Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar: Sweet Sixteen

Posted in The Week That Was on October 23, 2015

By Brian David-Marshall

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.

In this issue:

Virtual Top 8s | The Top 16 | Autumn Arrives

Congratulations to Kazuyuki Takimura, the first Pro Tour champion of the new Pro Tour season. Takimura not only nabs himself a check for $40,000 for his win over fellow countryman Ryoichi Tamada with Abzan Aggro, he has also secured himself invites and Platinum benefits throughout. He also reserves himself the second seat for next year's World Championship, joining reigning World Champion Seth Manfield as the first two locked berths for the season-end tournament.

While winning a Pro Tour is the "easy" way to secure a berth at the World Championship, the truth is that most of the berths will be given out to the players who post deep finishes throughout the year. After a Pro Tour, I always enjoy taking a look at the results just below the Top 8. We inducted the latest class in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame just before the Pro Tour weekend, and for two-thirds of the class, Pro Tour Top 16 finishes—which often involve records identical to those of the players in the Top 8—were a frequent topic of discussion.

Virtual Top 8s

Spain's Javier Dominguez finished with a 12-4 record—the same as Ryoichi Tamada and Paul Dean—but his tiebreakers left him decimal points behind Canada's Paul Dean and watching from the sidelines on Sunday. I have coined the term "virtual Top 8" to describe finishes like this, and there were three players in Milwaukee who came up just a little bit short in the tiebreaker category. Dominguez had two losses in each format and played an Atarka Red deck that included a main-deck Yasova Dragonclaw. Dominguez, along with countryman and PT Champion Antonio del Moral León, prepared for the tournament with the Willy Edel–led DEX Army team and promises more great things from Spain in the coming season.

Javier Dominguez

Chinese Taipei's Hao-Shan Huang is going to be preparing his National team for the World Magic Cup knowing that he posted a virtual Top 8 in Milwaukee with two losses in each of the formats in the Pro Tour. His 8-2 record with an Ob Nixilis­–fueled black-red Dragons deck flew under the radar at the tournament, and his is one of two decks I am eager to play with on Magic Online this weekend.

Hao-Shan Huang

Hao-Shan Huang's Black-Red Dragons—8-2 PT Battle for Zendikar

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England's Autumn Burchett was the last of the virtual Top 8 competitors, and I caught up with her in depth below.

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The Top 16

Canada's Samuel Tharmaratnam finished Day One of the Pro Tour with a perfect record in Limited and a 3-1-1 record in Standard. A 2-1 record in the second draft of the weekend and another 3-1-1 record in Standard left him as the first of a couple of players to finish with 35 points courtesy of a couple of draws. Canadian Magic has never looked stronger. The continued success of the Face to Face Games guys is augmented by the Top 8 finish of Ricky Chin, playing in his first PT, and the ascendant Tharmaratnam, who played Jeskai for this tournament.

Samuel Tharmaratnam

In lockstep with Tharmaratnam for most of the tournament with a 6-2-2 record in Standard was Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin, who also went 5-1 in the Draft portion of the tournament. Chapin is well known for his love of control decks, and I could not wait to see his first pass at what the new control deck would look like. He played Esper with just four Jace, Vryn Prodigys as his actual creatures. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was more than capable of churning out all the critters his deck would need, though.

Patrick Chapin

Patrick Chapin's Esper Control—6-2-2 PT Battle for Zendikar

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Belgium's Peter Vieren is a two-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor coming off a second-place finish at Grand Prix Prague earlier this year. Vieren played Blue-Black Control at the Grand Prix, but switched it up for the Pro Tour and played Esper Dragons to a 6-3-1 record. Heartbreakingly, Vieren took an intentional draw in the last round of the tournament, thinking he was unable to make the Top 8—but had he won his match, things may have turned out differently, and I might have been talking about Paul Dean in this segment in place of Vieren.

Peter Vieren

There were a couple of new berths at the World Championship that were announced last week. One of them is the Limited Master invite, which will go to the player with the best record across 24 Pro Tour Swiss matches this season. The United States' Will Erker was one of four players to go 6-0 at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, and he will be jockeying for that title with Brandon Burton, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and Don van Ravenzwaaij for the precious invite to compete in that elite tournament over the coming Pro Tours.

Shota Yasooka

When I was talking to players about what made Japan's Shota Yasooka such a compelling Hall of Fame candidate despite only two Pro Tour Top 8 finishes in his career, they would reference his consistency. Time and time again, Yasooka finishes in the Top 16 of Pro Tours—and this weekend was no different. I could think of nothing more fitting than a pinpoint sixteenth-place finish for the freshly inducted Hall of Famer. While the Top 16 was not a shocker, what did surprise a lot of people was hearing the notoriously tight-lipped Yasooka give an effusive speech in English that gave us a peek inside the brain of one of the most respected players in the game. Yasooka went 8-1-1 with Esper Dragons, but was undone by a 3-3 record across his two drafts.

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Autumn Arrives

I mentioned earlier the co-leaders for the Draft Masters invite. There is a corresponding invite in Constructed for the best record across the 32 Swiss matches that will be played on the Pro Tour this season. Only one person sits atop that leader board. In the last round of the Swiss, Sam Black was playing for a 9-1 record with his Bant Tokens deck, but he ran afoul of Autumn Burchett, playing in her first Pro Tour and en route to a stunning 9-1 record in Standard.

The 23-year-old is a computer science student from England who has only been playing Magic for less than three years. She knew she had a knack for the Constructed aspect of the game when she brewed up a mono-black deck with Pack Rat and Underworld Connections before they became a plague upon the Standard Grand Prix metagame. Her first real tournament was the Dragon's Maze Prerelease, and after a handful of casual PTQ appearances, she decided to take the competitive part of the game seriously during the RPTQ season for this past Pro Tour.

This was a great tournament for reminding people that you don't need to be part of a super team to play the game on the biggest stage, but being smart and analytical about it is certainly a requirement. Talking with her friend Ryan Pugh, they quickly identified Green-White Megamorph as the best deck and went to work on making it even better.

"I followed up on this, and on his advice added Knight of the White Orchids at the cost of some copies of Hangarback Walker early in testing. I proceeded to jam games with the deck for a couple weeks leading up to the Pro Tour, all while talking to him about my experiences and hearing his thoughts and feedback," said Burchett of her preparation for the event. "Ultimately, I was able to use the huge amount of practice I'd had with the deck to my advantage."

One of the unique characteristics of Burchett's deck was the inclusion of Archangel of Tithes, which evicted Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and meant that the deck could not veer into a third color—no matter how much she wanted to splash blue. During her playtesting, Burchett was worried about sweepers (which is a reason to play Gideon), but also realized that Esper Dragons did not seem like it would be able to thrive with Atarka Red being such a force to be reckoned with.

"She matches up well against Mantis Rider, can block Thunderbreak Regent, makes it much harder for your Atarka Red opponents to combo you out, helps hate out token strategies—Monastery Mentor was a problem card for the deck in testing—and makes it much harder for your opponent to raid a Wingmate Roc," said Burchett, extolling the virtues of the Angel.

Burchett had modest goals coming into the tournament and was just looking to make Day Two—and possibly earn an invite to play in the next Pro Tour. Now, thanks to a virtual Top 8 finish, she will be playing in Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch and trying to protect her lead for the Constructed Master slot at the World Championship.

"I'm fairly familiar with Modern and play the format a lot, so I'm confident I will find a deck I'm happy with for the tournament. That said, I have no idea what deck I'll be playing, and will need to start testing to figure that out in a month or so—especially as I'd like to get in enough practice with whatever I play to be able to leverage experience with the deck to my advantage," she said, looking forward to playing the Eternal format in Atlanta.

If you are expecting to see a field full of red creatures becoming immense, Burchett recommends giving her deck a spin for your local Friday Night Magic.

"My list is made to take advantage of early aggression, so don't be afraid to play face-up Den Protectors on turn two or aggressively use Dromoka's Commands just to clear the first blocker out of the way and start chipping in for damage," she advised. "Be prepared to board out Hangarback Walkers a fair amount, as they're likely the worst cards in the main deck and more a necessary evil for curve considerations, to insulate against sweepers a bit and to make the Evolutionary Leaps in the sideboard good. A good approach is to only leave Hangarbacks in the deck post-board if you're bringing in Evolutionary Leap—so, yes, you even take out Hangarbacks against Atarka Red, as strange as that sounds."

Autumn Burchett's Green-White Megamorph—9-1 PT Battle for Zendikar

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If Green-White Megamorph is not your speed, you can check out all the top decklists from Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar to find the weapon of your choice.

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