Florida native Antonino De Rosa has come back home. The former U.S. national champion has returned to his original stomping grounds for Grand Prix Miami this weekend. He grins as he recalls coming up in Florida, where he and a group of players including future Hall of Famer Ben Stark (19) used to sling spells at the store Lost Realms. But De Rosa still has one more return journey to complete before his weekend is over: a return to the Pro Tour.
Since moving to Curacao for work in 2008, and with less time to practice or travel to tournaments, the former Pro Tour mainstay has fallen off the train. But with back-to-back Standard Grand Prix—in Memphis two weeks ago and Miami this weekend—De Rosa decided to make the trip back to the States, and try to win his way back on the Tour.
“It doesn't matter how long you're gone from the game, you always come back,” said De Rosa. While he still manages to play around 10 hours per week through Magic Online, that time is generally spent drafting, with little attention payed to Constructed formats, he said.
But over the last several weeks De Rosa has immersed himself in Standard, testing and tweaking any strategy he could think of try to get an edge in the format. These tests included an innovative deck centered around the card Waste Not that caused a stir coming out of Memphis, though De Rosa hastens to add the deck is “not good—very fun, but not good.”
“I want to get back on the Pro Tour. I went to Memphis to try to do that, and that's why I'm here now,” he said. De Rosa's last appearance was at 2012's Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in 2012, to which he had punched his ticket by way of a PTQ win. That had followed a heartbreaking finish at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored earlier in the year, in which—sitting at 29th place heading into the last round—a win wasn't quite enough to boost him to the Top-25 finish that would have put him back on the train.
(left to right) Antonino DeRosa alongside his buddy Gerard Fabiano
His dedication to the game now redoubled, he's determined to battle his way back. To do that, he's adopted a unique approach to the Standard format. “A lot of people worry about what deck to play and I think it doesn't matter one bit—every deck is awesome,” he said with a grin. “That tends to be the case in multicolored formats, because all the cards are more individually powerful since they are gold.”
“What that means is it doesn't matter which wedge you want to play—what matters is how you play your deck,” he said. Predicting the metagame is also crucial, he added, thanks to the abundance of potent sideboard options that able to swing bad match-ups to good.
For instance, Red-White Aggro, one of the current pillars of the format, has a very poor Game 1 against Blue-Black Control, he said, but Red-White's sideboard cards are so strong that the deck's pilots are able to give themselves a decent shot in Games 2 and 3.
“Back in the day, your sideboard cards were never that good and they were very narrow—maybe you would have a few anti-artifact cards or that sort of thing,” he said. “Now the cards are so much more powerful.” For instance, they have Ashcloud Phoenix, which isn't just good against Blue-Black, but against every deck playing black spells; or Arc Lightning which can come in against every variety of beatdown deck, he said.
After briefly considering playing Red-White himself—perhaps with a black splash for Crackling Doom and Sorin, Solemn Visitor—De Rosa ultimately settled on Mono-Red for Miami. The decision to limit himself strictly to Mountains is a multi-tiered metagame call. “People will expect Red-White to be the most popular and so they will play Blue-Black Control and Sultai Control to beat that—I wouldn't be surprised if Dig Through Time and Bile Blight were the most played cards this weekend,” he said. Given the way he expects people to react to the expected metagame, De Rosa decided to go one degree deeper, reacting to that reaction with a deck in Mono-Red that is strong against control archetypes, but not great against Red-White itself, he said.
The two tweaks De Rosa made to the deck were to add Collateral Damage and Searing Blood. Collateral Damage is good against Swamp-based decks with cards like Bile Blight, since sacrificing a creature to cast the red instant can save its like-named compatriots from the black kill spell. And while Searing Blood, he admits, is a dead card against control decks, it's “probably the best card in your deck against Red-White” and one of the more underplayed cards in Standard, he said.
De Rosa is now eager to see if his army of Goblins and fully 16 burn spells can propel him through the Miami heat and back to the Pro Tour. But even if they can't, he's sure going to enjoy trying. “Back in the day my expectations going into a tournament were always to win,” De Rosa said. “Now my expectations are just to have fun—and it's so much more enjoyable that way.”