Defense Mechanisms in Magic

As the people who know me are fully aware, I love to study the psychological aspect of games. Before I dipped into serious Magic, I used to play football, Pokémon TCG and Counter Strike all at a somewhat serious level. I didn’t just play these games – I also studied them whether it was advanced tactics, cunning mind games, reading of the game plus put a big emphasis on the importance of a positive environment in the dressing room, in testing or on the voice communication server. If you haven’t read “My 10 MTG Commandments” I advise that you give that a look before diving into this one. Keep in mind that everyone either is or has been guilty of all of the following, including myself. Reading this article will hopefully help you as much as it helped me write it.

1) “I lost even though I played perfectly”


Players will use this phrase to project the attention after a tough loss. More often than not, the recipient of this message, usually a friend they traveled with to the tournament, will tell the losing player that they couldn’t do any more than that (doing their best), and that just happens in Magic. While that is a positive response from your friends, the responsibility lies with the losing player. While they maybe didn’t have any other decisions to make during the game, they might not have researched the metagame well enough before constructing a sideboard. Another possibility is that they didn’t playtest the matchup thoroughly enough and that their “truth” is flawed. I suggest playing the match in your head and come up with points where you actually had decisions to make and try to evaluate those after the tournament. Mulliganning, whether to fetch out a basic or shockland, sideboarding and other stuff can be relevant to look at. But at the tournament after the match – just focus on your next game instead of being frustrated about the past.

2) “My opponent got extremely lucky”


I often hear players talk about their match as if only the last draw from the opponent mattered. While it is very hard to practice in the aftermath of a tough loss, it is somewhat simple to see what the constructive way of dealing with this is. You should take a deep breath and look at everything from start to finish in the match instead of looking at the last draw (in case of a devastating top deck) in a vacuum. Conveniently, with a comment like this, the player got to sneak in that they are a way better player than their opponent. I mean, without the extreme luck, how else would he beat you? Sometimes you get into situations against a deck like Burn in Modern where the absolute best line you can draw up will need your opponent to draw either a creature or land for their turn, so you can attack for lethal in a scenario where a targeted burn spell wins your opponent the game. If you figured out the best line, you live with the result and get back into the saddle no matter the outcome.

3) “I didn’t test for this tournament”


Players will usually slip this comment before the tournament to lower the expectations to them from their peers. If they end up doing badly, they want people to remember what they said. On the other hand, if they do great, their friends will most likely look at them as a God-gifted talent (or at least, that is what they hope will happen). Trying to set up artificial win/win situations like this is a very common defense mechanism. What I wish I was able to do in cases where I know I didn’t prepare as well as I could for the tournament, is keep quiet about it and hope to lean on my experience instead of recent actual playtesting. If situations occur, where I lose because of lack of preparation, I will either have to live with it or prepare better next time. No reason to create a false narrative to protect your pride.

4) “This format is horrible”


A commonly used quote from good players about fast formats like Modern and Vintage after losing to a proactive or prison style strategy. Yes, it is not the best feeling in the world to lose to a turn three Karn Liberated or never getting to cast a spell, but remember who chose to devote money and time to sign up to the tournament. During the last couple of years, I have taken a break from Modern whenever I felt the metagame was too proactive – the kind of Magic that I don’t enjoy. You either accept the name of the game or take the necessary procautions.

5) “My Opponent’s deck is unplayable”


Let me be the first to say that I have been extremely guilty of this one in the past. I spend a reasonable large amount of time to figure out the metagame and aim to choose just the right deck for a given tournament. If I then faced a deck that was bad against the consensus “best” deck in the format, which would make that deck unplayable in my mind, and that deck randomly had a great matchup against my m3t4g4m3 k1ll4h deck, I would just tell myself that my opponent was bad and he would probably just play against the “best” deck next round and get what he deserved. Needless to say, all my thoughts were not doing anything good for my tournament success or well being in general. The lesson for me was that players at Grand Prix especially will always show up with whatever they already had built prior, disregarding metagame trends and recent printings. That is part of what makes Magic a beautiful game.

I hope you enjoy the mix-up between strategy, results, psychology and deck breakdowns as much as I do. I might start to do some videos in the future, but I can’t promise anything yet. Thank you for reading and please share your experiences about defense mechanisms with the me and the other readers. We all have a lot to learn.

Farfetched: Ramping with Titan Shift

After I finished my last article, a friend of mine messaged me on Facebook and asked me about the land patterns for the deck, as he wanted to play the deck at Grand Prix Phoenix. I realized that this topic is very important if you’re picking up the deck, so I decided to do a little bonus article about it. Welcome to Farfetched!

For reference, here is the decklist that I top’2 Grand Prix Madrid with going 13-3 individually.

I used to run a slightly different split of fetches with the nod to Bloodstained Mire over Windswept Heath. Bloodstained Mire lets you fetch basic Mountain on turn two, and Windswept Heath is better against Blood Moon when you want a Forest out of your deck as soon as possible. When you’re in the market of building your Mountain count, you will have to shock your self with Windswept Heath on turn two.

Stomping Ground is your early game Taiga that will cost you some lifepoints. On the play against an aggressive deck, it’s not rare that you shock your self and pass the turn with Lightning Bolt up anticipating a one drop from the opponent to make sure you can curve out your Farseek or Sakura-Tribe Elder next turn. Also fetching out Stomping Ground over Forest on turn one to suspend Search for Tomorrow is almost always right in the dark. The exception is against aggressive strategies or when you’re already holding a Scapeshift, because Scapeshift kills the opponent either way and only Primeval Titan cares about your Mountain count. You often fetch out Stomping Ground on your opponent’s end step for obvious reasons.

Cinder Glade is your late game Taiga that you sometimes have to work  a little for. Most games will leave you with two basic lands in play no matter what you do, but some games you will have to fetch out basic Mountain with your fetchland or Farseek in order to make the Cinder Glade in your hand an untapped land for Primeval Titan on time. You fetch out Cinder Glade with Farseek when you only have non basics in play and would rather draw Stomping Ground from the top of your deck than Cinder Glade.

During a long tournament like a Grand Prix, I expect you to cycle this card once or twice, and most of the time search it out with Farseek or fetchlands with hands that don’t want to draw a ETB tapped land off the top.

You will fetch out this land turn one against Burn when you have the Search for Tomorrow or later in the game when you already have five Mountains and no Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle on the battlefield, because you want as many Mountains in your deck as possible. The other reason is Blood Moon. I’ve encountered situations more than once where I resolve Summoner’s Pact and Primeval Titan against a deck that potentially has Blood Moon. In these situations, I will search up two Forests (or the last one if I already have one) to make sure I don’t lose to the pact trigger. Overall Forest is the most unexciting land in your deck, but rather a necessary evil thanks to red mages.

The good old basic Mountain will give you painfree Mountain development. When you’re going for a late game Scapeshift, make sure to beat Ghost Quarter and Field of Ruin by leaving at least one Mountain in your deck. They will also come in handy for super grindy games against Control and Jund where you’re trying to natural Valakut them out. A few times I’ve run out of actual basic Mountains in my deck to make Sakura and Search useless as Lighting Bolt impersonaters. Don’t put your self in that situation, so manage your total number of Mountains just as carefully as your basic and non basic number.

I think I got it all, but feel free to ask if I missed anything or something is unclear.

Grand Prix Madrid

Casting Primeval Titan in Madrid *2nd*

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s article, which is a special one for me. As most of you probably know, and the title partially gives away, my team managed to place second at the Team Trios Grand Prix in Madrid. That not only means that we won a whole lot of matches of Magic under the Spanish sun, that also means that I will be going back to the Pro Tour in a format I’m actually interested in and reasonably good at. I can’t wait to go to Minneapolis this summer and play some more high level Modern!

The Legacy Portion

In seat C, which is the Legacy slot, I had the privilege of having Thomas Enevoldsen. Thomas is known for his escapades with Death & Taxes in Legacy and have been toying around with different builds of the deck since his breakout back in 2013. I recently went back and read this excellent article from Caleb Durward where he talks about Grand Prix Strasbourg in 2013, which coincidentally was the same tournament I had my breakthrough. You should definitely check it out if you like history and Legacy combined.

Long story short, Thomas didn’t like the deck in today’s metagame of Kolaghan’s Command  and way more sweepers like Marsh Casualties  and Toxic Deluge  compared to back in the day, so he was looking for an alternative for Madrid. Luckily for him, I had been playing a lot of 4-Color Leovold and pitched him the idea that it was finally time to play with good cards and turn one protection against broken things instead of playing with a handicap (basic Plains). It didn’t take him long to adopt some of my ideas and develop his own through testing on Magic Online. We did some sparring mostly about sideboard plans and the last flex slot in the main deck, but I could see even after just a few leagues, he had already exceeded my abilities with the deck, and I felt super confident going into the tournament with him as the pilot and me to his right with input when needed. Thomas Leovoldsen was born.

Thomas Leovoldsen

The Standard Portion

The Scarab God

For Standard we put our trust in Michael Bonde to choose a good deck to smash the opposition. Michael doesn’t excel in deckbuilding, but he is very versatile in picking up a deck and playing it well after some dedicated testing. He ended up playing Blue/Black Midrange – a deck that has a lot of play to it and actually has many similarities to 4-Color Leovold from Legacy. He had many complex boardstates during the weekend, and each and every time he was able to solve them to give our team the best chance of winning our match. I know nothing about Standard, but I know a few things about Magic in general. I felt confident from round 1 all the way to the finals that Michael would do the right things in-game. Trust like that can’t be understated in team tournaments. My best advice is don’t team with someone you feel the need to supervise too much during matches.

The Modern Portion


Magic Online Championship Series 2015 (2nd)
World Magic Cup Qualifier 2016 (2nd)

Now let’s focus on the tournament through the lens of yours truly. I hadn’t played Modern in a while when Wizards of the Coast dropped the bomb on us – Bloodbraid Elf  and Jace, the Mind Sculptor  was unbanned in Modern. My first thought was to play Jace in a blue Scapeshift deck to ramp it out on turn three and hopefully get a few activations out of it which should be enough to win games. I wanted to play Search for Azcanta and flip it for ramping or card advantage purposes. In practice the deck dealt too much damage to it self, Jace got killed right away and I got out-controlled against decks like Grixis and Blue/White Control. I made the mature decision and discarded the deck and started researching the web for inspiration, and I came across another favorite of mine. TitanShift with Bloodbraid Elf!

Inspirational deck list (5-0)


I liked the Bloodbraids a lot in theory, but I needed to get some games in to verify that it’s a good enough card on average in the deck. I basically inserted the elf in my old list from last summer where I won a PPTQ with TitanShift. Read about that here.

Bloodbraid Elf will most of the time hit a ramp spell and let you develop your lands and help you win the game with Primeval Titan or Scapeshift. The 3/2 haste part of the card is great when you’re trying to deal with planeswalkers (I easily won a game on the draw vs. turn three Karn Liberated this weekend) or pressure opponent’s lifetotal to make Valakut triggers lethal earlier, but just having a blocker can save you the turn you need to top deck a Titan or Scapeshift. It especially excels after sideboard where you’ve cut potentially dead cards like Lightning Bolt and only have good hits. It also supplements the midrange plan with Tireless Tracker, Obstinate Baloth and Thragtusk perfectly in matchups where Blood Moon, Leyline of Sanctity, Negate, Runed Halo and other hate is expected.

In the last article I talked a lot about the card choices, so today I will focus on the reasoning behind choosing this deck for the weekend and provide sideboard guides for the most common matchups.

The above archetypes were not only my expected metagame, but also share the description of “even-good” matchup for TitanShift. Blue/Red Storm and Death’s Shadow, which are bad matchups for my deck, are on a huge downswing, and I wanted to exploit that this weekend. I felt very confident about Jund being the most played deck, and conveniently TitanShift is also great against decks that are good against Jund. I had the pleasure to play against five copies of Jund and five Tron decks this weekend, so I guess you can say my prediction was spot on. The point I’m getting to is that you can’t leverage that much skill at the table with TitanShift, but picking it for just the right weekend is the real skill here. I went 13-3 individually losing to Tron and Hollow One in the swiss and Grixis Shadow in the finals, and here is the 75 I chose for the event.
Top4 Grand Prix Madrid TitanShift Andreas Petersen

Sideboarding

Jund

Out:

In:


Tron

Out:

In:


Burn

Out:

In:


Affinity

Out:

In:


Humans

Out:

In:


Hollow One

Out:

In:


Bogles

Out:

In:


Jace Control

Out:

In:

I’m still high on adrenaline from the weekend and didn’t get nearly enough sleep yet, so I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff that is really important. Don’t hesitate to ask me about the deck or the trip in general. Thank you all for the awesome support before, during and after the tournament. I will try my hardest to make you proud when it’s time to battle at the Pro Tour this August. I love you guys!

First Data from the Jace and Bloodbraid Era

Dead Format, BUT…

While the format for Grand Prix Lyon this past weekend was Modern, the data from that tournament is not as interesting as it could have been, as the tournament used the old banned list (no Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Bloodbraid Elf allowed). However, the winning deck played by my fellow Snapcardster goon, Polish platinum-aspiring pro player, Grzegorz ‘urlich00’ Kowalski, might have a shot in the new metagame thanks to its’ individual high card quality and hasty creatures.

If you want to learn more about Red/Green Eldrazi, head over to our friends at Hareruya and read his words about the deck now and moving forward.  I love the interaction between Ancient Stirrings and Crumble to Dust in a deck with mana acceleration.

Modern Challenge February 17

A few days ago, approximately 140 players tried their hand at the fresh format and decided to participate in the weekly “Modern Challenge” on Magic Online. The competition is always fierce online, so I figured it would be a great sneak peak to the new metagame to take a look at the top 32 finishing decks from that event.

Top 32

* = Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks
+ = Bloodbraid Elf decks

  • 4 Burn
  • 3 Blue/Red Control (1 Thing in the Ice, 1 Kiki-Jiki, 1 Breach/Emrakul)*
  • 2 Red/Black Hollow One
  • 2 Green/X Tron
  • 2 Jund Midrange+
  • 2 Dredge
  • 2 Humans
  • Grixis Shadow
  • Blue/White Turns*
  • Grixis Control*
  • Living End
  • Bant Knightfall
  • Bushwacker Zoo
  • Tribal Zoo+
  • Storm
  • Jeskai Ascendancy
  • Affinity
  • Temur Midrange*+
  • Blue/White Control*
  • Ad Nauseam
  • Mono Red Prison
  • Blue/Black Mill

check out all the decklists of the modern challenge

Jace in Mind

The final of the tournament ended up being a Burn mirror match, and while that doesn’t tell the whole story, there are some important things to take note of. If you look closely at the metagame breakdown above, you will notice that most decks either were Jace decks themselves, tried to go under Jace decks (fast aggressive strategies like Burn, Humans, Hollow One, Affinity, Dredge and Zoo variants), was packing the natural predator of Jace – Bloodbraid Elf or was trying to punish opposing blue mages for tapping out on their fourth turn (true for Ad Nauseam, Jeskai Ascendancy and Living End). The point is that a lot of decks in the format can continue go about their business, as they are already set up pretty well against Jace.

On the other hand, I don’t think players have come close to finding the best shell for Jace yet, so in the meantime Jace players will not only need to plan for a diverse field of proactive decks, they also need to prepare for the pseudo mirror match. New formats, whether it being a Standard rotation or unbannings in the case of Modern, have traditionally favoured proactive strategies, and this is no exception. Jace will need some more time to reach his full potential.

Less is Not More

The next few days after the banned and restricted announcement, I was afraid that this would make the number of playable decks in Modern smaller. While I’m not 100% convinced the opposite is the case yet, the weekend’s results were a step in the right direction. Modern is the most popular format because of its’ diversity, and I would hate for it to end up like Standard or Vintage with only a handful of truly playable decks. 25 different decks in a top 32 only happens in one format. Fingers crossed this continues moving forward.

Zero Lantern and Zero Bogles

Also interesting to note, no Lantern Control or Green/White Hexproof decks placed well in this tournament. Coming off a Pro Tour win, many people anticipated an uptick in Lantern Control‘s metagame share, but I’m fairly certain that the difficulty and atypical kind of Magic the deck presents to the pilot will always keep the deck well under 5%. I feel okay facing this matchup one out of more than twenty matches.

In the case of the Hexproof deck, I believe reality caught up with the deck. While it’s very good in many metagames on paper, the deck is very high variance, especially in a long tournament like a Grand Prix. Hats off to Dan Ward for taking down the Grand Prix last weekend (by the way, go read the interview I did with him if you haven’t already), but I don’t expect many copies of Gladecover Scout in various top 8’s in the coming months. That being said, if we continue to see more and more Burn and various Control decks at the top tables, I’m willing to revisit this strategy again and try and to either fix or live with the consistency issues.

Three Checkmarks

For my next Modern tournament, I will try to earn the following checkmarks to feel good about my deck choice:

Be even-good against Burn.

The format is still too big to play dedicated hate cards against them, but Lightning Helix, Collective Brutality, Dispel and/or a good manabase will get you a long way.

Be even-good against Tron.

The four copies of Tron in the Grand Prix Lyon top 8 can’t be ignored. You accomplish this by playing a very fast strategy or finding a way to freeroll a land destruction plan into your deck. Spreading Seas, Field of Ruin and Ghost Quarter, while Ceremonious Rejection and Stony Silence are great sideboard options.

Be even-good against Jace.

Play fast creatures, play creature lands with three power, play a combo deck that will win on the spot if they tap out, operate at instant speed with Collected Company or flash creatures, or play value creatures with great enter the battlefield triggers. The options are many, thankfully.

Thank you so much for reading about my thoughts. Which checkmarks are you aiming for in the beginning of the format?

Daniel Ward winning GP Toronto

Meet the Pros: Daniel Ward

Hey Dan and first of all, huge congratulations on your well deserved victory this weekend! For those unfamiliar with you, can you give a quick introduction of your self? From professional life to magical accomplishments.

I am a Veteran of the US Navy, now working for a drug and alcohol recovery center. Magic has always been a passion to me from the kitchen table to the Pro Tour (I just qualified for my 10th). I have now top 8’ed in five Grand Prix and top 8’ed a World Magic Cup Qualifier.

You managed to take down the Grand Prix in Toronto this weeking piloting Green/White Hexproof. Looking at your list, a few card choices stand out. Talk about the Leylines in the main deck, and Dromoka’s Command and the two copies of Seal of Primordium in the sideboard.

The Leylines in the main deck have always been a consideration depending on the metagame. After speaking with friends about the deck,  I made the decision that it was prime for this weekend. Dromoka’s Command was a card that was put in the deck thanks to my friend and trip mate Chris Juilano. I had room for two cards in my sideboard and wanted them to be high impact. With Command comes so much flexibility and it took us about an hour on the ride up to go over all applications which we obviously missed some. In this tournament I did everything from have my opponent sacrifice his Phyrexian Unlife, prevent all damage from Secure the Wastes (Command needs two targets) and have my opponent sacrifice Search for Azcanta, fight Goblin Guide plus have my opponent lose his Eidolon of the Great Revel. Seal of Primordium was something I’m not a big fan of, but if you watched the finals I’m sure glad I had them. So the big thing is they deal with Chalice of the Void while being on board pumping your creature with Ethereal Armor. Pretty much when it’s good it’s great. Also with Affinity and Lantern being popular they are added hate which is great.

According to my research, this weekend wasn’t the first time you sleeved up hexproof creatures and auras at a Modern tournament. Tell us why it was the right choice for this weekend.

In my opinion, Bogles is always good, but in some cases great. This weekend I really liked it since I thought there would be more hate for Lantern and just simply not enough players willing to pick Lantern up (thank god because that matchup is miserable). Humans performed the best at the Pro Tour and going in to the tournament I thought that matchup was a bye, but I was surprised it was way closer. So I thought people would either play Humans or play a deck that beats Humans which is great for a deck with mostly untargetable creatures.

On the flipsde, which metagame changes would make Bogles a bad choice in the future?

I think if people want to beat any deck in Modern, they can. But Bogles is worse when combo is good. Bogels is by definition a fair deck and has trouble when the unfair ones are at the top.

I know you have enjoyed Standard a lot over the years. If you were to give your best sales speech to convince players to play Standard, despite chaotics printings and bannings the last few years, what would it sound like?

My Standard soap box goes as follows. If you like change and not getting bored with playing the same deck, I think you have found a format to enjoy. It’s wide open right now, and the game play is very fun. I think from a deck building standpoint, it’s also a format that allows a shifting meta game.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf just got unbanned in Modern. Thoughts?

My thoughts are I do not understand why they would do anything to shake up a format that has finaly been stable and awesome for a while. With that said, I think Bloodbraid Elf is fine to come off, and it will have impact, but not change too much. With Jace, the Mind Sculptor I’m just shaking my head. This card is potentially format warping, and I predict it will make it back on the banned list again.

Thank you so much for taking your time to take part in this interview. If you have any sponsor, twitter handle or twitch stream to share, now is the time!

Twitter is @Bigward28, stream shoutout my friend Kappolo42, And lastly #Goonsquad.

Preparing for Grand Prix Lyon

Wow, that was a great Pro Tour to watch. Any concerns about Modern not being able to hold up to the scrutiny of the pro teams were pretty much rendered mute. The top 8 had 7 different archetypes, and the diversity continued throughout the posted decklists. The most popular deck was 5-color Humans but because it’s just a bunch of creatures it is very beatable if you just try a little.

Lantern winning the whole thing seems to have garnered the most talk about banning but I’m not sure it’s warranted. I have very little experience playing against Lantern so I don’t have a good idea of how beatable it actually is. It seems like Burn and Tron have decent matchups but I for one do not want those decks to see more play. Anyway, as long as there are so few people actually capable of piloting Lantern, the problem might be too small to warrant bannings. Then again, it’s a pretty weak argument that it’s only a small number of people ruining things for the rest of us. I’ll stay out of the debate for now and be content whether something is banned or not.

Instead I’ll try to figure out what I should play at Grand Prix Lyon next week. When deciding on a deck in Modern I think you should always choose between decks you have extensive experience with. There are so many different matchups and weird interactions that you will be very hard pressed picking up a new deck the day before a tournament and do well. Of course, if you have a long time to prepare and build up a mastery of a new deck, by all means go for it, but a week which includes working full time is not enough.

That actually brings me to an important announcement if you haven’t heard: I have decided to quit my day job and spend all my time on Magic. For this blog it means that I will be devoting more time to writing and I will try to do more writing while I’m playing. This way I write down my thoughts as they occur so I don’t have to remember a couple of days back when I sit down to write an article. So if you feel like my posts are of low quality (yet are somehow still reading?) you should see an improvement soon. If you don’t, then I hope you will still see an improvement. I will also be trying my hand at streaming and a good friend and I have started working on a Youtube project so keep an eye out for that. I’m very excited for all of this and of course a bit nervous but I hope the excitement will win out and shine through.

Back to Modern, I have 3 options: Storm, UW Control and Mardu Pyromancer. I have played both Storm and UW at Grand Prixs before and I played a lot with Mardu during December and January. Given ample practice time I think I would play Tron since it’s good against Mardu, Lantern (I think) and Humans, all of which I could see being popular in Lyon. Then again, it’s Modern so week to week metagame changes are pretty negligible, another reason why I favor just playing something you know well.

Of the three, I have the least experience with Mardu so there would have to be some big tendencies in the metagame for me to choose it over one of the others. If I knew the metagame would be the same as the Pro Tour I would snap it off but the trifecta of Burn, Tron and Scapeshift will likely be more popular at the Grand Prix so I don’t think I have the guts to bring it.

I had actually thought UW Control to be kind of dead but the printing of Search for Azcanta and maybe more importantly Field of Ruin has given new life to the deck. I definitely enjoy playing it more than Storm but not enough to want to play it unless it is as good or better, so I’ll have to figure out if that’s the case.

Looking over the Pro Tour lists, they are actually quite similar to what I used to play, and I have tried both with and without Ancestral Vision. Last I played it, around Grand Prix Birmingham, I had abandoned Ancestral but when people like Raphael Levy, Lee Shi Tian and Tomoharu Saito include it, I consider the discussion reopened at least.

There were two main reasons why I cut it. First, the most important thing for the deck was to play its fourth land on time to unlock Supreme Verdict and Cryptic Command. Cards like Wall of Omens were more help there. Second, the top dogs were Grixis Shadow and Eldrazi Tron who had Stubborn Denial and Chalice of the Void respectively, which made it too uncertain that Ancestral would resolve.

I set to testing with a non-ancestral list and found myself struggling to get to just 3 wins in a league. I don’t think I played the same deck more than twice during 5 leagues, so it’s not like I just faced a bad matchup all the time. It’s just that UW is a deck that really requires you to be focused almost all the time. The games are often close until well after turn 5 and even in the late game you can lose by spending the wrong counterspell/answer on their threat. Since it was so long since I had played UW I often made these small missteps in the first two leagues and then I got frustrated and made even more in the next. For me at least, if I am going to play this deck I need to be calm and comfortable which I wasn’t. Since I don’t know if I can get there before the Grand Prix I turned back to trusty old Storm.

I started out with a chat with Snapcardster buddy Michael Bonde who had just played it at the Pro Tour to a 6-3-1 record. He still like the deck so I questioned him about his list:

Creatures (6)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (37)
Serum Visions
Opt
Sleight of Hand
Pyretic Ritual
Desperate Ritual
Manamorphose
Remand
Unsubstantiate
Gifts Ungiven
Noxious Revival
Past in Flames
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Lands (17)
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Shivan Reef
Mountain
Island
Snow-covered Island

Sideboard (15)
Pieces of the Puzzle
Empty the Warrens
Wipe Away
Echoing Truth
Gigadrowse
Shattering Spree
Lightning Bolt
Dismember

There are a couple of new things here, compared to my last list. First off is the full amount of one mana cantrips which I don’t have any argument against; you want to churn through your deck so let’s play all the cards that help do it. Then there is one Unsubstantiate instead of the third Remand. I think this is brilliant because while you lose out on a card, being able to bounce something like Meddling Mage or Eidolon of the Great Revel can give you a chance in a lot of games where you otherwise wouldn’t have any. Next, it seems Noxious Revival has claimed another victim. I even gave it a second chance after talking to Michael and I never cast it. Either I was winning without it or I needed it to be a card in my hand and not on top of my library to be able to win. I am sticking to Simian Spirit Guide and I will spend a lot of thought over the next weeks to come up with a proper argument rather than just “one has been great for me, the other hasn’t.”

Finally, the manabase is completely free of fetches. The advantage is that when you scry something to the bottom of your library, you get to keep it there until you play Gifts Ungiven. The downsides are that you are slightly weaker to Blood Moon and I think you take slightly more damage from your lands (calling Frank Karsten to do the math here). I think both downsides are pretty negligible; since playing without fetches, I have faced Blood Moon twice and won even with no Islands in play. The cost is just one mana for playing a Manamorphose before you play a guy. No matter how the actual math shakes out, I’m sure there is a less than one life per game difference. I remember one game in Madrid that I won because my turn 1 Scalding Tarn made my opponent play his turn two a bit differently in case I was playing a deck with Lightning Bolt or Spell Snare, but I think that’s extremely rare and doesn’t move the needle noticeably. I like going fetchless.

The sideboard is where things get really interesting. Michael had gotten it from Caleb Scherer’s blog  and I recommend you read the 5 or so posts he has written about Storm. I played some leagues with his list and followed his sideboard guide. The essence is that when you expect graveyard hate (which is close to always), you cut the Gifts package for Pieces of the Puzzle and look to play a long game where you either play multiple smaller Empty the Warrens or just stock up your hand and kill with Grapeshot plus Remand. I had just been playing Pieces as an extra grindy card and rarely shaved even a single Gifts, but I tried it out nonetheless.

My opinion after 10 leagues or so is that Caleb goes overboard with the Pieces plan, at least in some of the matchups. Against Tron, for example, I don’t think there’s a need to take them in, I would rather just keep my game plan intact, force them to draw hate and when they do, you still have bounce and/or artifact removal to power through it. I like to have some number of Pieces, but I see them more as a way to help dig for a bounce spell. Against all the blue decks, Gifts is often better, even for grinding, because it’s an instant, and you still get card advantage.

The only matchup where I agree with making the full Gifts-Pieces switch is against Shadow decks where can be quite sure that you won’t be able to combo off the normal way, and where even small Empty’s are likely to win the game. Otherwise, the main plan is just so strong that by switching you have already given up considerable percentage points, whether they draw hate cards or not. Of course, I am not 100% on this and I’m not sure how it is possible to have a rational discussion about this since it basically come down to numbers which none of us are able to calculate properly (I would think even Dr. Karsten would be hard pressed). Nevertheless, I am very interested in any points you might have, no matter which side of the argument they favor.

I am not quite sure what list I’ll play but if you swap Noxious Revival for Spirit Guide in Michael’s list above, you’ll be pretty close. If you have a list, I’d love to see it and hear your reasoning. Wish me luck in Lyon, and good luck to you wherever your next tournament might be. If you’d like to see some of the video content I’m going to do, follow me on social media, I’ll post whenever something goes up.

The Quest continues

When I last discussed Standard, I had arrived at Abzan Tokens as the best way to leverage sweepers. As I continued grinding at the leagues and failing to escape mediocrity, I realized the problem; sweepers just aren’t good right now. As I alluded to last time, the combination of diverse and resilient threats and sideboard countermagic just makes it too risky to rely on resolving sweepers.

I wouldn’t accept the demise of Control so easily, so I looked for a way to 1-for-1 the opponent with good removal and then either outdraw them or play a big threat that they can’t deal with. UB is the natural place to look here but I was hesitant to be confined in those two colors since you have no way to deal with artifacts or enchantments, and very aggressive decks can be tough since they overload your Fatal Pushes.

This is what I came up with:

Creatures (10)
Whirler Virtuoso
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Essence Scatter
Search for Azcanta
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Vraska's Contempt
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Dragonskull Summit
Canyon Slough
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Duress
Arguel's Blood Fast//Temple of Aclazotz
Disallow
Moment of Craving
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra's Defeat
Crook of Condemnation

One of the big reasons why I like Standard is that even if there are many distinct decks, they pretty much all fall under the umbrella of aggro, midrange or control. Furthermore, all decks in each archetype more or less does the same thing, which means the same sideboard cards are good against all of them. Cheap removal and incidental lifegain is great against both Mono Red and Mardu Vehicles, and Negate is great against both UW Approach and UB Control. Of course I am oversimplifying but the important point remains that you can put rather narrow cards in your sideboard and still have them be useful against many decks. In Modern, for example, the cards that hose Affinity are not much use against Burn.

This makes you more likely to be rewarded for predicting tendencies in the metagame, so if you correctly predict there will be a lot of aggro, you can build your deck to crush all types of aggro quite handily and you will likely face a lot of them in the tournament. You just don’t get metagaming like that in Modern.

All that being said, I think this Grixis deck has a good shot against both aggro, midrange and control. You have removal, The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk so midrange is very easy. All the removal alongside the full set of Whirler Virtuoso manages aggro decks quite well. More hardcore control decks are tough and close to unbeatable in game 1. So I added a bunch of Negates and Duress to the board and hoped it would fix things. As is often the case when you just shoot and pray like that, it didn’t. The problem was that Negate and Duress just didn’t create a coherent plan. When all my threats cost 5 or 6 mana they’re just too hard to force through, even with the extra disruption, it simply requires too much mana in one turn.

Luckily there is a cheap threat that fits brilliantly with the rest of the deck; Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. It comes down before they can keep countermagic up and they probably won’t have left very much removal in for it. It then keeps drawing cards and eventually forces them to act lest they just die. And the first one to act in a control mirror midgame usually loses.

I also realized that it would be nice to have a few answers to stuff like Carnage Tyrant so I added two Doomfall as well. This is where my list is now:

Creatures (10)
Whirler Virtuoso
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Essence Scatter
Search for Azcanta
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Disallow
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Vraska's Contempt
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Dragonskull Summit
Canyon Slough
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Duress
Disallow
Moment of Craving
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra's Defeat
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Doomfall

The deck feels great and I think I would have top 8’ed the MTGO PTQ last Saturday if not for my own mistakes. I will keep sporting this at the PTQ’s but for now it’s time to head back to Modern. The Pro Tour just added a ton of new data and my next Grand Prix is Modern in Lyon in a little over a week so I better get to it. By just skimming over the Pro Tour decklists UW Control could be a good choice, dare I hope that turns out to be true? Stay tuned to find out.

Meet the Pros: Simon Nielsen

Simon Nielsen is a Danish professional player. Best known for winning the 2014 World Magic Cup as a member of the Danish national team, at which he famously turned around a seemingly unwinnable game by topdecking the one-of Duneblast (dubbed the “Daneblast”) in a crucial situation.[1] Nielsen also has four Grand Prix top eight finishes, and his best Pro Tour result is a 10th-place finish at PT Eldritch Moon in 2016.mtg.gamepedia.com

Nickname RedButtonTie
Born June 30, 1994
Residence Copenhagen, Denmark
Nationality Denmark.png Danish
Pro Tour debut PT Fate Reforged 2015
Pro Tour top 8s 0
Grand Prix top 8s 4 (0 wins)
Median Pro Tour Finish 110
Pro Tours Played 11
Lifetime Pro Points 117 (as of 2017-11-28)
source mtg.gamepedia.com

Many people might know you as a curly-haired dude wearing silly clothes at Grand Prix and Pro Tours, but I want to hear some background story. Do you remember the turning point where you evolved from a casual player to an aspiring high level player?

As with most evolution over time, I can’t pinpoint an exact spot where I “leveled up”, though back in the beginning of 2011 when I had just started playing (and told myself that I wouldn’t want to invest anything into Magic. Yeah, right…) I randomly tripped over the Top 8 coverage of Pro Tour Paris online and watched it all in one go. I was hooked. I thought it was really cool what I saw Ben Stark and Paul Rietzl do – play this game at a high competitive level – and I wanted to do that too.

Since then, I remember some crucial moments in my ascension towards the Pro Circuit. Going to my first FNM where I met Martin Müller, experiencing a Grand Prix for the first time, winning a WMCQ with my own deck and subsequently winning that World Magic Cup, being accepted into team EUreka when it was still in its infancy, and making a deep run in Pro Tour Kyoto to miraculously hit Gold.

Simon Nielsen vs. Antonio Castellani

You have jokingly talked about your self as the luckiest player in the world numerous times. Can you share your view on variance, skill and dedication and talk about how they each contribute to becoming a professional Magic player?

To me, these three elements are highly intertwined. I obviously can’t be the world’s luckiest player, because there is no such thing, but since the beginning I’ve been quite good at focusing on when I get lucky instead of the times I am unfortunate and devote most of my attention to what I actually can control. It’s no secret that you need to get lucky to win a tournament, but I do think there is a way to somewhat control that luck.

Let’s imagine that you play a game where all you need to do is roll two sixes with two dice. You wouldn’t just roll the dice once, hope to get lucky and complain if you don’t. You wouldn’t even settle for 10 rolls, you’d just keep rolling until you eventually get there. And it’s basically the same thing you need to do with Magic. Attend as many PPTQs or Grand Prix as you can, eventually you’re bound to win or top 8 one.

But some players might actually never get there, because the other thing you need to do is work on your game and improve your skill. Sort out your ingame mistakes, ask better players for advice and learn from their strategy, do plenty of smart testing, preferably daily. Only by combining the constant improvement and the infinite persistance will you reach your goals.

Some might say that I got pretty lucky to get on the train so easily, and while I do think I’ve hit some great strides along the way, I’ve also put a ridiculous amount of work and time into this game. I do believe that once you reach a certain level where you’ve played some RPTQs and gotten deep into some Grand Prix day 2’s, if you dedicate yourself to get there and you work hard and smart, you’re favored to hit Gold within 3-4 years. That might just be survivorship bias, though.

Finals: Denmark vs. Greece

Testing for important tournaments, most players do it in teams. Please tell us about the role(s) you have had on the various teams you have been a part of.

I’ve been joking that my role on Team EUreka was that if anyone 0-3’d a team draft and felt bad about themselves, they could always just like at me, throw a comment or two, and all of a sudden feel much better.

Out of my 11 Pro Tour appearances I’ve been rogue teams twice and otherwise on superteams like EUreka and MTG Mintcard. And honestly, I often doubt how I could end up on these teams, especially EUreka since back then I was clearly one of the worst players on the team. But I just got on the team when it wasn’t that serious and kept requalifying for the Pro Tour to stay on. But I worked hard and I’m friendly enough that everybody likes me.

So that has mostly been my role, just the hard worker who could easily play Magic for 12-14 hours a day. When I got on Mintcard I had grown a lot as a player and I feel like I contribute more and also help with organisation. Even though I still am one of the weaker links on Mintcard it feels like it’s much more justified that I am on their team. And I’ve grown really close with some of the players, especially the ones from Australia and New Zealand, so being on the team is just as much about friendship as it is professional Magic.

Going for Gold Again: Team Denmark

Wizards of the Coast seems to favor team tournaments moving forward. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of individual and team tournaments respectively?

Team Sealed is one of my favorite formats, even though it has dawned on me recently that I’m not actually very good at it. I’ve also quite enjoyed Team Modern as it takes out the pairings-based variance that is one of the bigger problems with Modern, as you get 3 pairings per round to water it out, not just one.

And playing with friends is always awesome, you win together, you lose together. But there can be such a thing as too much, as it’s a bit of a hustle sometimes to find teammates, and losing to your own mistakes feels especially bad when you also let your teammates down. I’m looking forward to the next half a year with curiosity, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I’m tired of team tournaments next August.

Speaking about their team focus, what does the Team Series on the Pro Tour mean for you playing?

To be honest I’m not too hyped about the Team series. Last season I decided to stay out of it to not bother with binding myself to a testing team, getting shirts etc. for the miniscule upside that I might be in the top 2 teams. Also, where was I going to find 5 other people who’d want to wear the tie?

But after hanging out with some of the guys from Team Lingering Souls I got to see their excitement as they qualified for an extra Pro Tour through the Team Series. So this year I wanna partake in that excitement to see your teammates do well and also try to qualify my friends Zen Takahashi and Anthony Lee for the Pro Tour. We had a very bad first Pro Tour in Alburquerque, where all our Gold players missed Day 2 and only Anthony got extra Pro points with Onwards/Victory on Carnage Tyrant.

Fast forward two years from now. Where do you see Magic as a whole and your career at that point?

It’s always to tell what’s going to happen in the future, but I would hope and expect that I’ve settled into a temporary lifestyle as a professional Magic Player. It’s really exciting for me to watch players like Pascal Maynard and Sam Pardee reach PT final after PT final, because 3-4 years ago they were in kinda the same spot I’m in now: hard workers who aren’t necessarily naturally talented but who just started to top 8 Grand Prix more or less regularly.

Now they’re both forces to be reckoned with on the Pro Tour scene and hopefully that will be the future I have ahead of me if I keep working hard.

Quarter Finals: Denmark vs. Serbia

Which are the three next important tournaments on your schedule and what are your expectations like?

Now I have a bit of a Christmas/New Years lull before the season starts up again with Pro Tour Bilbao and Grand Prix London before that. I like Modern a lot and expect to play the format a ton during the next month to be ready for it. I think I’m in a good spot to get that 11-5 I need to lock up Gold for another season. As far as Limited goes, Mintcard has been doing a great job of providing me with the Limited intel I need to do well in these events, so hopefully that continues.

I haven’t looked at the Grand Prix schedule after the Pro Tour, so that’s a worry for another day. But before I leave for London, Zen Takahashi comes and visits me in Denmark, which I am very excited about!

Thanks a lot, and best of luck at the upcoming events! Feel free to mention sponsors, thank your mom or leave your twitter handle.

If you’d want to read more from me, I write articles for mtgmintcard.com. My most recommended pieces are “How to become the Worlds Luckiest Magic Player” and “All your invalid excuses

Top 8 at GP Madrid

A few weeks ago I attended Grand Prix Madrid with my awesome and frequent travel buddies Oscar Christensen and Christoforos Lampadarios. It was Team Modern so the first task was to find a good lineup of decks. We agreed early on that the optimal strategy was for each of us to play a deck that person had a lot of experience with, and to value experience over metagame considerations. This presented a problem immediately as Oscar was on Abzan Company (and top 8’ed a GP with it) while Chris was on Abzan Midrange. Obviously these are not compatible for a team Grand Prix so something had to give.

At first my thought process was that Oscar is the better player (no shade on Chris, we just have to admit that Oscar is pretty damn good) so he should play something else and let Chris play what he knew. But as we got closer to the tournament, Oscar became more and more convinced that it was a mistake to not play the Company deck; it was too good to leave out, especially with an experienced pilot. He managed to convince me but I decided to stay out of it and let the two of them settle on a solution since it was their decks.

Whoever didn’t play Abzan would probably play Eldrazi Tron, so Oscar got Chris to play some games with Eldrazi Tron and he reported back after a few days that the deck was insane and he wouldn’t mind playing it. I had been set on Storm for a long time and since it didn’t have any overlap with the other decks, there was never any reason to deviate.

With our Company, Eldrazi, Storm lineup set, I really liked our chances. There are very varied opinions on Eldrazi Tron and I have heard pros call it anything from unplayable to insanely good, but the fact is that it has some unbeatable nut draws and a lot of late game power, so there is at least potential. To be honest, I didn’t really influence our choice that much. I just said I would play Storm and let the other two decide what to play, so I don’t have an informed opinion on their decks. They both really liked Tron, though and Chris ended up going 12-2 at the Grand Prix for what it’s worth, small sample size and all.

This brings me to the thing that disappointed me most about this Grand Prix; we didn’t actually prepare as a team that much. I think it’s pretty common in a format like Modern since you have all these linear decks that probably only has one expert on your team, so everyone just figures out their own list. The only teamwork is figuring out what decks you’re playing and making sure you have no overlap. After that, I can’t imagine a Lantern player needing much input from his team.

The only exceptions I’ve seen is from Joel Larsson’s latest article on ChannelFireball where his team had to figure out their manabases together since they had overlap in colors and the fetches and shocks they wanted. And of course the great moment we had in the airport Friday night when Oscar and Chris where playing some games and someone noticed that they both had Walking Ballista in their deck… At least it was better than another Danish team who didn’t realize the same mistake until during the actual tournament. Their Company player had to continue with a basic land instead of ballista. We at least got to play Rhonas the Indomitable which makes little to no difference.

Anyways, we arrived in Madrid late Friday and I set about figuring out what list to play. I had tested on MTGO for about two weeks but had mostly focused on game play since I hadn’t played the Gifts Ungiven version of the deck before. As such, I hadn’t tried out all the potential configurations and sideboard cards so it was all theorycrafting. This is where I would really have liked to discuss it with two teammates with similar amounts of experience with the deck. Again, it’s not their fault, it’s just a natural consequence of the Team Modern format. If you haven’t played Storm (or UWx Control against Storm), how would you have an informed opinion on whether to play Gigadrowse or Dispel for that matchup? How would you know whether to play Empty the Warrens main or not, or Blood Moon in the board or not? Despite my displeasure with the process, I think I arrived at a good list:

Storm

Creatures (7)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (35)
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Apostle's Blessing
Remand
Past in Flames
Desperate Ritual
Pyretic Ritual
Manamorphose
Gifts Ungiven
Serum Visions
Opt
Sleight of Hand
Lands (18)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Steam Vents
Island
Mountain
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Empty the Warrens
Wipe Away
Gigadrowse
Blood Moon
Abrade
Lightning Bolt
Pieces of the Puzzle
Shatterstorm
Engineered Explosives

There is a surprising amount of variation in the Storm lists so I think it’s useful to go over why I made the choices I did. Let’s start with the main deck. I have seen anywhere from 2 to 4 electromancers and I went with 3 after having played 2 during testing. I can’t tell you for sure which is correct but I can tell you that I have rarely lacked one for going off (this is factoring in opponent’s removal), and I boarded one out against decks without removal. I also played one Apostle’s Blessing instead of the third Remand. This counts as an extra guy if you have already drawn one and it means you can play your guy on turn 2 and still protect it. I think it is a mistake, however Remand is just too good. It is obviously great with Baral, but as Oscar pointed out (and I hadn’t thought about for some weird reason) you can Remand your own Grapeshot to essentially double your storm count. I remember playing up to 4 Grapeshot before Baral and Gifts were a thing because you could often kill easier if you drew two. Remand does that and so much more and I’m beginning to agree with the people who play the full 4.

Next is my omission of Noxious Revival. I am pretty convinced that this card is bad. There are some obscure scenarios where you need it to put a card on top to be able to go off or you can counter something like Surgical Extraction but in all the common scenarios, it’s just a useless card and as soon as your hand size is pressured by discard or counterspells it absolutely sucks. Finally is the main deck Empty the Warrens. It is great against stuff like Grixis Shadow because you can go off early and make 8 goblins or something and they often can’t beat it. Also some crazy people play stuff like Leyline of Sanctity or Witchbane Orb in their main decks.

Lastly, Martin Müller played a Simian Spirit Guide, which I agree with and recommend going forward. The main point is that if you draw Past in Flames, you only need 5 mana to go off with Gifts (and a guy in play) instead of 6 because you can Gifts for 4 spells that make mana. Even if they give you Manamorphose and spirit guide, you can go up to 4 mana, cast Past in Flames and have one mana left to cast everything again. The crucial thing in favor of the ape is that unlike Noxious Revival, it doesn’t suck outside of this corner case scenario, it just makes an extra mana. I have even won several games where I had to kill turn 2 because I could play a guy, exile ape and the go off.

Then there is the sideboard, which I was really pleased with. My friend Magnus Christensen was kind enough to borrow me a bunch of cards and also suggested Abrade as both [/mtg_card]Lightning Bolt[/mtg_card] and artifact removal. It is great and effectively freed up two sideboard slots. Sometimes you want to bolt something turn 1 but I found that often I could spend two mana and work around it. Usually you kill something end of their turn and then untap and kill them. As artifact removal you often need it against decks where your guy lives and then it only costs 1 anyway.

The Shatterstorm should have been a Shattering Spree no doubt. One of the Wipe Away should have been Echoing Truth. I was very pleased when by Grishoalbrand opponent brought back a Griselbrand and asked to go to combat before drawing cards. Since that gave me priority I could bounce it and he couldn’t draw any cards in response. Being able to bounce Relic of Progenitus without them cracking it is also quite valuable. Still, being able to bounce two [/mtg_card]Rest in Peace[/mtg_card] or leylines with one card can be just as important so a 1-1 split makes sense to me.

Blood Moon is great in this deck and has won me so many games. It’s even better here than in other decks since you can play it turn 2. Shadow decks, all the new Search for Azcanta control decks and of course the big mana decks are all vulnerable to it. Pieces of the Puzzle and empty are pretty standard by now and I like the role they play. I was actually going to play a third pieces but I couldn’t immediately find one so I took the opportunity to throw in the miser’s Engineered Explosives. I like it a lot in Modern as there are a lot of troublesome permanents with converted mana cost 2 and once you’re lucky enough to draw it in a deciding game against Boggles, you’ll never want to get rid of it. Seriously, I don’t know if it’s correct to play and aside from the obvious cases I was always on the fence about bringing it in or not so I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly.

Day 1 of the Grand Prix was pretty unexciting for me. I only finished 5 matches before my teammates had decided the outcome, losing to a Company player who had turn 3 kill all 3 games, including turn 0 white leyline in game 3, and to Luis Salvatto’s Elves where I couldn’t overcome his Rest in Peace and Eidolon of Rhetoric in game 3. That’s what you sign up for with a deck like this; you can often beat a hate piece because it has made their draw slow enough to give you time to bounce it but if they still kill quickly or have multiple hate pieces, things get rough. There wasn’t anything super exciting happening in my games, even all my Gifts piles were pretty normal. What I want most with this deck is to win games because I play Gifts and my opponent gives me the wrong cards, but it didn’t happen all weekend.

Even on day 2 nothing special happened in my games, I think the highlight was the aforementioned bouncing of Griselbrand. On top of this, I was in seat C and was usually the last one to finish so I didn’t see that much of my teammate’s play either. It got a bit better on day 2 and I’m happy I got to sit next to Chris for the deciding game of the last round. I looked at the standings before the round and figured that if we won, we would get 8th and if we lost, we would get something like 21st, so it was a game for several hundred dollars and 2 pro points each.

The matchup was Chris’ Eldrazis against Dredge and he was on the play game 3 (he should have lost game 1 but the opponent attacked into his Wurmcoil Engine when he shouldn’t have, and that allowed him to race). His opener was a one lander with Ghost Quarter, Relic of Progenitus, Grafdigger’s Cage, 2 Matter Reshaper, a Walking Ballista and a Chalice of the Void. Against a deck as linear as Dredge, I think it’s a good hand and none of us disagreed. Several turns in, Chris had only drawn an Eldrazi Temple for land but luckily the opponent couldn’t do anything about the cage in play. Chris had to decide whether to play out the Matter Reshapers or play a second relic (the first had been popped to find land). Both Oscar and I were leaning towards playing more hate pieces but Chris was very keen on getting some pressure applied. It was his game, so we let him decide, but it did put a knot in my stomach. What if the opponent drew an Ancient Grudge?

Chris played reshapers and ballista the next turns and that made the second ballista for 1 exactly lethal through the opponent’s hardcast Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam blockers. I’m not sure if he would have lost by playing relic instead of the first reshaper, but I also don’t care. Chris took a line that Oscar and I were doubtful of, followed through with it, and won with it; beautiful Magic. And it got us 700$ and 3 pro points each as we did indeed get 8th, putting Oscar only 5 points away from Silver(!) and me close to reclaiming Bronze (not ‘!’).

We have already agreed to team up for the next Grand Prix Madrid which is Team Trios, meaning one will play Standard, one Modern and one Legacy. As I said earlier, I was a bit disappointed by the strategic aspect of Team Modern and I can only imagine it being worse in Trios since you’re now playing completely different formats. Nevertheless, I look forward to it because, leaving aside the strategy, I had such a blast with these two guys and being able to share your wins and losses is a much, much richer emotional experience than what you get in an individual tournament, and it has really strengthened our friendship. If you haven’t played a team event yet, find two friends and try it out! Let me know what you think about both the Storm deck and team tournaments in general.

A fan boy goes to the Pro Tour Part 2

Editorial Note: This is part two of Anders Pro Tour Experience. Read more about his first part.

Welcome back. I left you in part 1 knowing that Elias Watsfeldt went 11-5 to re-qualify and that Piotr made top 8. As for me, the tournament went okay but I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed afterwards. My dream was of course to go 11-5 to re-qualify but if you told me a month earlier that I would go 8-8 I would probably have been okay with it. However I was both 4-1 and 8-4 before some losing streaks happened and I know of at least two matches that I could have won if not for egregious mistakes.

Furthermore, the last round I made a similar mistake to the one in the PTQ the week before: I won a very long game one in the mirror after which my opponent reasonably suggests that we try to speed up to be able to finish 3 games. I ended up playing way too fast for my own comfort and while this isn’t one of the matches I know I could have won, I know I made some mistakes because of my pace of play. I should have just called for a judge to watch for slow play and then tried to play at a reasonable pace while still thinking through my plays. It’s a tricky scenario because on the one hand, it would be fair if my opponent had time to possibly win two games. On the other, I only needed to win one game and since none of us played slowly in game 1, I should be able to just play at a generally reasonable pace even if that meant my opponent’s chances of winning decrease because of it.

I’d actually like to hear what you think of this, so please sound of in the comments. By the way, for the fanboy in me, I got to beat Jason Chung and Lee Shi Tian in Standard while I lost to Shahar Shenhar and Ivan Floch. It was a further point of comfort that I talked the games through with both Shahar and Ivan and we agreed that the potential mistakes I had noted were the same plays they would have made.

Beating one of the great standard minds at Pro Tour Ixalan


Quick aside, the basketball game that Dan had mentioned happened Thursday morning and while we only ended up being five people (Dan didn’t even show up), it was fun to see that Marshall Sutcliffe is every bit as good as rumored (he shoots 3’s like Stephen Curry and he’s so tall that he can shoot over anybody so your only option is to hope he misses), and that Neil Rigby is every bit as terrible as you would imagine.

Sunday came and I was unable to watch and root for Piotr in his quarterfinal because as you may or may not know you get unlimited free drafts at the site on Pro Tour Sunday!!!! There might not be as many money drafts going on as I have heard stories about in the early days of Magic, but there were still a lot of known players going at each other’s wallets. First, Martin Dang, Thomas Hendricks and I took Ben Friedman, Kevin Jones and another guy’s lunch money (that’s right, Dang won a team draft). Then, Oscar and I teamed up with Niklas to beat Chris, Dang and THE Michael Majors twice.

At one point, Niklas was playing against Majors and he has two vampire tokens and a 2/2 while Majors has some random x/2. Niklas goes to attacks, taps the 2/2 and asks in a normal tone of voice so they could hear it as well: “should I fake attack with the tokens like I have Skulduggery?”. Oscar replies “but you don’t have it”, to which Niklas says “but they don’t know that.” The look on the other team’s faces as they were listening to this was amazing.

Sadly, I learned that Piotr had lost as Pascal Maynard pretty much nut drew him 3 out of 4 games. It was still a great result and I am quite proud of having helped tune the deck and played the same 75. It also gives me hope that if I can just stop making so many mistakes, I can compete at that level. Also thanks to Piotr for being graceful enough to buy winner dinner and putting me and Oscar down for vip access Sunday. Apparently each top 8 competitor gets to choose two friends to join him/her backstage for free breakfast and a separate viewing area. Free breakfast was great but the best part was that I got to see Brad Nelson’s face when the lady in charge of the vip section told him that Seth Manfield had chosen two other people so Brad had to leave. Would have loved to see their conversation afterwards.

With the Pro Tour over, it became time for one of the things I had looked forward to the most: going out with all the pros. We started out at an arcade game bar and after betting Niklas on a pinball game which he lost something like 19,000 – 50,000,000 I got to play NBA Jam with Majors against (I think) Corey and Joel.

Unfortunately they knew that John Stockton is broken in that game and picked him so even though I maintain that me and Majors displayed more play skill, we got destroyed. Seth ManfieldLater we went to a pool bar and I got a couple of nice pictures, first of the two guys who hours earlier competed for $50,000, then a picture with the champ himself! It looks like I am slightly more excited than him but I’m sure it was a special moment for him too…

Piotr left for home on Monday but we were joined by Chris and Martin Dang as they needed a place to stay until Tuesday when Martin went home and Chris joined us for the trip to Atlanta. At this point Chris and I pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip by playing MTGO and watching movies on Netflix for most of the day, while Oscar was sleeping (not just because we were up late, this kid slept over 12 hours a day for much of the trip). I would recommend the best movies we watched but they were all pretty bad, I guess Moana has some good songs but it’s not up there with the Disney greats. Sicario is awesome but I had already seen it. If you haven’t, put it high on your watchlist.

The three of us arrived in Atlanta Tuesday evening and I think our very first Uber driver told us that we were staying in a very bad part of the city, something that several others later echoed. I am not really sure what the problem was because we basically never saw anyone around and I never felt unsafe, but it was pretty strange to have all these people telling us that it was a bad neighbourhood without any specifics. There was even a place we tried to order food from who said they wouldn’t deliver to our place after dark…

Nothing happened though, and after playing MTGO for a few days, we had close to settled on Jaberwocki’s 4 color energy deck. Corey joined us Friday and said that he was going to play straight Temur, but in the end we stuck to 4 color. Specifically, the power of Vraska and her contempt for other planeswalkers was just too appealing.

After scrubbing out of the GP we went to dinner with a bunch of other people including Niels Molle, his girlfriend Miwa, Alex Haynes, Ben Stark, Sarah Zylah, birthday girl Rachel Otto and 9-0 Petr Sochurek. Good times were had and it set the stage for all of us, minus Niels, Miwa, Ben and Oscar to go out Sunday night and celebrate Petr top 8’ing. We found a karaoke bar, and while it was mostly Rachel who did the actual singing, Haynes and Sarah delivered the moment of the night performing Don’t Speak by No Doubt. If Rachel and Chris hadn’t talked through the whole thing, my video might have been worth sharing so thanks you two.

The last leg of our trip was Portland, and boy was it different from the other places. It was like coming to a new country, and one where you could find more influences from other countries. There were no diners but instead an organic supermarket and a lot of food trucks. I also noticed more Asian restaurants than in the south. The GP was pretty much the same though; I scrubbed out while Corey and Chris started 9-0, all of us playing pretty much the same decks as last week.

It was strange on Sunday to see Corey not top 8 and I felt for him but Chris got there and while he didn’t buy winner dinner at the best (and probably most expensive) restaurant in town like we may or may not have agreed upon beforehand, I was still immensely happy for him, as it meant he will probably play all the Pro Tours this year (This was cemented when he won the team GP in Lyon the week after). This is hopefully the start of his ascendancy towards the top of the game where he belongs.

What a great way to cap off an amazing 4 weeks abroad! I still couldn’t help feeling a little dejected as my personal results had been below lackluster, but I was still left with a feeling that I am the only limitation for my success; I picked the same deck as a guy who top 8’ed the Pro Tour, then I picked the same deck as a guy who top 8’ed a GP. When we were playing during the week I felt like my play was very close to the others’. If I can improve my focus and decision making in tournaments, I don’t see why it can’t be me some day. Until then, I’ll try to enjoy all the moments like the ones described here, and try to focus more on the games themselves than the outcome. I hope you enjoyed my tale and if not, I’ll be back soon with some actual content.