," said Majors. "I tried to make it happen last season, but I missed Top 25 barely in PT RTR, needing just a draw in the last round, and then missed on my three PTQ Top 8s before PT Gatecrash and basically gave up since it wasn't realistic for me to travel anymore."

Majors played a red-green midrange deck that was capable of some explosive starts thanks to Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.

"My preparation was mostly done on an online Facebook group, representing a store in Atlanta, Wasteland Gaming," said Majors, who went 7–2–1 in Constructed. "I got a few Constructed games in the weeks leading up, but I mostly just trusted Andrew Shrout. We had come to a lot of the same conclusions independently, so I trusted him since his list was a lot more tuned than mine, and I had no concrete list the night of registration."

With a Top 25 finish to start the season that guarantees him a trip to Valencia for PT Born of the Gods, Majors can lock up multiple Pro Tour appearances with just a couple more Pro Points.

"I should be attending Louisville this weekend and I hope before the end of the year to at least get the necessary 2 points I need to lock up Silver again, and thus guarantee a qualification for PT [Journey into Nyx in] Atlanta, which is local for me and does not require me to buy a plane ticket."

#15 – Matej Zatlkaj

There were a handful of different approaches to the Mono-Blue Devotion deck that included the winning version from Team Revolution; The Dark Skies version played by the Swedish team; and, of course, the Team StarCityGames version as played by Sam Black. Matej Zatlkaj played a fourth version dubbed the Blue Danube for his Team Danube. He came into the Tournament Center to do a deck tech on their version, which included some devious tech for the mirror match out of the sideboard.

Zatlkaj had worked with The European Union for the last Pro Tour, which carried him into the Top 8 of Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, but he lined up a new team for the start of the current PT season.

"I got a few messages about potential teams but the one that immediately piqued my interest was one involving Oliver Polak-Rottmann and Gabor Kocsis. Once I found out it included the best players from Hungary and Austria as well as some quality players from Germany, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. We prepared mainly online through a team forum, sharing and brainstorming decklists and test results. Our goal was to do as well as we could, but my personal goal was the same as always—play as best I can; I try not to be results oriented."

Zatlkaj was able to shoot par in Limited with a pair of 2–1 drafts but got off to a tremendous start in Standard before running afoul his last two win-and-in matches to lock up what would have been the third Top 8 of his career.

"I was quite happy with my list but I would definitely think about including Nightveil Specters in the main deck and maybe some small adjustments in the sideboard," said Zatlkaj. "I think one of my losses could have been avoided if had a cheap spell such as Sensory Deprivation in the deck."

Zatlkaj will be on the other side of the feature matches for his next handful of Grand Prix. "I am scheduled to appear live for Grand Prix Antwerp next week as well as for Grand Prix Valencia next month, both of which I am looking forward to," said the European GP commentator. "I am also playing Grand Prix Vienna, where I would love to grab a Pro Point or two to add to my total."

Rounding out the Top 16 was Switzerland's Nico Bohny, who was looking to add a third Pro Tour Top 8 to his resume, which also includes a Worlds Team Championship and a Grand Prix title in Torino. If you are looking at some Standard deck that did well but isn't on anyone's radar, then look no further than this black-green monstrosity that featured Lotleth Troll; Polukranos, World Eater; Scavenging Ooze; and Varolz, the Scar-Striped.

“#16 – Nico Bohny

During the webcast of Pro Tour Theros, I was keeping my eye on a handful of Pro Tour first timers to see who could maintain their footing in the arena combat with some of the most experienced and successful players the game could throw at them. Enter one Raymond Perez, Jr.

The twenty-three-year old environmental service tech was already home in Michigan working into the wee hours of the morning when I caught up with him for an interview about his experience.

BDM: How long have you been playing Magic and how did you get started? What made you jump into the world of competitive Magic?

Perez: I have been playing Magic for the last thirteen years on and off. I was pretty competitive while playing Pokémon and the guys from my local shop were always pushing me to try out Magic. One day I won a local Pokémon tournament and chose to get all my product in Magic packs instead. This is what started my addiction to the game. I started out pretty competitive out of the gates as I was able to play with local guys who had done well on the GP circuit at the time (Jeremy Pinter used my Anurid Brushhoppers when he Top 4ed GP Cleveland in 2002). I took a long break in the game after my collection was stolen at a regional Prerelease and ended up finding myself interested again when I broke my ankle at nineteen. After I was recovered from my broken ankle, I decided to play Magic for fun and eventually went to my first PTQ when I was twenty. There is nothing like playing Magic for high stakes and PTQs became what I looked forward to for that fix. You only get so much from winning an FNM. Eventually you want to see where you stand among the ranks of the best.

BDM: How long were you trying to Q for the PT before qualifying for PT Theros?

Perez: I grinded PTQs for close to three years before I was able to win the one that qualified me for PT Theros. Many Top 8s to my name before the win and definitely was happy when I was able to actually close the deal on the second-to-last PTQ I could attend that season.

BDM: You wrote a very useful piece for PT first timers on Brainstorm Brewery. If you could go back and prepare for this Pro Tour all over again what would you do differently?

Perez: The first would be to schedule more time in the country. It's not the best feeling knowing you had the chance to go to a different country and couldn't enjoy all that country had to offer. The second thing I would have done would be to pack my own alarm clock. The place I was staying in didn't have the usual wakeup call system as we have here in the States, which led to a sleepless night before Day Two of PT Theros.

I was too worried about not waking up on time, on top of being nervous and excited for Day Two; I felt quite tired all day and that hurt my performance in later rounds. Last thing I would have done differently would have been to get a phone I could use overseas. My mother is a huge part of my support system and not being able to be in contact with her on demand while being in a different country for the first time was nerve racking on both of our sides. Not to mention making plans with my friends there over wifi was quite the nuisance. I think I prepared as much as I could have with my deck selection, information I gathered on the Standard format, and drafting that these underlying issues, had they been remedied, would have made for a better PT experience on my end.

BDM: What were the highlights of this past weekend for you?

Perez: One of the highlights that stood out to me this weekend was that I started my first PT off with a bye. That alone made me feel like I was going to be doing just fine as a first timer. Another was hearing that people were talking about me and my success. It was a pretty surreal feeling when Kai Budde told me, "Oh, you're the guy everyone is talking about." during one of my matches on Day Two. Another standout was my feature match. While I wasn't on camera, just being in the feature match area was quite the experience. I have had feature matches before at SCG opens but none meant as much as the one this past weekend. I just need to work on winning my next one I get at a GP or PT.
BDM: Can you share the decklist you played in the Standard leg?

Perez: Sure can. My Esper deck is as follows:

BDM: What was your record in the two different formats and do you have any strong feelings about how you performed in either one?

Perez: My record in Draft was 6–0 and my record in Constructed was 5–4–1. I felt like my Constructed record was lackluster due to the unknown decks I ended up facing. I never playtested against any devotion decks in preparation for the PT and lost two rounds because of this. I wasn't aware of the cards I should have been fighting over due to no knowledge of a basic shell. After playing against this deck as well as seeing the lists after this weekend, I feel like if I were able to go back in time, I would have done better in those matches. I also felt that I overperformed in the Draft portion. I did many drafts on Magic Online the last day before taking off for the PT and found a strategy I enjoyed playing and could win with. The guys I defeated in the Draft portion were not individuals to be taken lightly. With that being said, I felt that I was able to play some good Magic against them and hope that they felt the same when they were playing against me.

BDM: What changes would you make to your Standard list moving forward?

Perez: Going forward, I would add Thoughtseizes main deck as Mr. Wafo-Tapa had in his list. There are so many haymakers that people are playing that Thoughtseize is a good way of being able to interact with them early on. The mono-black devotion deck has taken off recently on Magic Online so a good game plan against them is also needed. Ashiok was a great main-deck threat against the mono-blue devotion decks where Jace was kind of lackluster as a four-of. Many times during the matches, I would be stuck with too many of Jace and not enough time to play them. On the other hand, having too many Ashiok was fine as they need to deal with the Planeswalker or it will take over the game. In that scenario, multiples are great since you just want to make sure you have one in play. Gainsay also deserves a spot in the sideboard since it is a great answer to anything the blue devotion decks play as well as still useful in the control mirrors. Not sure how many Detention Spheres should be in the main deck vs. the sideboard but three is the sweet spot for them in the seventy-five. Hero's Downfall is another card I always wanted to see so going to four is an easy change as well. Sin Collector may also work its way back into my sideboard but I have been disappointed with it in the past. When the control master himself plays a card, though, I have to at least give it a second look. Control decks are meant to be tuned week by week so everything varies, but these are the changes I have in store for my Esper deck for the near future. If something comes along and shakes things up again, back to the drawing board and playing with the numbers!

BDM: What does the next chunk of the season look like for you between now and Pro Tour Born of the Gods?

Perez: Before the PT, I had plans of going to only one or two GPs in my area as well as the SCG Invitational and the TCGPlayer Championship. After my finish and the Pro Points I was able to earn, I now plan to attend GP Louisville, GP DC, and GP Toronto on top of the other tournaments before the year's end. I also have my sights set on trying to make it to a few GPs after the new year before I head to Spain. I have a good shot at attempting to be Rookie of the Year now and plan to give it my all. Lots of Magic to be played and no signs of letting up anytime soon!

If you missed all the action, here are some enduring images from the Pro Tour taken by Pro Tour photographer Craig Gibson:

Brian David-Marshall
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Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

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