Back when I did my Top 5 Lists on MtG, one of the lists was my favorite players. It was Sperling, PV, BBD, Conley Woods and Karsten. The problem is, I totally forgot about Tom Ross when doing it. So, sorry Matt, you’re out, because Tom Ross is coming in at number two. No-one’s overtaking Karsten.
Someone suggested that if you want to get better at Magic, you should find a player you’d like to emulate and just watch his matches analyzing what he does and why. I’m not doing this, nor am I planning to, but if I did, Tom Ross would be that player.
Tom Ross is a strange character. He seems kind of reserved, but on the other hand, he often plays with his leather jacket on. Not only that, but after winning the invitational (his second in row) with his legacy infect deck, which has become sort of his signature deck, he became immortalized in the poison token as himself in that very coat.
Of course, every invitational winner gets their own token, but the coat on a compleated Tom Ross gives it a different feel.
Also, his tendency to put his moniker ‘The Boss’ into his decknames is great. You know, the Boss Humans he’s used to win multiple SCG Opens, the Boss Sligh he used to win an SCG Invitational, or the Boss Naya he played with the rest of Team Channel Fireball back in 2010 at Pro Tour San Diego, where LSV Top 8’d with the deck.
But its not only his character. Its also his deck design. He seems to have that outside-the-box thinking you need to come up with great decks. Todd Anderson often acknowledges him in their videos as the progenitor of some of the more out-there ideas. Its not only about being different either. Infect is a pretty stock deck, but when Ross last made it to the Pro Tour, The Pantheon snatched him up quickly and most of the team ended up playing his version of the deck.
I met the man once, briefly, in a meet-and-greet at GP London 2015. I had recently used his 8-rack list to win some small tournament, so I at least had something to discuss. He gave me a bit of advice: always take the draw. Say what? How often do you let the other player go on the play? Let alone in Modern? Not often, but this was his plan. He started with more resources than his opponent and did his best to whittle down whatever the opponent would have.
The deck doesn’t even feature the Ensnaring Bridge most of these decks do. Why? Because it isn’t taking away the opponents resources. You don’t need it. Its just extra baggage.
Another deck of his I’ve played, is this one:
Yes, that’s a vampire tribal for Modern. I doubt he has himself ever played it in a tournament, although I don’t know for sure, but he introduced this in an article with a some brews he had been working on for Modern. Me, being very interested in mono-colored decks, took immediate fancy to it. Its like a Rock deck, but with only one color. I did try it out in a tournament, but didn’t do well. Still, it was very fun to play.
But lets take one of his better known decks. Wr Humans from this past and current Standard format.
Okay, nothing that special to see here, except for one thing. The deck has a very nice sideboard plan against decks that have been tuned to beat it. You can always put your opponent to maybe 5 or 6 life, or something like that, and then he’ll stabilize. What do you do then?
Well, the plan after that is to start accumulating cards in hand. Your humans cost one or two. Good removal costs at least two (with the exception of Dead Weight, but that’s sorcery speed and doesn’t matter here), so you’ll have plenty more creatures then your opponent can kill. So, when you have enough of them in your hand, you play them all at once and then top it off with a Reckless Bushwhacker… Giving all those puny humans haste and a boost in power.
That’s great design. You don’t just put cards that are good against certain decks in your sideboard. You have a whole different plan ready. A plan that was very good against many of the decks in those days.
He just has a way of attacking the metagame by finding underplayed archetypes and then customising them to fit his needs. It isn’t even necessarily an existing deck. He’ll start from zero cards if necessary. But that’s not the only thing The Boss is great at.
There’s a great video of Ross playing against Reid Duke. Boss is playing a monored deck (generally known as Rabble Red after Goblin Rabblemaster, but because its a Ross deck, its of course Boss Sligh), which was an oddity in the metagame, but at the point it was pretty well known that Ross would be playing it. Duke was playing Red-Green Devotion deck.
Ross had a very poor hand and couldn’t really get the aggressive start the deck needs, but since this is The Boss, he decided to bluff. So, he only had two copies of Burning-Tree Emissary on board and nothing worthwhile in hand, while Duke had a Courser of Kruphix. So, The Boss attacks. Duke thinks about it for a while, and decides he can’t really block, so the bluff works, but that’s nothing. Here’s the real beauty of how The Boss can play:
After the attack, The Boss plays another creature, a Firefist Striker. So, when he attacks on the next turn and Duke has an additional Elvish Mystic on board, The Boss needs to keep the bluff going. So, when he attacks, he doesn’t stop the Courser from blocking, he targets the Elf. Why? Because Duke is expecting a trick like Titan’s Strength, so he isn’t going to block with the Courser, which is valuable to him. Again, its a thing of beauty. Boss is just able to craft a false perception of what the game is about to Duke and he does it in a heartbeat. No (visible) hesitation.
Okay, its a little more complicated than that and he still lost the game, but won the match on his way to his second consecutive Invitation win and the whole thing is something beautiful. This particular game starts around 18 minute mark, but you should watch the whole match. Duke is also playing on top of his game here. Its cool to see how good players elevate each other this way.
This Ross-Duke became a sort of a friendly rivalry for a period and there are more of their matches available. They would have sidetech just for each other, because they knew they’d meet in the StarCityGames Player’s Championship after Ross beat Duke in the Invitational finals, but was already qualified, so the qualification was handed down to Duke. Duke became such an admirer of Ross’s that when Ross was last qualified for the Pro Tour, Duke talked his team (The Pantheon) into taking Ross on board and the whole team of legendary players ended up playing Ross’s Infect at the Pro Tour Fate Reforged.
Here’s another match of Ross’s with the Boss Sligh:
He just runs through Brad Nelson, often considered the best Standard player in the game. Just watch the video until the end to see Nelson’s reaction to what happened. And they are good friends.
Gladly, MtGCoverage has a whole library of recorded Tom Ross matches, so you can find material to sift through. And its a great site. You should use it.
Tom Ross is just great. Its sad that he hasn’t been able to qualify for the Pro Tour consistently, but gladly he keeps playing actively and doing well in the Open circuit. He’s one of the few players I always enjoy watching. Just last Saturday (two days before I’m writing this), he’s playing in one of the last rounds of an SCG Invitational. My friend, who I was sharing a hotel room with on our way to the RPTQ, just said something along the lines that Ross is about to lose his match, where Tragic Arrogance just took away his whole board due to some peculiar circumstances. I was very tired and just said something like that you need to have faith in the Boss. And what do you know? A few turns later and through some resistance, he just quickly took out his opponent.
You can find that match on YouTube at some point, but as of this writing, its only available on Twitch. The final game starts around 7:00:00 mark.