The Best Decks I’ve Ever Played

Magic was pretty slow for me this week. I visited my mom in Vermont, banged up my shoulder, and was laid out in bed for a couple of days. I recovered shortly thereafter and have been playing some Vintage Cube here and there. 

 

Vintage Cube got me thinking about how big a role deck advantage plays in Magic. I’ve been fascinated by this concept since going full-time Magic Pro. It’s one of the major reasons I love Limited. Drafting is an exercise where you’re trying to win either the tournament or your rounds before you even play a game. In Vintage Cube I’d often have decks with no power or fast mana. I’d play a normal deck and lose to turn-one Lotus into Sol Ring into some five-mana card I can’t beat when my turn is land go. 

 

When we test for events, we’re trying to reach this same conclusion. We’re trying to find a deck advantage that pulls us ahead of the field before playskill even comes into play. At least that’s what I’m doing. Testing, to me, means testing ideas or concepts. Practicing is different. Practicing is playing decks against each other to understand the match-up better. To me these are different phases of preparing for an event. 

 

While playing Cube, I’d often think about deck advantage and think about the times in my career that I’ve had the biggest deck advantage in Constructed events. 

 

#5 Orzhov Venture. Neon Dynasty Set Championships.

 

 

Orzhov Venture Neon Dynasty Set Championships

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Planeswalker (2)
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The Wandering Emperor
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A-Triumphant Adventurer
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Archon of Emeria
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Citystalker Connoisseur
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Intrepid Adversary
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Liesa, Forgotten Archangel
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Nadaar, Selfless Paladin
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Valki, God of Lies/Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
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Duress
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Infernal Grasp
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March of Otherworldly Light
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Power Word Kill
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Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire
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Forsaken Crossroads
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Hive of the Eye Tyrant
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Needleverge Pathway/Pillarverge Pathway
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Shattered Sanctum
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Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
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Bloodchief's Thirst
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Cathar Commando
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Dawnbringer Cleric
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Duress
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Go Blank
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Graveyard Trespasser
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Reckoner Bankbuster
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The Meathook Massacre
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Thraben Exorcism

 

This is the list played by Eli Kassis for a tournament win in the event. While you may think Eli’s win may be biasing me, as this deck doesn’t look all that special, it wasn’t super-busted or anything. It was an underexplored format where Runes was the only deck people knew existed. Runes turned out to be easy to beat with the right mix of cheap removal and ways to interact favorably with Showdown of the Skalds

 

I wanted a recent deck to look at and point to and this is the best deck I’ve played in the past year or two relative to the field. Runes didn’t show up in as many numbers as we thought, but we did know and predict that people would attack Runes with White Aggro, and our match-up against that deck was quite good. The combination of both of those decks hitting a big portion of the metagame fared well for us and was enough for me to put this at the bottom of my best decks list. 

 

Lesson Learned

 

 

Don’t judge a book by its cover. This deck looked a bit mopey and underpowered but for that tournament and that weekend, it hit all the right notes.  

 

#4 Amulet Bloom, Grand Prix Pittsburg 2015.

 

 

Amulet Bloom - Grand Prix Pittsburg 2015

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Azusa, Lost but Seeking
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Primeval Titan
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Simian Spirit Guide
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Ancient Stirrings
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Serum Visions
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Sleight of Hand
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Summer Bloom
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Pact of Negation
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Slaughter Pact
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Summoner's Pact
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Amulet of Vigor
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Hive Mind
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Boros Garrison
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Cavern of Souls
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Gemstone Mine
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Ghost Quarter
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Golgari Rot Farm
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Gruul Turf
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Khalni Garden
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Mana Confluence
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Radiant Fountain
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Selesnya Sanctuary
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Simic Growth Chamber
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Slayers' Stronghold
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Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
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Tolaria West
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Vesuva
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Engineered Explosives
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Forest
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Ghost Quarter
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Hornet Queen
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Leyline of Sanctity
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Nature's Claim
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Obstinate Baloth
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Pyroclasm
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Seal of Primordium
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Swan Song
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Thragtusk

 

This is the list I registered for this event, and this is easily one of the most overall broken decks I’ve ever registered. This deck still sees some Modern play, but relative to the field, it’s not as broken as it once was. 

 

This deck is a bit hard to play, and despite being on the radar, people didn’t want to play it. It was always a low percentage of the field because people didn’t want to learn it. After a recommendation from Alexander Hayne, I practiced with the deck for the week leading up to the GP and learned the deck as much as I could. I still didn’t know a lot of what I could do in corner-case scenarios after a dozen or so leagues with the deck, but I was a good enough pilot to feel favored in basically every match-up. 

 

I ended up finishing 13-2 with this deck missing top eight on tiebreakers by placing ninth. I took my second loss in the first round of day two in a 75-card mirror to Hayne

 

This deck reminds me a lot of current Magic, as it pushes you to mulligan with discipline. You can’t keep bad hands with this deck against other fast decks. Against decks like Jund, you could keep anything that made land drops because they were too slow, and the second any of your Titans hit the battlefield it was hard for them to recover. 

 

Lesson Learned

 

 

 
I learned to not shy away from a deck just because it looks complicated. This is a lesson, recently, I’ve mostly ignored to be truthful. Decks like Jeskai Mutate and Jeskai Hinata are decks I haven’t cared to explore because I expected the input to not be worth the output. However, I should look back at this lesson and explore more decks that take more effort. 

 

#3 U/R Ensoul Artifact PT Origins

 

 

 

U/R Ensoul Artifact PT Origins

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Chief of the Foundry
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Ensoul Artifact
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Darksteel Citadel
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Foundry of the Consuls
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Shivan Reef
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Temple of Epiphany
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Disdainful Stroke
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Negate
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Rending Volley
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Roast
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Seismic Rupture
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Thopter Spy Network

 

This is the list I used to make the finals of Pro Tour Origins, though it’s lower on my list than one might expect. This was my deepest PT finish, and I earned the title of Player of the Year at this event, but it’s still not the best deck I played. 

 

This deck was so fun to test with, and we had it so early that things started to get scary. We were beating everything with it. Abzan Midrange, an Abzan Rally the Ancestors Deck, and Mono Red decks were the most prolific decks in the tournament. While all of these decks were in our gauntlet, Mono Red was more of a coin toss than it was in our testing, as we never fine-tuned the red deck. 

 

This deck was fast and consistent.

 

 

 

It was able to clock and finish opponents quickly. The most interesting thing was that it existed only because it was off the radar. This was a true one-tournament deck. We worried about playing against Unravel the Aether and Dromoka’s Command. As time went on in our testing house, we started to run the “what if” decks against Ensoul. When you’ve committed to a deck early, you have time to adjust for worst-case scenarios, which is exactly what we did. When every copy of Ultimate Price became a Dromoka’s Command in Abzan Midrange, the deck got much worse. 

 

This scared some of us, but most of us ended up playing the deck. I don’t recall our overall win percentage, but I remember the people who loved the deck winning, which wasn’t true for the people who didn’t love the deck. 

 

The deck, while fun, was obsolete before the next tournament happened—a true one-tournament deck. 

 

Lessons Learned

 

 

 

Your earlier testing is way more valuable than later. If a deck is off the radar or rogue, the more you play with and against it, the worse it will feel as your testing team will adapt to playing against it well, and the decks will become more hateful. This is a lesson I took to heart registering Grixis Vampires. While the deck didn’t make my list, it was almost on it. Grixis did great early and started to be a coin flip against everything later in testing, making some people second-guess it and not register it. I didn’t second-guess it because I’m a paranoid person and  registered it and did quite well. 

 

#2 Colorless Eldrazi 

 

 

 

Colorless Eldrazi

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Eldrazi Mimic
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Endless One
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Reality Smasher
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Simian Spirit Guide
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Spellskite
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Thought-Knot Seer
Instant (4)
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Dismember
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Chalice of the Void
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Ratchet Bomb
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Blinkmoth Nexus
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Eldrazi Temple
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Eye of Ugin
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Ghost Quarter
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Mutavault
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Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
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Wastes
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Gut Shot
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Oblivion Sower
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Pithing Needle
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Ratchet Bomb
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Relic of Progenitus
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Spellskite
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Warping Wail

 

 

This is the list played by Ivan Floch to a runner-up finish at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. Testing for this event was a delight. We rented a huge house in Vancouver two weeks before the event leading up to a Grand Prix in Vancouver. After playing the Grand Prix, we flew out to Atlanta to finish our testing for a day or two. 

 

We had two units, an online-only unit and our in-house crew. The online crew had a tough go with this deck as the cards were only on MTGO for a couple of days leading up to the event. When they first got their hands on it, they weren’t impressed.

 

In the house, we found a lot of our match-ups to be close to favorable across the board. We focused on the closer match-ups. and the deck may have felt a little worse than it actually was because we spent a lot of time trying to fix the affinity match-up, which was simply a coin flip. 

 

Lessons Learned 

 

 


There’s a laundry list of lessons I learned here. The first  is scouting is stupid. Since we decided to play main deck Chalice of the Void, we needed to scout the entire room so we knew our opponents’ archetype before sitting down. At the time, the event was not an open decklist, so big teams like ours had an edge since we were organized and efficient in scouting and created a scouting document that we could look at once we got our pairings. This was critical to knowing if we wanted Chalice on zero or one.

 

Another lesson is that I needed to get more reps with the deck. I was often the enemy preparing for this event and didn’t get enough experience taking mulligans with the deck. Colorless Eldrazi rewarded good mulligan decisions, and I didn’t play enough with the deck. This tournament is the biggest “what if” in my career. I went 6-0 in Limited at this event and only 5-5 in Modern with what is considered to be one of the best decks of all time at a Pro Tour. While I was happy with the finish, as it set me on pace to play at Worlds, I feel like I left a top eight on the table. I finished something like 25th or 26th place and was the tenth place finish on my testing team—simply incredible results with the deck. 

 

#1 GW Tokens, Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad

 

 

 

GW Tokens, Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad

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Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
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Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
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Archangel Avacyn
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Hangarback Walker
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Sylvan Advocate
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Thraben Inspector
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Dromoka's Command
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Secure the Wastes
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Oath of Nissa
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Stasis Snare
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Canopy Vista
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Fortified Village
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Westvale Abbey
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Clip Wings
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Declaration in Stone
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Evolutionary Leap
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Lambholt Pacifist
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Linvala, the Preserver
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Quarantine Field
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Secure the Wastes
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Sigarda, Heron's Grace
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Tragic Arrogance

 

 

This is the list Steve Rubin used to win the Pro Tour

 

This event was a huge roller coaster of emotions, at least in testing. Preparing for this event was fun but also humbling. We went in circles for days not having anything we liked. People were on edge, and we felt like we failed. We had spent a week in a small suburb of Spain in a secluded house on a hill, and by the time we left that house, we didn’t have much to show for it. We ended up moving to the hotel at the tournament site about three days before submission. 

 

We had a meeting the last day at the house, and both BBD and Steve Rubin suggested trying this GW Tokens deck again. Early in testing, Jacob Wilson championed this deck and said it was quite good. He was using a stock list from a SCG open and said he liked what it was doing. This was on day one or two of testing. After trying it a little more, he suggested we move away from it because it wasn’t good against White Aggro, a deck that was being popularized at the time by Tom Ross

 

We decided to work on the problem…

 

After spinning our wheels for days and coming back to this, we decided to work on the problem. We got the white match-up to be slightly favorable, and it didn’t seem to hurt us elsewhere. We spent our last two or so days tuning this deck, which in reality wasn’t enough time. Our sideboard and main deck was a bit sloppy and needed some love, but it was still the best deck in the tournament by a good chunk. This event had eight different archetypes in the top eight, and this deck was a solid favorite against every single one of them, including those silly Cryptolith Rites decks. 

 

While Steve won the Pro Tour and I had a minimum cash finish, our record with this deck was obscene. It was somewhere in the high 70% with a big sample, as we had about 10 pilots with the deck. Overall, the team didn’t do as well as expected in Limited, which hurt us overall, but Steve managed to show off the work we put into the event by winning the PT. 

 

I was never as excited for a GP as I was the next weekend when I knew a lot of the non-pros would register one of those eight decks from the top eight and I’d have an edge with GW Tokens. I managed to go 12-3 at that GP with a record of 1-3 in mirrors with a terrible sideboard plan. I walked it back and thought about my approach some, and the next event I managed to go 15-0 in Swiss with GW Tokens, though I lost the quarters to a silly Cryptolith Rites deck in the hands of Louis-Samuel Deltour

 

Lesson Learned 

 

 

 

This is one of the easiest ones to learn. If a deck has a bad match-up, that’s no reason to dismiss the deck. We had a couple of years of success on our team, and we weren’t used to failing and submitting our fates to match-ups. We were constantly ahead of the curve, so this event at this time felt hopeless. We knew what our best deck was and rather than going back to it when we should have, we almost gave up hope and played with some Pyromancer’s Goggles deck or something. 

 

Hopefully you learned something from my walk down memory lane. At the very least, it’s fun to look back on all the events you’ve played and think about the times you got it right and what the process was to get you there. 

 

 

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