This past weekend I was in Portland for Pro Tour M15! It was a hell of a time. I teamed up with a group assembled by Young Goodman Gabe Carleton-Barnes, and was very kindly picked up at PDX airport by team member and all-around good guy Robbie Chan. After a few hours of testing in the hotel room of other team members Daniel Hanson and Rob Hunsaker, we shipped over to the Expo Center to register, where I picked up the following:


I’m official, punks! The tournament site overall was pretty slick and well-put-together, including the feature-match stage, which is usually the only thing that anyone at home sees of a PT.


They had the Pro Tour trophies in the front of the Expo Center.


And here was our schedule for the first couple days. Pretty legit, right?


At the end of the day, after some more on-site Standard testing—in which I mildly considered audible-ing to Mono-Blue Devotion, based strictly on how thoroughly Rob H. whipped my Jund Monsters ass with the deck—and some key tacos provided by team leader Jaron Heard, the jet lag caught up to me, and I wanted to check into my hotel, get a drink, and chill out before the big day. So I took Portland’s MAX Yellow Line home from the site, seeing this beautiful sunset over the Willamette River.


Play the game, see the world, right? Then I checked into the Ace Hotel.


That night I packed my bag, filled out my decklist, and wrote myself a duplicate deck list “cheat sheet” in case I got flustered and forgot the makeup of my maindeck and sideboard. Then in the morning I took the obligatory pre-tournament hotel-room selfie (shout-out to Hipsters’ newest columnist, Derek Gallen).


Looking good, Billy Ray!

On the way into the tournament:


And then we get to do what is basically my favorite thing ever: Do a competitive called draft!


Here’s my deck. I started off with a Triplicate Spirits, got passed a Hornet’s Nest, and ended up solidyfying into GW when I got passed a second- or maybe even third-pick Hornet Queen (are you kidding me!?) in pack two.


Here’s my board. I picked the Hushwing Gryff relatively highly in pack two, however when I was laying out my deck I noticed the nonbo synergies between the flash flier and any number of creatures in my deck, including Hornet Queen, Invasive Species, Spirit Bonds, and more. So I left him on the bench.


Long story short, I crushed fools with this deck. In R1 in both games I went T5 and T6 Siege Wurm, and closed the game out with Sanctified Charge.

In a crazy R2 I beat my GB Dredge opponent by decking him; my Hornet Queen and her tokens held off his 8/8 and 7/7 Undergrowth Scavengers for about a billion years. I won G2 when my opponent mulled to five, even after twice I spun the Black Cat wheel and lost my best cards: Triplicate Spirits (in a 1 in 7 chance) and Pillar of Light (1 in 4).

In R3 my opponent got a game loss for a deck reg error, but in G2 I had to fight through a Spectra Ward-ed up Sungrace Pegasus, so I felt like I earned it. I knew I had one out in my maindeck to the Ward, and played to my outs. Sure enough, I ripped Reclamation Sage in the midgame to deal with the aura and soon after killed him with exactsies after casting Sanctified Charge + Ranger’s Guile on a big board thanks to a Spirit Bonds that was active since about turn two. I was 3-0!

This was exactly what I had planned to do. I knew I was going to be weak in Standard, so I wanted to 3-0 a draft on Day One, which would thus require me only to win one match of Standard to make Day Two. It was time to spin the wheel on Jund Monsters.


They had this real-time artist’s thing going on at the Pro Tour, wherein people would spin this wheel and the artists would add or remove stuff from their digital painting based on what came up. It was kind of weird.

They also had a seating area set up with two TVs and speakers, showing the stream from the Tour. It was kind of weird at this Pro Tour, in that—unlike over the past few years, when I’ve been watching coverage at work or at home—I didn’t really know what was going on in the top tables. I heard rumors from Dave McCoy that the French team was on Rabblemaster Red, and that Team Channel Fireball also was on an aggro strategy, but beyond that I felt very disconnected from the wider PT “story.” I guess them’s the breaks.


And I made Day Two! I lost to Mono-Blue Devotion in R4 and RW Burn in R5 before clinching a win against Mono-Green Devotion in R6, locking me in for another draft! I had achieved my goal. Everything after that was a freeroll, as far as I was concerned. In R7 I even got another win, beating Esper to improve to 5-2, before losing the Jund Mirror in R8 to finish Day One at 5-3. Not terrible, but—as Marshall Sutcliffe from Limited Resources told me later that night at a downtown diner—I would have to pretty much win out on Day Two to make Top 8. So I went back to the Ace, got some sleep, and woke up to enjoy the following lovely, European-style breakfast.


Back to drafting, baby! And here’s the thing: During the draft on Day One, Hornet Queen had been an (obvious) all-star for me. And for those who haven’t ever drafted on Day Two of a GP or in the Top 8 of a PTQ, the cards are given to you with one card faced against the other cards. The judges tell you to take the slip of paper off the pack, and count out 14 cards. But when you do that, you aren’t really able to know which side of the pack is face up, so you can end up accidentally seeing a card before you’re supposed to. The card I saw? Hornet Queen. I was ready to do this.


And here is the deck I built. This draft was somewhat tougher to settle into. Obviously I first-picked the Hornet Queen, but throughout pack one I was only really settled in green. In pack two I opened Avacyn, Guardian Angel alongisde Triplicate Spirits and Reclamation Sage, and hemmed and hawed before taking the rare angel. White had been cut really hard in pack one from my right, so I thought that maybe I could take Avacyn in pack two and reap the white rewards from my left. In retrospect, though, I think I got blinded by the rare, and that I should have just taken either the Spirits (as they would have required less of a white commitment than Avacyn) or the Sage. Still, the deck came together, just with fewer sideboard options than I would like.


Oh and there were three-count-’em-three Chord of Callings in this draft. Crazy. Here’s my board:


This deck had some odd, and perhaps wrong, choices. My teammates suggested that I should have the Verdant Haven in there over the Nissa’s Expedition; the second Meteorite over the Avarice Amulet; and maybe the Blastfire Bolt in there somewhere. They could be right, although I had arguments for all of the decisions I made. Avarice Amulet was admittedly speculative, however I felt that it could be good in the maindeck with Krenko’s Enforcer and Ancient Silverback.

True to form, as the newly crowned HORNET KING, I beat the goddamn Hornet Queen mirror in R9. It took me three games to close it out, though, after a key mistake in G2 when I played the wrong land on T3, which didn’t allow me to cast Thundering Giant off of Generator Servant and start crashing in for four. But in G3 I Generator Servant-ed out a Hornet Queen and swung in with the hasty 2/2. My opponent comically responded by Chord-ing for his own Queen, one token from which blocked my 2/2. The following turn I swung in with my four 1/1s, he blocked with his 2/2 and three remaining 1/1s, and we were back to square one. But I got there nonetheless.

In R10 I faced David Ochoa. I joked with him before the match that the last time I saw him, I was covering his draft at GP Atlanta. I managed to get Ochoa in two games, during which a judge slapped four 1/1 deathtouch Insect tokens onto my playmat, replacing my hotel key cards. ALL HAIL THE HORNET KING!


Just like that, I was 7-3! I really wanted to win the last round of draft and make a 6-0 run for pride—but it was not to be. I kept a speculative hand against my RB opponent in G1 of 2X Generator Servant, Hammerhand, a couple green cards, and two Mountains—and, after never drawing a Forest, died.

Then in G2 we had a really close one wherein I put my opponent for most of the game on Crowd’s Favor, and played around it accordingly. On my last turn of the game we were both at nine life. He had a tapped Witch’s Familiar and a tapped Shadowcloak Vampire on the field, with a freshly cast Krenko’s Enforcer and one card in hand. I had a Ancient Silverback on the field, with six or seven mana up—one land enchanted with Verdant Haven—and a Thundering Giant, Meteorite, and Invasive Species in hand. As I said, I’d put him on Crowd’s Favor, based on the way he had been playing previously, and so I decided to drop the Meteorite, kill the Enforcer, and swing for six with the Gorilla, putting him to three. I figured on the crackback he could hit me for seven max, and that I would win on the following turn with Thundering Giant. But instead he swung in with both guys and cast Lightning Strike to finish me off.

In retrospect, I think I should have played around the max number of cards possible by hitting with the Gorilla, playing Invasive Species bouncing the Verdant Haven, replaying it, and going up to 11 life, which would have put me out of range of my opponent’s next attack, and allowing me to win the following turn with Thundering Giant or Meteorite. So I was 7-4, and missed getting my name on Twitch along with the five other 6-0 drafters. Daggers!

Next up was Standard, yet again. Here’s my deck:


And my board:


This is where the wheels come off. I ended up losing the next five matches in a row, to finish 7-9. I was bummed, but also somewhat comforted by the fact that, when I was playing my 15th-round match, I was sitting above such notables as Jamie Parke, Jared Boettcher, and Brian Braun-Duin. The Pro Tour ain’t easy, kids. And that was my tournament! On the back half of the day, my teammates Rob H. and Jackson Cunningham were making runs. Rob was on Hexproof, and unfortunately suffered a couple late losses to knock him out of Top 25 contention. Jackson, though, manged to make Top 8! Congrats, man! And I got a photo before I split:


The next day I was feeling a little washed out. I felt like everything for a long while had been building toward this tournament, and now that it was all over, I felt like the endorphins had all flooded out of me. I didn’t know whether to stay in the hotel and watch coverage, or go sightseeing. So I did both, listening to Twitch on my phone and walking around the city. I went to Powell’s City of Books and picked up On the Rez, by Ian Frazier, and The Honourable Schoolboy, by John Le Carre. I saw the beginning of the Stumptown Crit:


And I hit up Voodoo Donut, getting a vanilla with sprinkles (maybe my default fave donut) and a maple and bacon donut. Unbelievable.


It was a really hot day in Portland, so after the donuts and wandering around a bit more, I sought refuge inside a nearby Embassy Suites hotel lobby to watch the finals between Ivan Floch and teammate Jackson Cunningham. This is what happened:




I wrote these notes at a pretty sweet brewpub while I was waiting for the famous Mike Scovazzo to meet up with me. I tagged the above notes on Instagram with my location, and they weirdly appeared on the brewery’s digital menu. Check out the top left:


Soon Scovazzo showed up, and we talked cards for a while before heading over to the bar next door, where I’d previously seen much of Team Pantheon going into. We sat at the bar for a while and chatted up Gabe Nassif when he came up to the bar, who was super nice and friendly and invited me and Mike out to what has become the traditional post-Top 8 Magic karaoke session, at an incredibly shitty bar called Chopsticks II. I sang “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” me and Mike sang “Under Pressure,” while Pat Chapin danced like a maniac, Todd Anderson sang “Radioactive” … and then this:


For the rest of my life I will kick myself for leaving before that happened. But I had a plane to catch, back to New York and back to the amateur Magic grind. Super congrats to teammate Jackson Cunningham for making second in his first-ever Pro Tour, and super thanks to all my teammates for being really awesome to me (an unknown guy to them) while out in Portland. Also, a quick note on my opponents: They were, to a man, almost uniformly awesome. I was mildly worried about people being super-competitive and spiky at the Tour, but that was not the case at all. Sure, I had a few mildly unfriendly opponents, but nearly everyone else was cool and happy and really digging on the game of Magic, which is amazing. Case in point: At the pairings board on Day Two, I ran into my Mono-Green Devotion opponent from Day One, an Italian guy named Marco, and he sort of very charmingly said “Ciao” to me—it was just such a cool global occurence at a Magic tournament, you know? Big ups, too, to the Magic event team and judges, as this was a very well-run and fun event.

Long story short, it was one hell of a Pro Tour! Thanks, too, to everyone who cheered me on from home, whether on text, Twitter, or Facebook. It really meant a ton to me to know that so many friends were rooting for me. And congrats to Ivan Floch, master of the bleatdown!


23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. Follow Hunter at @hrslaton.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.