Magic: The Travelling

Play the game, see the convention centres.

That certainly doesn’t have to be the case – it can absolutely be more like the original tagline from WotC – Play the game, see the world, this however was not such a trip.

I have travelled a reasonable amount for Magic, but this is a game where a lot of people have played numerous tournaments without any success. You only have to look at LSV to see someone who despite being in the Hall of Fame and still a very active member of the community has not had a successful Pro Tour finish in a long time (except this weekend). If you never try, you will never succeed.

Previously I have travelled to GPs in Asia, always as a one off trip for the GP with a bit of sightseeing tacked on. This year I decided to do something a little different. When GP Las Vegas was announced again for this year, I figured it would be a great chance to visit some family and knock out a GP. After booking my flights in and out of LA, my friend Jason Chung suddenly found himself within spitting distance of hitting Platinum. We discussed various plans for him hitting up GPs and realised that it would be feasible to stay in the US for a month combining GP Las Vegas, GP Charlotte, and GP Providence into one trip. Once I got my leave confirmed we booked flights and hotels and suddenly a trip to see family with a GP tacked on turned into a trip for GPs and family tacked on.

I was also alerted to the TCGPlayer Invitational in Las Vegas the week after the GP thanks to a few Pro Players mentioning on twitter that invites were extended to anyone who had top 8ed a PT or GP this year. After finding the event through the TCGPlayer website, I found that the Last Chance Qualifiers were 8-man tournaments. $50K in prizes seemed too good to pass up and it worked into our schedule perfectly.

Little did I know, this event would turn out to be the highlight of my tournament success while I was away.

GP Vegas

GP Las Vegas was an astounding success in terms of organisation, atmosphere, and side events. Jason and I turned up on Thursday (2 days of Side Events before the GP is awesome btw) and jumped into the first GP trial of our respective formats. He promptly 4-0ed a Standard event before splitting the finals playing the Abzan deck that we would both end up playing at the invitational and I piloted Zoo to a 5-0 finish in Modern. The following day we both played some more GP trials, once again I 4-0ed before splitting the finals, this time in sealed. Already feeling great with my results, and playing reasonably well, I thought this was a great omen for events to come.

Alas, it was not to be. I opened a very solid pool, built what I thought to be a strong 5-colour deck with multiple ways to gain card advantage, great fixing, reasonable removal, and a decent top end but ended up going 5-3 (3-3 after Byes), losing to a couple of powerful aggro decks and a 5 colour deck with a better top end.

Jason made day 2 at 8-1 so I spent my Sunday trading and scouting his opponents. For anyone who thinks that scouting isn’t possible outside of large teams, all it takes is one person who knows the cards well enough to spot them from a distance plus a pen and paper. While Jason was playing his first round, I managed to get information on the other 3 matches, finding out approximately 12-15 cards from each deck. After he lost and got his pairings, I gave him the sheet of paper with his round 2 opponent’s list so he could quickly look it over before sitting down for his match. By the time he won his second round, I had 17/23 cards for his potential opponents in the last round. Sadly for him, he was paired against the best deck in the pod and got crushed. He ended up 3-0ing his last pod and gaining 3 valuable Pro Points in his hunt for Platinum. This was an eye opener in how easy scouting can be. I had never tried it before, often because I was playing in the same event but wasn’t in contention for top 8, or because I was playing another event instead.

TCG Invitational

After a few days of casino hopping and bidding farewell to friends who had travelled only for the GP it was time for me to qualify for the invitational. Thursday evening we made the journey to a game store holding qualifiers. I entered the Standard 8 man, and after winning the first round against Esper Control, I got destroyed quickly by a Dragonlord Atarka from a Devotion deck. I then jumped into a draft, losing in the 2nd round to Dragonlord Atarka in 2 out of 3 games. Clearly it was not my night.

I ventured out the next day hoping to snag a slot and found that very few people had shown up at all for the qualifiers. After almost 2 hours of waiting, we were able to fire a 4 man Standard event which I thankfully took down and secured my invite.
Not having played much standard for a long time, I had no idea what to expect in the metagame. I trusted Jason’s choice of Abzan Megamorph and registered the following deck.

Abzan Megamorph

Creatures: (21)
Den Protector
Deathmist Raptor
Siege Rhino
Courser of Kruphix
Satyr Wayfinder
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Planeswalkers: (3)
Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Spells: (12)
Hero's Downfall
Crux of Fate
Abzan Charm
Lands: (24)
Temple of Malady
Temple of Silence
Llanowar Wastes
Sandsteppe Citadel
Windswept Heath
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard: (15)
Pharika, God of Affliction
Drown in Sorrow
Ultimate Price
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Nissa, Worldwaker
Dromoka's Command

The tournament begins and they announce that we have 95 players for day 1. Despite the small tournament, there are a lot of pros playing so I expect a challenging field.
This tournament was covered by GGsLive with Marshall Sutcliffe and Frank Lepore doing commentary. Thanks to the number of high level players, there were a lot of excellent feature matches.
Day 1 can be found here:
Day 2 can be found here:

Round 1 – Win 2-1 vs Atarka Red

I lose a very quick game 1 to Atarka Red. He has all the aggression while I have none of the Rhinos. Game 2 has me very nervous, again he comes out of the gates quickly but I manage to stabilise at 2 life thanks to Coursers and Rhinos. He has 3 turns to draw any burn spell but doesn’t get there. Game 3 is similar to game 2, again he has early aggression backed up with Roasts for my Coursers and Rhinos. I manage to clear his board a couple of times with Drowns and once again he is topdecking while I’m at 1 life. He misses for 2 turns and it’s enough for me to close out the game.

Round 2 – Win vs Abzan Megamorph

I don’t remember much besides that it was a mirror match and that I hit 3 Raptors with my first Wayfinder.

Round 3 – 2-0 win vs UB Control

I was against Christian Calcano playing UB Control and it ended up being very one sided. I kept just enough pressure on to beat 1 for 1 removal and not over extend into a wrath effect. Thoughtseizes, Raptors and Den Protectors made short work of my opponent.

Round 4 – 2-1 win vs Atarka Devotion

Up against AJ Sacher, he led off with a Temple of Abandon. I had brief flashbacks to losing to Atarka, and still wasn’t sure how I should be navigating this match. Game 1 I had just the right removal spells and managed to ultimate my Elspeth before he could deal to it.
Game 2 saw a quick start and a turn 4 Atarka spelled my doom.
Game 3 had him mulligan to 5. He lead with Forest and Elf which met an Ultimate Price. No further lands from him made it an easy win. I felt very lucky to escape here with a win.

Round 5 – 2-1 win vs Bant Heroic

I was up against Bant Heroic. We split the first two games and got to a point in the third where he had a 10/10 and a couple of smaller creatures with 2 cards in hand against my morphed Den Protector, Siege Rhino, Courser of Kruphix, and 2 Raptors in the GY, and my hand had Crux of Fate, and Ultimate Price. I Flipped up Den Protector at the end of his turn, getting back another one and the two Raptors. I mistakenly chose to bring them both back face up with the intention of attacking.
On my turn I attack with the team, he blocks in a way that ensures he doesn’t die even if I have double Abzan Charm and keeps his 10/10 on the board. I then cast Crux post combat and he counters with Disdainful Stroke. My face drops, I’d completely forgotten that Heroic brings in counterspells. I sheepishly play Den Protector face up (Only 2 mana remaining) knowing that I lose to any protection spell plus a pump spell. Luckily for me my opponent decides to draw for his turn instead of playing the God’s Willing in his hand during his upkeep to scry twice and he bricks.

Round 6 – 2-1 win vs Abzan Aggro

I get called into the feature match area as one of only 3 people left undefeated. PV is paired down in the other feature match and is of course the main feature due to myself and my opponent not being known.

Game 1 he destroys me in typical Abzan Aggro fashion. Game 2 gets to a point where my opponent has Wingmate Roc plus the token and Anafenza in play. I have Elspeth and 2 removal spells in hand. He has been holding a couple of cards for several turns leading me to think he has another Anafenza in hand. I’m on 11 life. I kill off the Wingmate Roc before attackers and he sends in the Anafenza and the Token. He forgets the trigger for his Anafenza which is a little awkward for me as I wanted to kill the Roc with Elspeth. I read Anafenza to help prompt him with the trigger while not making it super obvious that I want to just slam an Elspeth on my turn. It works! I downfall the Anafenza, he plays a replacement, and I play Elspeth and wipe his board. I’m in the drivers seat for the rest of the game and the third game ends up not being close at all.

Suddenly I’ve found myself at 6-0 knowing that 8-3-1 is likely going to make top 8. Meanwhile Jason is 3-3 and amusingly still live for top 8.

Round 7 – 1-2 loss vs Esper Dragons

I’m paired against PV in a feature match for the last round of the day. I don’t recall much from this match beyond feeling like I was not in control for any point of it. I do remember making a massive punt in game 2. I knew that PV had a Bile Blight in his hand and he played out an Ojutai leaving an island and a temple untapped. I tank for a bit before deciding to flip up Den Protector to get back Abzan charm so I can attack for lethal… sadly completely missing that he has an Urborg in play. He of course kills both my Den Protectors and takes an overwhelming advantage. I likely would have lost even if I played this turn correctly, but it certainly didn’t help me.

At this point I see that the top tables are covered in various Mardu Dragons, Esper Dragons, and Devotion decks. I’m starting to feel like there’s nothing that I want to play against with this Abzan list.

Round 8 – 1-2 loss vs Atarka Devotion

I sit down for day 2 and am paired against one of the guys playing Devotion. After drawing better than my opponent to take the second game, he had a decent draw and destroyed me in the third.

Round 9 – 2-0 vs Esper Dragons

My opponent leads off with a Temple of Deceit and after a couple of non-eventful games, my recurring threats and Thoughtseizes dispatch his Esper Dragons deck with relative ease.

Round 10 – 0-2 Loss vs Atarka Devotion

I’m paired against the same person who beat me in the LCQ on Thursday evening. Once again he dispatches me quickly, multiple powerful threats are difficult to beat with minimal removal and sweepers that don’t get everything.

I’m getting worried that I’m not going to be able to make top 8 as there are still a few devotion players hovering near the top that I haven’t played against.

Round 11 – 2-1 win vs Esper Dragons

I’m paired against another Esper Dragons player. After losing a long game 1 and with 16 minutes left on the clock when starting game 2, I’m scared we won’t have enough time to complete the match. He mulls to 5. I have an excellent hand and win in the space of 4 minutes.
Game 3 and this time he keeps what I presume is a sketchy 7 and never hits a 5th land while I run him down with Raptors and Den Protectors. We only just managed to finish before time in the round was called, and I’m certain that if the games had involved a slightly better draw on his part, we would have finished with a draw.

Standings are posted and I quickly work out that the 3 tables above me can ID in, leaving my match and the match on table 5 playing for the last 2 spots.

Round 12 – 2-1 win vs Mardu Dragons

EFro and I are called into the feature match. We split the first 2 games, him having double seeker backed up with triple Crackling Doom and Murderous Cut in the first and me having many Rhinos along with thoughtseizes and removal in the second.
My top 8 spot is now down to the third game here, and he quickly keeps while I mulligan down to 5 keeping a hand with 2 lands. After he thoughtseizes me twice I’m sure that the game is over, but then he passes without playing a 3rd land. After a few turns of playing various lands plus a couple of dorks and scrying an Elspeth to the bottom early in the game I play a temple as my 5th land and see Elspeth on top. Knowing that I have to hit a 2nd white source, I still keep it on top as I have to run extremely well to win this game anyway and believe I’m more likely to hit a single white source than I am to draw multiple powerful spells in succession. EFro ends up hitting his 3rd and 4th land on turns 6 and 7 to claw back into the game. Luckily for me it is just a little bit too late and I end up winning what turns out to be a close game despite being Thoughtseized twice after a mull to 5.

Given how the deck felt while playing all weekend, I was surprised to have made the top 8 and extremely happy. Sadly for me, at least 1 person did not want to split the top 8 cash, so we were now playing for doubling up the prizes every round.

The top 8 contains 3 players on Devotion, 1 on UB Control, 1 on Esper Dragons, 1 on Atarka Red, and 1 on Mardu Dragons plus myself. The top 8 is best of 5 which made it more challenging for me to get past any of the Devotion players.

I’m paired against Chris Fennell playing Devotion and my tournament is over in 3 quick and uneventful games. The first time the coverage goes to check on us, I’m already having to scoop up the third game.

After this tournament I didn’t want to touch Abzan again for the upcoming GP in Providence. It was amazing to win $1500, but I didn’t believe the deck was well positioned after playing that tournament.

GP Charlotte

Jason and I were pretty tired on the Friday of GP Charlotte so played only a couple of side events each. I failed to win an extra bye after losing to a couple of unusual card choices during the GP Trials. After each splitting the finals of an 8 man side event, we decided to just head back to the hotel and I registered the following decklist.

Modern Zoo

Creatures: (33)
Wild Nacatl
Experiment One
Goblin Guide
Kird Ape
Burning-Tree Emissary
Flinthoof Boar
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Simian Spirit Guide
Ghor-Clan Rampager

Spells: (9)
Atarka's Command
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Lands: (18)
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Arid Mesa
Stomping Ground
Sacred Foundry
Temple Garden

Sideboard: (15)
Stony Silence
Kavu Predator
Rending Volley
Lightning Helix
Tin-Street Hooligan
Dromoka's Command

Modern is a strange format. It’s one in which a lot of pro players dislike, often for good reason, and that a lot of more casual players seem to love despite the large amount of non-games. For this reason there aren’t often many decks that contain more than 7-8% of the field. I ended up playing Thalia in the main as it’s excellent against the types of decks that can potentially race me, such as Storm, Infect, Grixis Delver, Twin, and Burn. Thalia is fine but unexciting against the midrange decks, helping to slow down their removal and is at its worst against Affinity, but that matchup gets significantly better after sideboard anyway.

I’d like to make note of Kavu Predator. I know it’s an easily overlooked card, but can be surprisingly powerful in the Modern metagame.
It’s mostly there for the Abzan matchup where they tend to bring in a combination of Kitchen Finks, Feed the Clan, and Timely Reinforcements to complement their Siege Rhinos. Kavu Predator demands a removal spell immediately, otherwise the above cards are unplayable as it trumps them all.
It’s also a large trump to some of the more fringe strategies that can otherwise spell doom for a Zoo deck such as Soul Sisters and Boggles. Against Boggles, they tend to win with a Daybreak Coronet. If they don’t draw that, you can swarm them easily. If they do, it’s hard to win without Kavu Predator. One hit and suddenly the predator is larger than their creature meaning they can’t easily get through.

Round 1 – Bye
Round 2 – 1-2 loss vs Elves

Feeling confident in my choice for the GP, I sat down in round 2 and my opponent led off with Forest + Elvish Mystic. Lacking enough removal spells in the first game, my opponent put together double Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid before playing Collected Company at end of turn hitting an Elvish Archdruid and an Eternal Witness. After replaying the company he had Ezuri and another Archdruid. On his turn he swung for an excessive amount of damage. Game 2 I had the removal spells at the right time and had a quick clock. Game 3 was similar to the first, except he had a quick Craterhoof for far more than lethal damage.

Round 3 – 2-1 win vs Affinity

This round saw my opponent begin with land plus Signal Pest. I kept a solid hand with 2 Stomping Grounds so was excited to see this opener from him. I played Experiment One before he played Ensoul Artifact on his Signal Pest. After my draw step I didn’t have a white source or a Path to Exile so decided to scoop it up instead of showing any more cards. At this point my confidence was shot, was I really going to lose this quickly to a couple of somewhat fringe decks / card choices?

Luckily for me, my opponent did not know what to sideboard so didn’t sideboard at all until the third game. I had a turn 2 Stony Silence in the second game and rode that to victory. After game 3 in which I had the Stony Silence again along with a quick clock, he was pretty upset with the loss.

Round 4 – 2-1 win vs Affinity

I won fairly uneventfully in 3 games with Stony Silence and Tin-Street Hooligan doing a lot of work.

Round 5 – 1-2 loss vs UWT midrange

Game 1 I played a turn 1 Thalia, much to his surprise and rode that to victory. Game 2 and 3 he had all the right removal spells, and Snapcaster Mage plus Bolt/Path/Helix is difficult to beat.

Round 6 – 2-0 win vs Soul Sisters

In the first game I made a block that I believe was fairly interesting. He was on the play, mulliganed to 6, and led off with Plains plus Serra Ascendant. I played out an Experiment One to which he played a second Plains, a Martyr of the Sands, and attacked with Serra Ascendant while he had 3 cards in hand. I chose to block, believing he would likely not realise the interaction which lets him keep a 6/6 Serra Ascendant and it paid off with his Ascendant ending up in the graveyard. I found out that he had 3 white cards in hand when next turn he passed without a play, blocked and revealed 4 cards to gain 12 life. Had he realised the interaction with combat damage and lifelink, he could have sacrificed his Martyr before damage and gone to 30 when damage happened during the attack meaning that his Serra Ascendant would have lived. Kavu Predators made short work of him in the second game and I was now at 4-2.

Round 7 – 1-2 loss vs Infect

Here I made some pretty bad mistakes which cost me 2 games. The first was when he played out a Blighted Agent and I had the option of Exiling Simian Spirit Guide to cast lightning bolt on my turn but instead passed the turn. I realised how bad this was when he announced Might of Old Krosa in his main phase while having another 2 green sources available. While he didn’t win this turn, I lost a close race that I should have won if I had just played this turn correctly. Game 2 I had removal in the right spots to put the game away. Game 3 I fetched out my second land to play Thalia and had double bolt plus Kird Ape in hand after playing out a quick board. Sadly when I passed the turn I realised that I had accidentally grabbed out Temple Garden instead of the Sacred Foundry I intended and lost the game while he was at 1 life thanks to me not being able to play 2 cards in the same turn.

GP Providence

Disappointed with my play and my results, it was now time to figure out what Standard deck I wanted to play in Providence. I had a better idea of the metagame and expected to see a mixture of Devotion, Abzan Megamorph, Abzan Aggro, Esper Dragons, and Mardu Dragons as the most popular decks.
Given how I felt about Abzan after the TCG Invitational, I looked to play Devotion and made sure to trade for what I needed.

On the Friday was speaking with someone about what I was playing and lamented how I didn’t want to touch Abzan. It was during this conversation that I realised I only lost to GR devotion and my own poor play. I thought that the devotion matchup could be fixed, and that there was a chance I’d just avoid it completely, and a tiny chance I’d actually start playing well.

I played a GP trial with Devotion and ended up losing in the finals to the mirror. It was fairly uneventful with my opponent winning the coin flip and having turn 4 Atarka before I could play mine on turn 4. Game 2 was the same, but from my side and game 3 was again a blowout from his side.

After losing the mirror match I couldn’t think of a way to beat the mirror and thought I might just be better off playing Abzan. I managed to get together a copy of both devotion and the updated Abzan list that I wanted to play. After agonising for hours both the night before and the morning of the GP, I ended up writing out both decklists. Still unsure of what to play with 10 minutes to go before the GP, I flipped a coin, stating in my head which was which. The coin told me to play devotion but Jason piped up and mentioned I didn’t say which was which. Feigning some more agonising over the decision, I ended up handing in the devotion list and putting the Abzan list into my bag. After the players meeting, I found Jason and told him I still didn’t know what I was playing. True to his form, he snatches the list from me and promptly throws it in the bin after quickly reading it. He mentions that he saw Den Protector so it must be Abzan. “I have Den Protector in both decks”.
Much to my amusement he fishes through the bin for my list and confirms that it was Abzan that got thrown away.

After my Bye I won the next 2 rounds against Temur and Mardu aggro decks. Devotion felt like a powerful choice and I was starting to feel comfortable with the coin’s decision. In round 4 I had a close match with Esper. My opponent was stuck on 4 lands and I had a substantial board, but with no planeswalkers, Atarka, or Whisperwood Elemental. I had the option between casting Courser and attacking with my mana creatures or casting Genesis Hydra for 5 hoping to hit any planeswalker or Whisperwood. I completely forgot about the possibility of him hitting a 5th land and casting Crux of Fate, and when I passed the turn after playing Courser, he did exactly that. Left with 3 lands in play and nothing else, I ended up losing that game to my own mistake.

After a couple of uninteresting matches that I won, I ended up winning a very one sided game one in the 7th round. I saw 2x Hero’s Downfall, Courser of Kruphix, Llanowar Wastes, Sandsteppe Citadel, and Temple of Malady during the game so while sideboarding I assumed he was playing Abzan.

I boarded as such, and promptly got destroyed by 5C Dragons in the 2nd game while I had the wrong mixture of sideboard cards. I re-boarded for the 3rd game but he had a better draw and I lost what was a somewhat close game.

Round 8 I ended up losing in 2 to a Mardu Dragons deck. Solid removal and a quick clock from the Dragons can be hard to beat. Just like that my string of GP events was over.

While it was a disappointing result at the various GPs, I was pretty happy to have cashed the invitational and have that help pay for a chunk of the trip.

Home Again

Once I got back home I had the itch to start playing Abzan to see if it did perform better than it felt. I made the following changes from the initial list that I played in Las Vegas and started playing some dailies on MtGO. The deck still didn’t feel quite right, always struggling in the early and midgame but somehow I kept winning. After 36 matches, I was 27-9 which felt like a reasonable start.



-1 Temple of Malady
-1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
-1 Deathmist Raptor
-2 Crux of Fate

+1 Temple of GW
+1 Ultimate Price
+1 Murderous Cut
+2 End Hostilities


-2 Ultimate Price
-1 Pharika, God of Affliction
-1 Dromoka’s Command
-1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

+2 Silence the Believers
+2 Wingmate Roc
+1 End Hostilities

Now that Magic Origins is out online, I’ve ditched the Deathmist Raptors altogether and moved to a more controlling shell.

My list is now:

New Abzan Control

Creatures: (17)
Den Protector
Siege Rhino
Courser of Kruphix
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Satyr Wayfinder

Planeswalkers: (3)
Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Spells: (16)
Hero's Downfall
Abzan Charm
Ultimate Price
Murderous Cut
Lands: (24)
Temple of Malady
Temple of Plenty
Temple of Silence
Llanowar Wastes
Sandsteppe Citadel
Windswept Heath
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard: (15)
Drown in Sorrow
Hero's Downfall
Dromoka's Command
Wingmate Roc
End Hostilities
Silence the Believers
Self-Inflicted Wound

I’m currently 13-1 in Matches after playing 2 8-mans and 2 daily events. While this list feels powerful, and Nissa is certainly extremely good, I may need to make substantial changes depending on the Pro Tour results.

After performing so poorly, and making so many mistakes, I’m starting to play more live magic again and play more Standard on MtGO to better understand the format.

The lengthy trip to the states and the joy of playing a large tournament each weekend has made me want to do something similar next year. I’ll be watching out for anything where I can incorporate a TCG event as they continue to pay out large amounts despite the small numbers making for a great chance to win back some of the costs of travel.


  • Hello

    Looking forward to your next report. You have a clear and concise writing style that makes this an easy and informative read. Would like to see content and analysis of deck tweaks due to anticipated meta.

  • Simon Harnden

    Thanks for the feedback, I’ll hopefully be producing more content in the future. I’ll have to practice the formats more to be able to be able to provide accurate analysis but will keep that suggestion in mind.

  • Brendan C

    Will do my best to join you next year so burgers can be eaten and MTG played!

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