Team Cardmarket Member Pascal Vieren on his PTRIX Top 8

Pascal Vieren lit up the Pro Tour with his Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and this week he shares his thoughts about the Pro Tour, his deck, Modern, and more in an interview. What does the Gold pro have to say about the format and the creation of Blue-Red Pyromancer? You’ll have to look inside to find out!

Hans Davidson: First and foremost, congrats on your first Pro Tour Top 8! How does it feel to have accomplished such an achievement?

Pascal Vieren: It’s actually a dream come true. I think the first time I played on the Pro Tour was ten years ago, and since then it has always been a goal but more of a dream to make the Top 8. I didn’t think I would ever achieve it, but yeah, it’s been a dream come true.

HD: When did you get started with Magic? How long have you been playing?

PV: I started when I was twelve years old in 2000, around the time Planeshift came out. And then starting from 2006 I started playing more competitively while I was a student, but when I started my family I kind of stopped playing. Well, I never really stopped playing, but I stopped playing competitively, and I came back in 2016 when my brother Peter became Belgium’s captain for the World Magic Cup. When that happened I figured, “Well, let’s try to win a WMCQ,” which happened and then things got out of hand from there laughs.

Mirror Entity
Pascal’s favorite card, which he played to great success in Standard and Extended.

HD: It’s such a cool story that your brother Peter also plays at a high competitive level - what’s that been like, playing alongside your brother?

PV: I think having a brother who plays at a fairly high level really steps up your game; it used to ten years ago when we first started playing, but it still does. We can discuss anything with each other, we can ask questions, we talk a lot, it helps a lot to have someone so close at such a high level – I think it’s an amazing way to step up your game. It’s also kind of awesome because he’s one of my best friends.

HD: Is there a friendly competition between the two of you to see who can do better at these tournaments?

PV: It happens, but we’re not really against each other. Lots of people do ask who’s the better brother, but we’re not that competitive against each other. More than anything we support each other – if I do well he’s happy, and if he does well I’m just happy.  I think I’m way more nervous when he’s close to making Top 8 playing at a GP or something like that than when I’m close to making Top 8 laughs. We just support each other a lot.

Shattergang Brothers

HD: Do you have any favorite memories of playing with Peter?

PV: When we were younger, when we started out, we had – we made sure we had a pile from the entire set from each common, and we played relentlessly just with that, and I think that’s a great way to play if you’re two players. We played nonstop games at that time – way more than we do now.

HD: I’m assuming that at age twelve you just have more time to spend playing card games all day.

PV: Laughing Yeah, of course. We never stopped playing.

HD: What would you say are each of your strengths?

PV: Well, Peter is definitely the deck builder. The blue-red deck I played at the PT, he almost entirely made it. My input was minimal, just to give comments here and there, but he made decisions about every card. I think my strengths are – I don’t really know – I think it’s more how my technical play is a bit better. Like just the actual playing. I don’t think I ever forget triggers or stuff like that, and so just the technical play, I think I’m a bit better, but he’s the better deck builder for sure.

HD: You shouldn’t sell yourself too short – you said yourself in another interview that you made the big contribution of swapping out the second Sulfur Falls for the Spirebluff Canal!

PV: Yeah, that was really huge laughs.

HD: Did the rest of your teammates on Team Cardmarket play this deck as well?

PV: No, no, we were the only two players in the entire tournament playing this deck. We told people we were playing something like that but no one was interested, so…

HD: What was the reason? Did they look at your pile of cards and say, “What is this?” What was the general reaction?

PV: Well, I think in modern there are like 25 decks you can play, and people just want to play what they’re comfortable with. Playing an entirely new deck, to believe that it’s good and to play as many games as possible to play once against every deck in the formal – it’s actually kind of hard if you look at a list and say, “Hey, it’s not real.” And playstyles, too: some of our teammates played humans because they liked that it had a proactive approach and would never play something like blue-red control. People just want to play something like Tron because they know its powerful and they don’t want to go through the entire process of learning a new deck and figuring out if it’s actually good because it takes a lot of time.

HD: Could you go into detail about what it was like testing for the Pro Tour with your team? What’s that process like?

PV: Well for this PT I mostly tested online and discussed with my brother because I wanted to test with someone who was on the same deck. It’s really important to bounce ideas around, and as a team we don’t really test too much together. I spoke with Robin Dolar fellow Cardmarket teammate about the deck, but he was playing blue-red with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch as a win condition. But like, yeah, we didn’t test in person at all so we just played online and we just discussed – like, lots of mails about the deck, lots of talking.

Spike, Tournament Grinder

HD: How many games did you test with the deck on MTGO?

PV: Um, I should check but not that many. If I can play three leagues in a week, that’s a lot for me because of time constraints. It’s not all that much, but playing games and discussing every game you play really help; every game I played, I discussed with Peter and how it went. He did the same with every game he played, and we would tell each other, “I played against this deck, this was important, this card is something that can be improved in the list.” Or we talked about something we liked or didn’t like about a matchup or how to approach a certain matchup – if you have someone you can discuss with you can save a lot of time of actual game play time, but yeah… I think I’ve played the deck enough to know it inside-out. I read a lot of deck lists just to know how each deck plays, and I think Peter and I can come up with a plan for each matchup even if we’ve only played it two times or three times, we can still figure out how a matchup goes, and that’s the most important.

HD: What were the key strategies that you and your team identified in preparation for the tournament?

PV: We figured people would just play what they love. We expected a bit more Storm, Tron, and Humans than you would see on Magic Online, but like I told coverage before the event I didn’t expect any deck to be above 10%, so I just wanted a well-rounded deck with answers for everything which had game against everything. We didn’t expect any deck to be really popular or really dominant because it’s Modern - most decks are playable. You can almost do anything.

Optr

HD: So you were prepared for everything, and no one was prepared for Blue-Red Pyromancer.

PV: Apparently not laughs. I had some good matches like against UW Control – three times, I think – which is a really good matchup because my win conditions cost two mana and theirs cost four or five mana. And I have more card advantage. But I think Thing in the Ice / Awoken Horror was huge because it has a way to end the game in these kinds of decks because it gives you an entirely different angle of winning against decks like Humans or Collected Company, which are usually pretty hard matchups for these kinds of decks.

HD: So you decided on Blue-Red Pyromancer because you can basically play anything in Modern.

PV: Yeah, pretty much. Peter told me he had been trying this deck for a while, and he had liked what he had found in a deck like blue-red but with actual creatures as win-cons instead of the combo which can be clunky. So I played the deck for one league to see how it felt, and I went 4-1 in the first league, and it felt like I had game against every deck I played against. But mostly I just really had a lot of fun playing the deck, and I think it’s important that if you’re going to test a deck a lot, if you play a really linear deck like Affinity, you can just lose to something like stony silence. It’s so upsetting to lose that way, and it’s boring for me to play a deck like that.

HD: Modern: Love it, hate it, or ban everything and never speak of it ever again?

PV: Actually, I wasn’t looking forward to playing Modern laughs. I hadn’t played it all that much in the last couple of years, and when we played Modern for the World Magic Cup two years ago, we did really well but we played Infect, Burn, and the Goryo’s Vengeance deck which were all capable of winning on turn three in pretty… reasonable ways laughs. At that point we thought you just wanted to play linear decks that never looked across the board, like just hope that what you’re doing was faster than what your opponent was doing. But I feel like it’s changed a lot and I really loved the way that our deck played as well as how several other decks that have lots of thoughtful gameplay to them, like the deck that Gerry Thompson played, the deck that Reid Duke played in the Top 8, those are really nice decks to play, you have lots of game, there’s lots of stuff going on. It’s interesting, where Modern is right now. I really don’t think any bans or such are necessary. And I think once a year for a Modern PT is a good rate, like a format for competitive play – why not? The way it is now, I like it.

HD: Yeah - there were all sorts of talk about pros coming into the tournament looking to break the format and nothing really broke.

PV: No, the closest it came to being broken is the deck that Ken Yukuhiro played Black-Red Hollow One. I think when you have a format where like twenty formats are viable, it’s really had to break it because there are always going to be matchups that are going to be better or worse, and lots of cards get played, and I don’t think Modern can really be broken at this point – well, with the printing of new cards, there could be a new combo deck that could become too good or something like that but.. I personally expected more Storm for the PT, which would be the closest thing to being considered broken that I can think of. But even that is pretty vulnerable to a bunch of hate cards, so people shied away from playing it.

Opt

HD: It’s interesting that you’ve brought up Ken Yukuhiro’s Black-Red Hollow One as the deck closest to having broken Modern because if you had turned on the Internet the day after the Pro Tour was over, that was the least of everyone’s concerns.

PV: Laughing Oh, yeah.

HD: People were so angry and upset that Lantern Control had won the whole thing that they more-or-less ignored turn-two, double Hollow Ones. What’s your take on the debate around Lantern Control?

PV: I don’t mind Lantern Control as a deck; I understand how people could be mad about the way Lantern influences the metagame, but I think it’s part of Magic. I don’t mind being locked like that – it’s a different way of playing the game that I actually like, but it’s also possible that the deck is just too good. With Whir of Invention and Ancient Stirrings the deck is too consistent, so it’s possible that it’s too good in that sense, and if they banned something just to make it slightly less good like Whir of Invention, the deck can still exist but it needs just a little bit of balancing, that would be fine by me. But I don’t think a lot of people played the deck at the PT, I like the deck, and it makes for interesting gameplay. I think you should be prepared for facing something like Lantern in Modern, which I don’t find an oppressive way to play Magic.

HD: Perhaps it says more about the mentality of many Modern players who are okay losing turn three on the draw against Burn, but they’re not okay with a prison deck.

PV: I guess people don’t want to feel miserable, but they’re okay getting burned out – getting turn three’d is okay, but they don’t want to spend twenty turns knowing they can’t win. It’s about the same, I think, like, just, yeah, people get a bad feeling from playing Lantern. I think it’s amazing that a deck like Lantern has even been constructed because it’s a bunch of unplayable cards together laughs. I think that’s a piece of beauty – when you take a look at a lot of decks, they’re a collection of individually powerful cards next to each other, which with some interaction make the deck even better, but Lantern’s a bunch of cards – which have never been played before, most of them, and that makes the deck amazing, I think.

HD: So you’re a Lantern Control fan?

PV: Yeah, I like the deck, I really don’t mind playing against it. I haven’t played it yet, but I wouldn’t mind playing it, I wouldn’t mind playing against it, I like it, I think it’s okay.

HD: A few questions about your deck, Blue-Red Pyromancer, if that’s all right.

PV: Yeah, go right ahead.

HD: The deck plays a lot of one-of’s: Misty Rainforest, Polluted Delta, the Spirebluff Canal, the Snow-Covered Mountain, the basic Island – what was the thinking behind that?

PV: Well, the mana base, like the Snow-Covered Islands and the regular Island, is because Storm plays a split, and if you go Spirebluff Canal into Snow-Covered Island, and then you fetch for regular Island, or something like that, your opponent might think you’re playing Storm and play differently because they don’t know your deck – and if at the whole tournament if someone ever plays differently because they think you’re on Storm, and they don’t play a threat because they need to keep mana open or something, then it’s worth it because there’s no downside to playing the split except that your lands are really ugly (laughs).

HD: Did you play the new Snow-Covered Islands from Coldsnap or the older ones from Ice Age?

PV: The new ones, and that was fine, but playing a Snow-Covered Island next to a full-art Island… That gets ugly. The different fetch lands are just so if you’re playing Lantern and they play Pithing Needle, just to not get stuck with a four-of. That’s really the reason for the split of the fetch lands.

Snow-Covered Island Island

HD: Ancestral Vision is oftentimes a four-of or a none-of in blue lists – what made you go with three in your list?

PV: Well, it’s best when Ancestral Vision is suspended turn one, but with sixteen cards for turn one, with eleven blue cards you can cast on turn one and want to cast on turn, I felt like three was a good balance. If you go Serum Visions on turn one and see Ancestral Vision, it’s still good to suspend on turn two or three, but after that it’s kind of bad, it’s not a great top-deck, and ideally you see one and the other two or three you put on the bottom of your deck … But yeah, we felt four was a bit too much because on the draw against more aggressive decks, you really don’t want to see two Ancestral Visions, but it’s the perfect card against control where you have more time to find one and I think that’s how we settled on three – it was the right number.

HD: How does the deck fight against the big mana decks, namely Tron?

PV: Well, originally in the list we had Blood Moon main deck, and then we moved it to the sideboard, and then we threw it out because the way the games play out – well it’s the most obvious card that is missing from the deck list, Blood Moon, so against the big decks most of the time I just tried to counter their big threats. If you can Remand or Mana Leak their first threats, that’s good, but the most important card to grind away from there is Field of Ruin – it actually changes a lot because you get Stone Rain for free in your deck which is huge, you can keep them off of having Tron for several turns. And if you can get to a point of where you can play a threat and have a counter up for their big spell for the turn, you can play Field of Ruins from there. I actually really like the matchup against Tron because counters are so good against them, the hard counters, combined with the tempo game, I really like the matchup. Traditionally the Tron matchup is bad for control decks, but I think with the way our blue red deck was built, we got around it pretty good, and that’s really an amazing thing for a deck like this to have a good matchup against the big mana decks like Tron… At least, against Green-Red Tron or Green-Black Tron. Against Eldrazi Tron, I wouldn’t advise playing this deck. If you’re going to be playing against lots of Eldrazi Tron, I would play something else because that matchup is really bad – big Tron needs seven, eight mana, but Eldrazi Tron only needs four or five mana, and just destroying their land once isn’t going to stop them from getting to four or five mana. Yeah, and the Chalice of Void, they’re really good. Chalice is really good against this deck.

HD: Other than Eldrazi Tron, were there any matchups were you hoping to dodge at the tournament?

PV: I think Dredge is pretty bad as well – against Dredge, you hope to play Thing in the Ice and transform it before you’re dead, but it’s not the best of plans. But those are two pretty bad matchups. With the other decks, you have some plan to beat them, but against these two decks, they’re the worst matchups for sure.

HD: Any you wanted to play against all day?

PV: I think Blue-White Control is a really good matchup, I would’ve loved to have played against Blue-White Control during the entire tournament, which, uh I kind of did laughs. I think most matchups are 55-45 with lots of play to them, so I think you’re not folding to any deck, but you’re not really ahead against any deck – except the other blue-red decks, the other blue-red decks that play combo. I played against the Madcap Experiment deck at the PT, which plays Blood Moon and Madcap Experiment alongside Platinum Emperion which are terrible cards in this matchup so game one feels like a bye. The other blue-red combo decks are really good matchups as well because your win conditions are good, whereas theirs are really expensive five-mana sorceries or stuff like that, so I like those matchups. And like I said, most other decks, like humans, I think you’re even, but maybe even a bit favored because post-board your percentages go way up. Against black-green midrange decks you’re a bit of an underdog but not by much. Knowing how to play the matchups changes a lot. I like that about the deck. But it also means you have to work for every win – you’re not going to get a lot of free wins with this deck.

HD: Would you run this deck back if you had another big Modern tournament coming up?

PV: Yeah, for sure. It’s a bit worse now that everyone knows it, and you can’t really expect people to not know what’s in the list, but I would still run the list again. I’m not going, but if I were going to the upcoming Modern GP, I would bring this deck for sure.

HD: Except this time, your opponents would see you lead on Snow-Covered Island and go, “Nuh-uh, I know who you are, I know what you’re up to, I’m not falling for that!”

PV: Laughs Yeah, I would just run the basic Islands the next time around.

HD: What was the most interesting match for you during the tournament?

PV: I think the match against Raphaël Lévy, who was on Blue-White Control was the most intense match for sure. I won 1-1-0, we only played one game, and halfway through the game he had gone through his win-conditions, and with an Ancestral Visions coming off suspend, he started counting the cards in his library and my library so it was pretty obvious he was just going to try to mill me. He had Runed Halos on Awakened Horror, Young Pyromancer, and Lightning Bolt, but somehow I got him down to five life with Snapcaster Mage and elemental tokens here and there, and I think the sequence was something like – oh, he had Spreading Seas’d all of my red sources of mana or had destroyed them with Field of Ruin, so I didn’t have any more access to red mana. I know I had seven cards in my library, which were: land, Cryptic Command, Opt, and another land, Serum Visions, Opt, and Snapcaster Mage. My hand was all red cards and one Cryptic, and at the end of his turn I bounced my Mountain, drew a card, and then on my turn I played my Mountain, cast Serum Visions drawing the Opt. At the end of his next turn I played Opt, drawing Snapcaster Mage, played it and flashed back Cryptic Command, bouncing his Runed Halo and bolting him, and then attacked him on my turn for exactly lethal. I had no cards in hand, no cards in my library, no time left on the clock, and his Ancestral Vision with one suspend counter left on it ready to target me. He was still sitting in his chair fifteen minutes after the game in disbelief, wondering how he lost that game. That was easily the most intense match of the tournament.

Final Fortune

HD: Who was your favorite opponent?

PV: Andrea Mengucci, who I played in the quarterfinals. We waited forever to start playing because coverage put our match on hold even though our actual games lasted only fifteen minutes. Before the match we talked the entire time and he was really friendly – we even tried to play other games while we were waiting but the judges wouldn’t let us. He was genuinely a nice guy, and I liked him.

HD: What was the biggest takeaway from your performance at the Pro Tour?

PV: For me personally, I proved to myself that I can keep my composure. I never really felt under pressure when I was close to making top eight or while playing in the top eight, and I wasn’t sure how I would perform under that pressure. And I’m glad I did well and didn’t start thinking ahead about what might happen; I just kept my focus on what was in front of me, and I was really pleased with myself about how I played in the tournament. Like keeping calm and staying focused on the match – some of my opponents were way more nervous than I was, and being nervous doesn’t help your gameplay, so I was really happy about that.

HD: You’re a Gold pro now, what are your goals for the coming year?

PV: I’m at 34 points now, so after the PT I’ll be locked for Gold. But yeah, I would need 18 points to become a Platinum pro, which is doable. but I might play in a couple more extra GPs to make the push for platinum and see what happens from there.

HD: We’re looking forward to even more great things from you and to see you more often on coverage after your performance. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, and once again, congratulations on your fantastic result.

PV: Thanks a lot. Thank you.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

2 Comments

hdavidson21(2018-02-16 10:18)

Thank you, @testthewest! Yeah, I always find it exhilarating when the blue mirrors are just so grindy that they come down to the very last cards in both decks :)

testthewest(2018-02-14 20:59)

Nice interview. That play versus Raphaël Lévy is the stuff you play magic for!

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