Yes, Benton Madsen Was Having As Much Fun As It Looked Like He Was
Benton Madsen, who piloted Selesnya Auras to the finals of the Pioneer Pro Tour, talks with PlayingPioneer about the deck, the prep work, and the Pro Tour.
Meet Benton Madsen
From the moment Benton Madsen was featured in the live coverage of the Pro Tour, people were talking about him. Whether it was his off-meta deck choice, the way he talked through his lines verbally for his opponent to hear, or his banter with Gabriel Nassif in the Top 8, everyone who watched the Pro Tour left the coverage with an opinion of Benton Madsen.
The conversation about Benton Madsen in the PlayingMTG Discord Server began as follows:
“Benton is just my hero.”
Twitch chat lit up during his first feature match. People said it felt like watching someone at an FNM. People said they loved him. People said he was annoying.
PlayingMTG had the opportunity to interview Benton Madsen for ourselves – just a couple of days after his Pro Tour appearance – about his road to the Pro Tour, his playtesting, his strategy, and the legendary finals match.
The Road to the Pro Tour
Leading up to the Pro Tour, the most widely-known Benton Madsen lore was that he qualified for the Pro Tour by playing a Magic: The Gathering Arena Play-In event using his phone – the first in history to do such a thing. As the Pro Tour went on, Benton’s lore rapidly evolved, but we’ll get to that later.
As a phone-exclusive Arena player myself, I had to ask him why he did this. Was it so he could say he did it? Was he away from his computer? Is his computer as unreliable as mine is?
“My friend had told me like, ‘this is serious – you should play it on your computer’, but I did all my prep on my phone. I trusted my internet connection and just figured, ‘let’s do it’,” Madsen told PlayingMTG. “In the same way you would want your test prep to be as close to the test on the actual day, so I played the event the same way I did all my Drafts and Sealed events leading up to it: on my phone.”
Once he was qualified for the Pro Tour, he took some time to decide which deck he would bring. Instinctively, he wanted to register Izzet Creativity, but ended up almost playing Enigmatic Incarnation.
“I tested with Derrick Davis, and I think that he probably had the most solid approach to that tournament of anyone there,” said Madsen. “Enigmatic Fires is an amazing choice for Pioneer, but I was pretty sure I could not play it well.”
His next choice was the deck he lost the finals against – Izzet Indomitable Creativity as piloted by Reid Duke.
“I’ve played a ton of Creativity,” he said. “If you look up my results on Magic Online, you will see that the vast majority of my time playing Pioneer and many of my tournament top finishes were with Indomitable Creativity. I thought the deck was probably good – I lost touch with it though.”
Some of the more recent innovations to the deck didn’t sit right with Benton, including dropping Omen of the Sea and the inclusion of the card Impulse in general. Rather than reconcile with the recent tech or register his own version of Izzet Creativity, he looked elsewhere.
“I wanted something that gave me the feeling Izzet Creativity did six months or so ago when I started playing it – the feeling that my opponent didn’t really know what their plan would be against it,” said Madsen. “In my search for something a little bit less known, I came across Michael Letsch’s Selesnya Auras list.”
Benton had a few immediate thoughts about the Selesnya Auras list he was working off of – the most immediate being Skrelv, Defector Mite’s impact on the game plan.
“In a deck with Sram and Light-Paws, Skrelv seemed like a really big boost,” said Madsen. “And the printing of Razorverge Thicket seemed like another big boost. This was a deck that could already put up results – Michael Letsch proved that – that got two huge boons from the new set.”
Madsen started testing the deck, and while he was losing quite a few matches, he was winning the ones he expected to see at the Pro Tour. Undefeated against Rakdos Midrange, Green Devotion and Azorius Control. The decks he was losing to though, he lost to hard, mentioning zero percent win rates against Angels, for example.
Madsen’s friend Chase Masters ended up connecting Madsen and Michael Letsch in the time between Madsen registering the deck and actually arriving in Philadelphia for the Pro Tour.
“Michael Letsch, being a hell of a dude, talked with me about sideboarding, our thoughts on different matchups, and informed some of my mulligan decisions” said Madsen. “If you were in the room, you would have seen (Letsch), Chase and Erin (Diaz) alongside me in the room debating things like the merits of bringing Portable Hole in against Creativity.”
The Pro Tour Finals
Madsen made it to the finals, of course, and played against Reid Duke on Izzet Creativity. Before the match, Madsen told Reid Duke that they had only met once: in 2013, when Madsen asked Duke to sign his Tarmagoyf. Duke was the first pro that Madsen had ever asked to sign a card, and one of only two he has asked to this day.
“I’m a nervous talker,” said Madsen. “And I was meeting someone who I respect the hell out of.”
Then, Madsen mulliganed a hand that had everyone who was watching talking.
[skrelv, three lands, Sram, All That Glitters, Alpha Authority]
“I think people assumed that because I mulliganed a hand that looked good on the surface, that I was only looking for Gladecover Scout. That’s not entirely accurate,” said Madsen. “If the Sram had been a Light-Paws, I would have snap-kept that hand. If any of the two-mana enchantments were one-mana enchantments, I also would have snap kept that hand. Sram is your slowest clock, and two-mana enchantments are your slowest enchantments.”
Knowing that Duke’s deck was “a pile of interaction and a combo”, Madsen’s decision was based on Duke either having the combo in hand or a plethora of interaction in hand. Madsen’s hand was too slow to race the combo, and would lose to a pile of interaction.
“Auras is a deck that mulligans to five a lot, and those are correct mulligans,” said Madsen. “Against Creativity, you need either Gladecover Scout or a different one-drop, into a two-drop and at least one one-mana enchantment.”
After Madsen mulliganed eight times in three games, Duke ended up winning his first Pro Tour with Izzet Creativity, Madsen’s favorite Pioneer deck.
“I was overjoyed the entire time. I did not expect to Top 8. It still doesn’t feel real,” said Madsen. “I got to draft on camera! I got to get my ass kicked by Shota Yasooka! It was awesome.”