From an Online PTQ to a Pro Tour Top 8

by Felix Leong on 04 August 2017, Friday

Felix Leong


From an Online PTQ to a Pro Tour Top 8



Early 2017, 2 of my friends Lun Yi (LY) and Master Zhong (MZ) qualified for Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in Kyoto. Wanting to travel with them, I was fortunate to win a Magic Online PTQ to attend a Pro Tour after 12 years. With such a long gap in between, I treated it as my “first Pro Tour”.


I was driven to put in my best effort to prepare for it. The road from a Magic Online PTQ to a Pro Tour Top 8 was tough, but I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my stories and how I prepared for the event.




Limited Playtesting


If you don't have any friends to attend the Pro Tour with, you should strongly consider contacting other PTQ or RPTQ winners in your region. Forming up a team of two or four is way better than going solo for sure.


The Locust God The Scarab God The Scorpion God


The majority of our Limited playtesting took place during paper Prereleases and Magic Online Prereleases. If you're qualified for the Pro Tour, attending the Prerelease will help you greatly because it allowed you to get a feel of the new expansion and you'll also get opportunities to understand the new mechanics. I was excited to try out the new cards and we quickly noticed how powerful the new Gods were in Limited. If you cannot answer an early God, the game might as well be over.


After the paper Prereleases, I turned to the Magic Online release. In the past, you had to head down to local hobby stores to practice and if you were lucky you could get in one pod of booster draft per night. That was really slow and not the most efficient way to prepare. However, with the early release on Magic Online, you can draft as much as you want right after the paper Prereleases. If you hope for any success on the Pro Tour, you have to play Magic Online. In my opinion, anyone not practicing booster draft on Magic Online is severely disadvantaged.


I did an average of 5 booster drafts a day, mostly on 6-2-2-2 queues. I didn't have good results, 70% of them going 2-1, and the remaining 30% 1-2 or worse. Out of my first 20 attempts, I did not 3-0 a single booster draft pod.


A week after, I met up with LY and MZ and we all had our laptops with us. MZ was the best drafter in our group, and both of them had a Magic Online Limited rating of around 1800 – 1900, but mine was only about 1750. I knew I had much to learn from them. MZ enlightened us that black was the worst color and red was the best color by far. We tuned our strategy to always avoid black, while trying to get into red whenever possible. We also realized that blue-red was the best way to win a pod.


When testing the Limited format alone, it is easy to get trapped in a cycle. You will constantly value cards the same way, so you keep getting the same (terrible) results. However, when we shared ideas, my mistakes were pointed out quickly. Overall, everyone walks home with a better understanding of the format.


Torment of Venom


We began getting improved results after another week of intensive practice. Winning one pod every four tries this time, I moved on to Grand Prix Kyoto, There, our objective was to make Day 2 and put our findings to the test. A Grand Prix Day 2 draft pod is generally tougher than on Magic Online, and a Pro Tour draft pod is naturally more difficult than a Grand Prix Day 2 draft pod. To our surprise, the strategy of avoiding black and drafting red did not work! As many players had already come to the same conclusion as us, red was heavily drafted and quickly dried out. Black was very open, and yet nobody want it. You could even get a 10th pick Torment of Venom at times!


Manalith Oasis Ritualist Painted Bluffs


However, the weekend did not go to waste and we learned how the pros drafted. For example, some of them used Manalith, Oasis Ritualist and other mana fixers to splash off-color bomb rares. Painted Bluffs was also helpful for splashing Sand Strangler. Learning small tricks like these, we eventually adapted our drafting style. We also tried out a White-Black cycling deck to take advantage of the underdrafted commons and uncommons. In the next few days, we were able to replicate the strategies which were used by the pros.




Constructed Playtesting


As for Constructed, most of our playtesting took place on Magic Online Leagues, as well as live face-to-face playtesting upon grouping up in Kyoto. The way we tested Constructed was to try out every possible deck while slowly narrowing down our choices. We took time to experience popular decklists such as White-Blue Monument, Mono Red, Zombies, Black-Green Aggro, and also Temur. I took each of these decks to the Magic Online Leagues, just to get a feel of how these decks operate.


The week before the Pro Tour, I was down to just three choices, and soon after, I had decided on Mono Red. Just a few days before the Pro Tour, we were joined by fellow Singaporean Ernest Lim, who turned Silver at Grand Prix Kyoto. Four is better than three because we were able to practice more matches and share any findings with each other.


And since we were in Kyoto, we also spent half a day visiting a famous shrine in Kyoto, where we made our wishes. Sometimes, it is a good to take a short break from Magic just to freshen up your mind and liven up your spirits, because the next three day we did nothing else except playtest (in addition to eating, drinking, and sleeping, of course).


From there, we broke down the metagame into three sub-groups:


  • Aggro (Mono Red, Black-Green Aggro, Zombies)

  • Midrange (Temur Energy, White-Blue Monument, White-Blue Flash, Black-Green Midrange, Eldrazi)

  • Control & Late-Game Decks (Blue-Red Control, Red-Green Ramp, White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gifts


Bomat Courier Earthshaker Khenra Ahn-Crop Crasher


We quickly realized that Mono Red was the best deck by far, as it had a good win rate against everything else in our gauntlet. As we tried out other decks, we made sure that it could pass the “Mono Red” test, meaning that the deck had to beat Mono Red before we would even consider it. If we were unable to get 50% or better win rate against Mono Red, we would scrap the deck and move on.


Notice that this was quite an impossible task for such a small group of us, so imagine doing this on your own. It is extremely important to have teammates! At the end of four days of intensive testing, we came to some conclusions and predictions on the metagame:


  • Level 1 – Mono Red

  • Level 2 – Decks which beat Mono Red, for example Zombies

  • Level 3 – Decks which beat Level 2 decks, such as White-Blue Flash


Hazoret the Fervent

Among the four of us, I chose to go with Mono Red because it was a deck I was comfortable with. I also had a lot of experience with such strategies in the past. One of us picked Zombies, in anticipation of a large amount of Mono Red, while the other two picked a Level 3 deck (White-Blue Flash) because they thought that the metagame would be on Level 2. Having said that, it also boiled down to personal preference and play style. However, understanding the metagame enabled each of us to tune our sideboard accordingly.


This was the list I submitted:





My Pro Tour Hour of Devastation Summary


To sum up my Pro Tour, this was how I did:


  • 2-1 at Booster Draft 1 with Blue-Red Spells

  • 4-1 at Standard, beating Mono White Eldrazi, Blue-Red Control and two mirror matches, while losing to one mirror match.

  • 3-0 at Booster Draft 2 with Blue-Green Ramp (with 6 rares)

  • 3-1-1 at Standard, beating two mirror matches (losing one mirror match) and Zombies, before Sam Pardee graciously took an intentional draw with me even though he was locked for the Top 8.

  • I lost in the quarterfinals against Sam Black, but I was glad to have made the Top 8!





For first time Pro Tour players, I noticed that they were generally very nervous and were even vulnerable when faced with difficulty. They also tended to stumble, which in turn caused them to make a string of poor decisions. I do feel nervous on the Pro Tour too, but I found that a way to lighten up my mood was to think of my opponents as regular players (of course, the truth is everyone on the Pro Tour is very good), or I would just imagine I was playing a random unknown player on Magic Online, picturing them as a Birds of Paradise avatar!



Focus on the board, focus on your cards, and play your best. Sometimes, it doesn't matter who your opponent is as long as you concentrate and make the best choices. I hope you've enjoyed my first Magic article. I truly hope I was able to share some personal stories with the rest of you.


Special thanks to my fellow Singaporean friends who attended Grand Prix Kyoto and Pro Tour Hour of Devastation with me, including Lun Yi, Master Zhong, Kuang Kai, Ernest, Fabien, Faizal, Danny, Jun Hao, and Mark. In addition, I would like to thank team MTG Mint Card for their friendship, assistance, and support, especially Huang Hao-Shan, Chapman Sim, Kelvin Chew and several others!


This was a memorable event and I finally realized my dream of making the Top 8 after a heartbreaking 9th place finish twelve years ago. I look forward to my next Pro Tour because every time is a new experience for me. Thank you so much for reading!


Signing off,

Felix Leong


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