May 01, 2015

Sliding Doors of Destiny

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Sliding Doors | RPTQ Travel

April Magic Player of the Month

RPTQ Standard Power Rankings


Two players meet in Round 1 of a Magic tournament and are sent on different trajectories. The one who wins sets up residence at the top tables, faces the metagame they expected, and cruises into a Top 8 finish. Meanwhile, the loser plays against some rogue deck in Round 2 and takes an incomprehensible loss; followed by staying in the tournament one round too long—just to get the bad taste out his or her mouth—and mulligans into oblivion one game and keeps a sketchy hand in Game 2 before dropping. Of course that is followed by waiting all afternoon for one or more car-mates who are still in contention for pack prizes.

Mike Flores

That was not the story of Round 1 at the Regional Pro Tour Qualifier in Utah this past weekend, where Mike Flores qualified after losing his first round to an Atarka Red deck similar to the one Martin Dang used to win the Pro Tour just a few weeks ago. Not only did Flores right his ship with his unique Crucible Blue Dragons list after the Round-1 loss, but his first-round opponent continued his winning ways to also earn an invitation to Pro Tour Magic Origins in Vancouver. Flores has already written a detailed tournament report about his adventures in plundering blue envelopes in Utah. I wanted to find out more about the Magic origin of his Round 1 opponent, Travis Padilla, and follow a different path from the opening chapter of the tournament.


Sliding Doors

Padilla has been playing the game for two decades, after his sports card hobby lead to a Craw Wurm obsession—he recently had Craw Wurm atop his Top 8 Magic cards list. It eventually lead in to the competitive Magic scene in Utah, courtesy of the Muranaka brothers: Aaron and Robert. Over the next two decades, Magic would be the backdrop for most of his lasting memories—both the joyous and the sad.

Travis Padilla

"I invited my then-girlfriend, now wife, to Pro Tour Venice and two years later we were married. I still feel as though that trip sealed the deal for us. We went to Rome the week before the Pro Tour for vacation. We now have two kids, Daphne and Desmond," said the MTG Dad. "Nearly every single one of my friends I met through playing Magic, including Nick Olson, the best man at my wedding, and some of my other groomsmen, Eric Morgan, Morgan Howell, and Sean Jensen."

"Two of the saddest moments in my life stem from Magic as well. Steven McKnight was a close friend and Magic player that committed suicide when he was 19 in 2000. Tyler Roesler, a close friend and Magic player, committed suicide in 2012. If you are having a hard time, talk to a friend, they love you more than you know," advocated Padilla.

Padilla has played on the Pro Tour three times in his career and made Day Two all three times, including a Top 16 finish at Pro Tour Chicago 2003—an event which featured four future Pro Tour Hall of Famers finishing in the Top 8.

"Playing on the Pro Tour represents the pinnacle of the game we play," said the freshly qualified Padilla. "When I explain it to people who don't play Magic, I tell them that it's the Super Bowl of Magic. I am so excited to be back on the Pro Tour."

With a wife and two kids, weekends can be a scarce commodity for Padilla. He only had two opportunities to play in PPTQs in order to qualify for the past weekend's tournament. His first was an unsuccessful run with a Sultai deck. But on the final weekend of the season, he qualified playing Green-Red Devotion. Not only was it the last weekend, but he secured the win on his last point of life in Game 3 of the finals.

It was time to start thinking about what to play on the RPTQ weekend and Padilla worked with the Utah Magic community he has been a part of for more than 20 years—Aaron Muranaka, Sammy Batarseh, Andrew Walden, Joe Sumner, Mike Callahan, Brandon Baker, Julian Ontiveros, Josh Snow, and Spencer Howland. Padilla was waiting on the results from the PT to find a list he liked, with a preference for an aggressive deck.

"I prefer to be attacking with creatures because I don't really like to play control. I fell in love with Martin Dang's Atarka Red and put it together online," he said. "I ended up loving Become Immense and added a second copy to the main deck. I practiced a ton on Magic Online and jammed as many games as possible the week leading up to the RPTQ. The night before the RPTQ I went 7-1 with the deck and was ready."

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RPTQ Travel

One of the interesting aspects of the RPTQ weekend was players from more densely populated areas expecting larger turnouts for their local qualifiers traveling to events expected to have lower turnouts. With such a tightly knit community in Utah I wondered what the reaction was to outsiders like Flores and Chris Pikula coming to "steal" their invites.

Chris Pikula, Meddling Mage

"A lot of people were excited to meet and play against Mike Flores and Chris Pikula. There was even a series of posts in our Utah MTG Sales forum from people looking to buy Meddling Mages to have Chris sign," said Padilla. "Our general demeanor was that we may not have a lot of well-known players in Utah, but we would defend our PTQ slots as vigorously as possible. We ended up taking two of the four slots with one going to Idaho (and honorary Utah) player Daniel Gardner and the other to Mike. Before the tournament, Jack introduced me to both Chris and Mike and we spoke briefly before the tournament began."

Flores and Padilla would speak again as soon as the pairings for Round 1 were posted. They were going to play each other. Flores's deck was built to beat up on midrange and control decks but could have trouble with red decks in Game 1 and had a sideboard overloaded for just that poor matchup.

"When I saw the pairings, I chuckled to myself," recalled Padilla. "I knew Mike was on some crazy blue control Dragon deck and didn't know what to expect. I figured I should have an advantage because Game 1 against Control is typically a good matchup for Atarka Red. I crushed him Game 1. Game 2 was a bit more interesting, as I had a first-turn Zurgo. He dropped an Omenspeaker on two, which I killed with Lightning Strike. The game went long, with him drawing two Master of Waves. But they could not keep up with my tokens, three Goblin Rabblemasters, and two Atarka's Commands. The Commands saving the Rabblemasters and killing the Master tokens was huge in that game."

Padilla won that match but did not have an easy run through the Swiss rounds, six rounds of Swiss that saw him play four who eventually finished in the Top 8. He lost twice, but his tiebreakers were strong enough to get the last berth in the elimination round. In order to qualify for his fourth Pro Tour, he needed to win one more match.

He had already played his quarterfinal opponent in the Swiss rounds, taking a loss to Spencer Ramsay playing Mono-Red. In the Swiss, they had an uneventful match with each player misfiring on lands or spells in all three games. Despite the loss, Padilla felt he held the advantage in the matchup and had a clear plan for sideboarding. They had a back-and-forth elimination match, with plenty of swings in momentum. In Game 3, Padilla stumbled on land and colors with only two red sources and a pair of Become Immense stranded in his hand. Eventually, mana arrived…but by that time, the board was bogged down with Goblin tokens. Padilla had to use Become Immense to save one Goblin token that got double-blocked at some point. By doing that, he put himself in a position to win on the next turn…provided Ramsay did not draw a token maker.

"He tapped his lands—my heart was beating out of my chest at this point—and played his third Outburst. My heart sank although I know I had a lot of outs," Padilla recounted. "He was at 5 and I had a Wild Slash and Become Immense with two Goblin tokens on board. My outs were 2 Scouring Sands, 3 Lightning Strikes, 3 Stokes, and 4 Atarka's Commands. I drew my card and saw nothing but a beautiful gold-bordered card. I dropped the Wild Slash and Atarka's Command on the table and said to him "Take 5?""

After the match, he received congratulations from friends old and new and cheered on Spencer Howland who was trying to qualify for the first Pro Tour of his career. When he scryed a lethal Crater's Claws to the top of his deck, there was breath-holding moment as he had to survive one more turn against another Atarka Red deck. His opponent could only get him to two and Howland joined Padilla in being qualified for Vancouver.

"I have a few goals for the tournament. The first is to be more prepared for any Magic tournament I have ever been prepared for. I was ready for Chicago in 2003 because we drafted Onslaught so much. I was not ready for my other two Pro Tours. My second goal is for my teammates and me all to do well in the tournament," said Padilla, who will be testing with Howland, Alex Sittner, Oscar Jones, and remotely with Kay Yung Tom. "Utah has a great Magic scene, and I want people in the area to get recognized for being great players. My third goal is to do better than I did at Chicago. I want to be playing Magic on Sunday, August 2, and hopefully be hoisting a trophy at the end of the day."

Padilla knows how hard it can be to find a group to test with and has offered to lend his local resources to any qualified players who find their way to Salt Lake City the week before the Pro Tour.

Like any good MTG Spouse, Padilla wanted to thank his biggest supporters.

"I would like to give a special shout-out to my wife Jyll and my kids, Daphne and Desmond. These three make life awesome."

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April Magic Player of the Month (#MTGPoM)

It is hard to budge a Pro Tour Champion off of the title of Player of the Month, but it has happened in the past. Sam Black parlayed a Top 8 appearance in Dublin and a GP Top 8 to dislodge Pro Tour Theros Champion Jeremy Dezani's tight grip on the title. Can that happen again in April? There were only three major events to look at.


Martin Dang — Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir Champion

Martin Dang was nominated for Player of the Month in March after his win at Grand Prix Liverpool, but lost out on the honor. He followed up with an impressive Pro Tour that was far and away the best finish of his long career. I spoke to him about his win a couple of weeks ago in my column, and his Atarka Red deck was the inspiration for the to the one used above by Travis Padilla to win his RPTQ.


Shota Yasooka

Shota Yasooka was Dang's opponent in the finals, and the former Player of the Year followed up his second career Pro Tour Top 8 finish with the 19th Grand Prix Top 8 of his career. Grand Prix Kyoto was the weekend after the Pro Tour and featured the Legacy format. Yasooka went from playing Blue-Black Dragons in Standard to playing OmniTell in Legacy.


Yuuta Takahashi — Grand Prix Kyoto Champion

Yasooka got knocked out in the Top 8 of the Legacy Grand Prix, but Yuuta Takahashi—playing Jeskai CounterTop—was the victor. It was the third Grand Prix trophy of Takahashi's career. In the past, Takahashi achieved success playing Blue-Black Fairies. And while not his deck choice for this event, he was sporting his trusty Vendilion Cliques.


Alexander Hayne — Grand Prix Kraków Champion

Takahashi's three Grand Prix titles are impressive, but Alexander Hayne one-upped him at GP Kraków with a Standard win playing Esper Dragons…without dropping a game throughout a stacked Top 8. Hayne won the fourth GP trophy of his still-young career, and it was the third time he did so playing a Constructed control deck—the fourth trophy came in Team Limited.


Personally, I am leaning toward Martin Dang for the title in April, but I want to hear what you have to say about the subject. You can make your voice heard on the subject by using the hashtag #MTGPoM. You can direct your comments at me via @Top8Games or @MagicProTour, or just talk among yourselves using the hashtag and I should be able to find the discussion.

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RPTQ Standard Power Rankings

I have been looking through the results from RPTQ weekend and ranking some of the standout cards from the weekend. Tons of decklists have been pouring in from all over the world and provide an excellent global snapshot of Standard Magic from last weekend.


#5

Anytime you see Chromanticore at the top of a tournament heap you are going to see it on one of my rankings. When players talk about windmill cards, they usually mean slam-dunk first picks—which this was for certain drafters—but in this context, I mean it in the Don Quixote sense. It was a popular deck on-camera for players from The Pantheon at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, but it didn't push anyone through to the Top 8. I was happy to see that it was the top finishing deck for Ryan Overturf in Kansas.


#4

It is hard to find a set of qualified players (spoiler: there is one such set coming up) without some version of red aggro. There were three such decks in the Top 8 that Travis Padilla qualified in. With the addition of Dragon Fodder to go with Hordeling Outburst, the card is often free to cast.


#3

Another deck that lurked below the surface at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir was Red-Green Bees as played by Sam Black. The deck, basically, does any number of unfair things with Hornet Nest. That can include Roasting your own Nest to make a swarm of angry insects which can be used to Chord of Calling something bigger and nastier. OR it can clean up a messy board with a Setessan Tactics. I was very happy to see this deck qualify Andrea Ciotta in Lyon.


#2

It is amazing how quickly the stock in Esper Dragons has risen. The deck was lurking just below the surface of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, with both Josh Utter-Leyton and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa finishing in the Top 16 with a combined 17-3 record in Standard. Hayne piloted the Dragons to victory in Kraków a week later, with mirror matches aplenty in the elimination rounds…including a Top 8 from Damo da Rosa. It's not surprising that it was a popular choice for the RPTQ weekend, but I was not prepared to see it dominate the way it did in New Mexico, with four players qualifying with the one-sided Wrath effect: Crux of Fate.


#1

Esper Dragons was the huge deck this weekend, but it was the mirror-breaking Dragon storage land—as played my Flores in Utah—that takes the top spot this weekend. The card has seen barely any play before he qualified with it but, if the streaming universe is any indication, you will be seeing plenty of it in the coming weeks. In control mirrors, that often comes down to who has the most mana, the player with the storage land is the happiest player. When you use those stored-up counters to play an un-counterable Dragonlord Dromoka—which cuts your opponent off from doing things on your turn? Well that earns the top spot in this week's rankings.

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