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Cheers and Jeers: Pro Tour Magic Origins Day One

Day one of Pro Tour Magic Origins is in the books and what a day it was. While the financial side of things was relatively quite (at least in the paper world where the biggest gainer was Abbot of Kher Keep which increased a pedestrian 12 percent), it was a very exciting day of Magic nonetheless. Maybe the most interesting thing of the entire tournament so far is just how cheap some of the most popular decks are — you can make a strong argument that Pro Tour Magic Origins should be called Pro Tour Budget Magic. Over 8 percent of the field is playing a UR Artifact deck that only costs $85 and Mono-Red Aggro (coming in somewhere between $100 and $150) appears to be one of the best performing day one decks (although we will not know this for sure until we get more data over the coming days). All in all, #PTOrigins is a good example of how Magic, even at the highest level, isn't always a Pay-to-Win game.

Yesterday I devoted my entire day to watching and covering the Pro Tour. Since we are still waiting on the numbers, finishes and most of the deck lists and because the finance front was relatively quite, I thought today I would share with you some things I liked (and didn't like) from the first day of coverage. Here are my cheers and jeers from day one of Pro Tour Magic Origins. 

Cheers for ChannelFireball (and others) Playing UR Ensoul Artifact

I think the most exciting part of day one of the Pro Tour was when the word slipped out that Channel Fireball was playing UR Ensoul Artifact. I had been watching various interviews during the limited portion of the event and had pretty much deducted that CFB was not on a control deck (PVDDR mention that he hated their deck and Paulo has never met a control deck he didn't like) which lead to three possibilities: First, CFB had wimped out and went Abzan which would mean I would have to spend my weekend rooting against them unless they were playing against a member of Team Ultra Pro (who went Mono-Red, which we'll talk about in a minute). Second, they built some sort of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy deck, which would have been acceptable but not all that exciting. Or third, a theory supported by Chaz and his pile of Rally the Ancestors, they were playing some sort of Rally deck. 

It turns out that none of these guesses were even close to being right. Instead, someone on the team (apparently Josh McCalin, who built the deck in secret because he was worried his teammates would put the kibosh on it before it was even finished) decided to go deep in the annals of CFB Pro Tour history (which, if you remember, included Vector Asp in the SOM-block format-breaker Tempered Steel) and decided that they were going to play a Keeper of the Lens deck at Pro Tour Magic Origins.

Let that sink in for a moment. Team ChannelFireball, littered with Hall of Famers and some of the best minds in Magic spent a couple weeks trying to break Standard and ended up at Keeper of the Lens. Maybe even more amazing, a bunch of other teams/player did too. In fact the UR Ensoul Artifact deck was the fourth most played deck on day one of #PTOrigins making up 8.4 percent of the meta. If you are looking for a new budget deck, give UR Ensoul Artifact a shot. You can currently buy the entire deck on MTGO for 55 tix (with 90 percent of the cost being from the 30 tix playset of Hangarback Walker and 20 tix playset of Temple of Epiphiny) and $83 in the paper world.

Financially, there isn't much of relevance in the deck; it's almost exclusively commons and uncommons. Of the rares, Hangarback Walker is already expensive, Temple of epiphany is about to rotate, and Shivan Reef was just reprinted (again) in Magic Origins. We are pretty much left with Ghostfire Blade, which is similar to Grim Haraspex in the Rally deck since it is limited to one archetype and therefore in its financial potential as well. Plus the deck is unlikely to last through rotation when Ensoul Artifact, Shrapnel Blast, Ornithopter and Darksteel Citadel are pushed from the format, so the time frame is short either way. Regardless, seeing CFB (and a bunch of other players) play something new rather than taking the safe Siege Rhino path is refreshing and certainly cheer worthy.

Jeers at Team Ultra Pro Playing Mono-Red

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Now I understand that the goal of the Pro Tour is to win, and that teams should play whatever deck gives them the best chance to pick up pro points and prize money, but I have to admit I'm a little disappointed about Team Ultra Pro playing Mono-Red Aggro. Sam Black (for whom this Pro Tour is especially important because it could give him the Player of the Year title) is widely held as being one of the greatest deck builders of all time, so I had high expectations that Ultra Pro would play something awesome, or at the very least interesting — it doesn't take a team of the best players and deckbuilders in the world to figure out that having eight four damage burn spells is probably good. 

Sam Black playing Mono-Red is sort of like that Rihanna/Kanye song featuring Paul McCartney. You have one of the greatest song writers of all time at your disposal and instead of doing something cool, you have him strum four chords that anyone with three months of guitar lesson could play. Any FNM player can throw Stoke the Flames at their opponent's face; I was hoping for something more interesting from Team Ultra Pro. 

Cheers to Andrew Cuneo for Being Awesome

While we don't have the entire decklist just yet, Andrew Cuneo showed up to Pro Tour Magic Origins playing UR Mill highlighted by Sphinx's Tutelage and Alhammeret's Archive along with basically every card draw spell printed in blue and red: Treasure Cruise, Jace, Vryn's ProdigyWild Guess, Magmatic Insight. Plus it plays a full set both Swiftwater Cliffs and Radiant Fountain, which means the deck has to be both spicy and inexpensive. Probably most impressive he is currently in 30th place with a 6-2 record and well within striking distance of the Top 8 with a strong day two performance.

Jeers to Twitch Chat

It is widely understood that Twitch chat is one of the most vial places on the internet. Picture the very worst of Reddit, multiply it by ten and have it streaming constantly, in real time, in front of your eyes — this is Twitch chat. Despite this, while I'm watching a big tournament I usually have the chat open and on occasion I'll even say a thing or two. Now ignorance of Magic in the chat doesn't really bother me; new players should be able to ask question and get them answered. For instance, yesterday I spend a good 10 minutes trying to explain why Gerry Thompson didn't sac his entire board to Nantuko Husk, cast Languish and swing for the win over Josh Utter-Leyton (the infamous "chat lethal"):

The obvious answer is because if Utter-Leyton had drawn a Celestial Flare or Swift Reckoning, Gerry would have just lose the game. Plus, Thompson was a 90/10 favor to win the game over the course of two or three turns, so why risk losing a game where you are such a heavy favorite by trying to win the game too quickly? The Twitch chat response: "you only live once," which, while technically true, is not a good motto if your goal is to win a Pro Tour. While this aspect of Twitch chat can get cumbersome over the course of 19 rounds of Magic, it isn't really problematic. Where things get really, really ugly is whenever someone on camera makes a mistake.

As you can see, Kyle Boggemes (who gets cheers for playing GW Starfield of Nyx) made the mistake of playing two lands during a long and complicated turn at a critical point in his match against Mike Sigrist. Twitch chat immediately erupted into calls of "cheater" and "did you notice how he tried to 'slip in' that land drop." Eventually the judge stepped in, rewound the game and issued a warning (and cheers to Wizards coverage for learning from the 20 minute on-camera Patrick Chapin judge call at the last Pro Tour and cutting to another match). 

I don't mind the community being alert for potential cheating. We've had enough high-profile cheating suspensions over the past couple years that vigilance is important. What bothers me is the rush to judgment. Pulling out the pitchforks every time someone violates a game rule is a dangerous habit, not to mentioned an extremely biased process since in the same situation no one would call a pillar of the community like LSV or Chapin a cheater. If you notice something has gone awry on camera, point it out and let the judge handle the situation; no one watching the stream has enough information to call someone a "cheater." Pros are human too and they make mistakes, even at Pro Tours. Jumping the gun on witch hunts is one of the worst and most harmful characteristics of our community. 

Cheers to Magic Origins Limited

Typically I don't like watching limited at Pro Tours or Grand Prix events. Since we don't know the decklists, matches take on a Momir Basic like quality where everything seems random. We don't have any idea what outs players are drawing to or what bombs may be lurking in the decks, so we typically see players draw (and play) a random creature every turn, which just doesn't interest me all that much.  However, the three rounds of limited on day one of Pro Tour Magic Origins were actually pretty entertaining. Most of the games and matches were closely contested and pretty fun to watch. Part of this might be because of the set, which actually a ton of different archetypes and, almost like a Modern Masters, has a bunch of cards that are very good in one specific deck but are close to unplayable in others, which ramps up the power level overall. 

Cheers to Antoni Del Moral Leon for Playing Demonic Pact

And Jeers to Wizards Coverage for Featuring Abzan vs Mono-Red over Demonic Pact

While the above deck isn't exactly ADML's list (his is straight GB), the basic idea is pretty much the same. Play Demonic Pact and then play a Woodland Bellower to tutor for an Invasive Species to bounce the Demonic Pact or, in a pinch, Reclamation Sage to destroy the Demonic Pact. When you aren't comboing off you can play a typical GB value game with Courser of Kruphix, Thoughtseize and solid removal. Demonic Pact was near the top of my (and many others) "cards to watch" list, and while it certainly hasn't taken Pro Tour Magic Origins by storm, it is seeing play and having a reasonable amount of success (ADML is currently in 25th place at 6-2), which is an encouraging sign for the card's playability.

On the other hand, going onto the eighth and final round of the day, Wizards let us know that Demonic Pact was in the feature match area and then proceeded to make us sit through a half hour of Abzan versus Mono-Red before flipping over to catch the last few minutes of ADML versus Cecchetti. Especially on day one of a tournament where none of the players in the feature match area were in danger of elimination or in a position to lock up a top eight, I believe most viewers would rather see a cool and innovative deck in the x/2 bracket than see Siege Rhino vs Stoke the Flame at x/0 fight for a relatively meaningless perfect record on day one. 

Cheers to the HOF Voters for Making the Right Decision

Apart from the game itself, probably the most common conversation I had yesterday involved Efro making the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. I have, admittedly, been an Efro fan ever since his return to the game in 2010, and I'm always shocked by how many people argue against his inclusion in the hall based on his personality. Maybe it is because I'm a Magic Online player, but saltiness has never really bothered me all that much and being upset over a loss, from my perspective, is a positive characteristic in a competitive game rather than a black mark. From a statistical perspective, there really isn't any doubt Efro deserves the game's highest honor. Not only did he have an all-time great run in 2002 when he finished seventh, eight, fifteenth, and eighteenth at Pro Tours, but his three year median finish of 23 is exactly the same as Kai Budde, and his overall median finish of 52 is exactly the same as Jon Finkel. In short, Efro's numbers compare favorably with two players widely considered to be the greatest in the history of the game. In my opinion his numbers are good enough that he could flip the table at every Pro Tour match he lost and he would still deserve to be included in the Hall of Fame. 

Shouta Yasooka had a run almost impressive as Efro's in 2010 and 2011. While he didn't pick up a single top eight (a theme of his career), over the course of six Pro Tours he finished 21st, 18th, 29th, 38th, 16th and 14th. This consistent greatness (combined with a massive seven top 16s) was enough to overcome the fact that he's only managed two top eights in his long career. Willy Edel, on the other hand, doesn't have the greatest numbers (apart from four top eights, his median finishes and number of Top 16's and Top 32's are relatively poor) but is, by all accounts, one of the most important people in the South American Magic community. The stories of his generosity and community contributions are epic and this more than makes up for his lack of consistent finishes. 

All around the 2015 class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame is a deserving one and we should be proud to have Efro, Shouta, and Willy as representatives of our community and recipients of its highest honor. 


Anyway, that's all for today. What were your cheers and jeers from day one? What are you hoping for on day two? Let me know in the comments or you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive. 

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