Meet the Pros: Andrea Mengucci

Hello Andrea and thank you for taking your time with me today! With the Pro Tour coming up, a lot of attention is on Standard. Looking at Standard from the outside these past few years has not been a pretty sight. What is the state of Standard right now in your opinion?

Standard is in a good place right now. It has quite few tier 1 decks, and they represent all the strategies of Magic:

  • Aggro: Mono Red
  • Midrange: Temur
  • Control: Blue/Black Control, Blue/White Approach
  • Combo: Gift

Those are all good decks that can be qualified as tier 1, so the format is definitely healthy. It isn’t Modern or Legacy where you have tons of different decks, but it has never been in the history of Standard. So I feel like this Standard is good and it is what it should always be.

A few months ago Wizards of the Coast announced Modern’s return to the Pro Tour in 2018. What was your first reaction to this?

I’m a little bit biased about the Modern Pro Tour because I hate Modern. It’s my least favorite format and I never play it – in fact last time I played it was World Magic Cup 2016. So I’m pretty sad about it and won’t test a lot of Constructed for the event, since the format is super stagnant and you can play any deck and go 10-0 or 0-10. But I can easily see Modern lovers standing up and shouting at me now, and I’ll be fine with that.

Everyone who follows you on social media and appreciates the great job you’re doing at ChannelFireball knows your passion for Legacy. Now all of a sudden you get to play your favorite format on the Pro Tour in 2018. Tell us why Legacy means so much to you.

I’m obviously very happy to show my Italian black bordered dual lands at the Pro Tour stage! But I don’t want this to be a thing that happens every Pro Tour or even once a year. The Pro Tour is good for innovations. You get an edge by inventing new decks in Standard and having a better strategy in Draft, but with stagnant formats like Modern and Legacy this goes away and that skill is less rewarded.

It seems like team tournaments will be a higher focus in competitive Magic moving forward. To me it is natural because you usually test as a group and root for your friends anyway. Do you feel the same way or would you rather play on your own all the time?

I really dislike where Grand Prix are going. I dislike that you have to be in a team of people to go to Grand Prix nowadays. What if you are good, but live in a environment where there are only bad players? You can just never spike.

For me Magic is an individual game, not soccer or basketball. It’s designed to be played 1 vs 1. It’s okay if sometimes you play 3 vs 3 because it’s more fun, but I feel like the 2018 Grand Prix schedule has way too many Team Grand Prix that punishes those who want to break through.

Lastly I want to hear about your personal expectations for the season. I know you’re representing Italy at the World Magic Cup. When we talk again at the end at the season, which accomplishments do you hope to tell me about?

I hope we’ll do well at Pro Tour Albuquerque, though it’ll be hard since Standard and Draft are already solved so variance will be huge once again and same for the World Magic Cup. I also have four Grand Prix coming up, so I hope to get my first top 8 in one of those, since it’s getting pretty late and I still haven’t achieved that goal in my Magic career.

To wrap up this interview, feel free to share your Twitter, thank your mom or give a shout out to sponsors. Thank you again for this interview!

Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Channel Fireball where I make two videos per week (Legacy and Vintage) and where I write one article per week (generic topic).

Also if you want to have daily tweets about Magic follow me on Twitter.

Religion in Magic

I am an atheist. Don’t close the tab yet, this isn’t an article about actual religion, I just wanted to put it out there. This article is about subjectivity in Magic and why you should be aware of it. You can view it as a response to point 4 of Brian Demar’s recent article for ChannelFireball but I actually first thought about it when I read an article by Sam Black a few years ago.

Both of them argue that a decision in Magic (mostly deck choice, but Sam takes it all the way to in-game decisions) can be right for one person and wrong for another person based on their play style. As I see it, there is only one way this can be true; if your play style will influence your other decisions in the game in a way that deviating from that style for one play has so little synergy with your other plays that it will actually reduce your chances of winning. But in that case, you should look at your entire play style and if there is a better one, adapt that. Essentially, their point of view is for players who don’t want to change their play style.

For completeness’ sake, note that two plays can actually have the exact same ‘value’ in which case you are free to pick whichever you like, or it can be impossible for us to discern the actual value of the plays because they depend on information you cannot possibly know (as was the case for Frank Karsten’s awesome analysis ). But this doesn’t mean you just get to say that your play was correct because we don’t know better.

Magic may, as Sam suggests, be art, but Magic strategy is a science. Sometimes science doesn’t know the answer to our question, but the answer is still out there somewhere. I am a Magic scientist in the sense that I am interested in finding the correct answer to as many questions as possible so I can be the best player possible. I (probably) won’t become the perfect player that always gives myself the highest possible chance of winning, but I refuse to limit my potential with shortcuts like the ones suggested in the first two links.

I don’t blame you for doing so; maybe you are just playing for fun (I don’t mean the word just in any demeaning way, it is a perfectly legitimate reason for playing), or maybe you want to win a Pro Tour or Grand Prix before you die of old age and don’t have time to try to figure out the optimal play in every scenario, so focusing on one archetype may yield better results.

While there is surely a (large) narcissistic part of me that wants nothing more than to be holding a trophy, I try to focus on the process of learning and improving. I don’t care where it ends or how many times I’m wrong along the way, as long as I keep striving to improve.

Wow that was quite the rant, let’s get a bit more specific. The easiest way to get punished for focusing on your strengths is forcing archetypes in draft. It’s pretty easy to imagine someone going into an Ixalan draft knowing all the ins and outs of the Merfolk deck only to have the person on her right drafting Merfolk. The result likely won’t be pretty.

Now, you could do as Ondrej Strasky (sorry buddy for not having the correct characters for your name on my keyboard) and learn several archetypes to increase the chances of one of your archetypes being open, and indeed it might be your best chance of doing well in a tournament. In the end, though, you are limiting yourself because while you managed to steer clear of Merfolk and found the open Dinosaur deck, there might have been a Vampire deck that would have been even better for your seat if you only knew to look for it.

I want to emphasize that this isn’t the same as favoring one archetype over others because you think it is simply better. Sometimes Merfolk is just so good that it is better than Vampires even if the latter is much more open than the former. This rarely happens and often the power level discrepancy between archetypes is useful only as a tiebreaker for close picks.

It’s also often in coverage that they talk about a decision made by a player and say something along the lines of: “He likes to be aggressive, so this is the type of line he likes to take”. If the player later loses, the commentators sometimes go as far as excusing that loss with their play style. This makes sense for the Cedric Phillips school of coverage where it’s all about building appealing storylines, but for those who watch coverage to get better at the game, it’s actually detrimental. I don’t have any examples of this and maybe my memory has gone biased but at least keep an eye out for it.

We like to have answers. It’s much more comforting to have answers to all the questions you care about than to have a bunch of them be mysteries. I don’t blame you for striving for this comfort, and I especially don’t blame you for taking shortcuts for short term gains (I’m sure I will be taking some leading up to the Pro Tour). But don’t mistake the easy way for the right way. That’s how you end up with Trump as president.

Did that last sentence need to be included? Probably not, but remember the immortal words of the great Nicholas Cage.


Maybe there are very few people who play Magic for the same reasons as I do, and maybe the rest of you got nothing out of this article, but at least now you know how I approach the game, and that should make it easier to relate to my future content. And you got reminded that Nicholas Cage movies exist…

Does Ixalan Limited suck?

Hi guys, welcome back. It’s been a while but I wanted a chance to play with the new cards so I could actually give an informed opinion. I have only been drafting so far and done about 15 and my initial impressions are good. At first glance the set looks like it could get boring super quickly because of the tribes; just pick a tribe and take all the cards you see in that tribe.

When you think about it, that isn’t much different from a normal set where you just pick your colors and take the best card in those colors. What makes a normal set interesting are the times where the correct pick isn’t just the best card in your colors but something that synergizes with what else you have going on.

The equivalent in Ixalan is then when the correct pick is not just the best card in your tribe, but that is often going to be because there is a super powerful card in your colors that doesn’t have any tribal synergies. I haven’t gone deep enough yet to know how often these things happen but at least you have to consider both tribe and colors when making a pick which is more than the base level for a normal set. I hope there will be rare times when you get to draft a treasure deck for example and I will be looking for it (probably at the expense of tickets), but today I want to talk about what has been the best tribe for me this far; vampires.

Anoited DeaconUnassuming, I know

The key to this deck for me is Anointed Deacon; most of the vampires are 2 or less power and this is the guy that can push them through. With Bishop’s Soldier, Queen’s Commission, Paladin of the Bloodstained, and Call to the Feast, boosting power is worth double sometimes and since the lifelink makes racing difficult, your opponent will often have to start trading real cards for each of your tokens. If you ever get two deacons down together, it becomes extremely hard to lose.

Aside from the lifelinkers my favorite creatures in the deck are Skymarch Bloodletter, Legion Conquistador, both undersized creatures that benefit from getting an extra two power (or 4). You even get two good one drops in Duskborne Skymarcher and Vicious Conquistador. While they’re both uncommons, it’s unlikely that anyone else will be interested in them. Glorifier of Dusk is also good in the deck, but it doesn’t need as much help as the other guys.

Other good uncommons for the deck are Adanto Vanguard (which is also just a great aggressive card), Deathless Ancient, and Bishop of the Bloodstained if you are really deep in the tribe. Once you find that the archetype is open, there are also some great rares that you can expect will come to you if someone opened them; Sanctum Seeker and Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle. These are straight bombs for you and pretty poor for anyone else.

That actually brings me to a side note on the format which is that the rares in this set are less ridiculous than they often are. Yes, you still have things like Regisaur Alpha and the planeswalkers which are insane, but I don’t think there is anything on the level of Glorybringer and because of the tribal theme, a lot of the good rares are only good in specific contexts, so your first pick will not be a windmill slam rare or mythic as often as you’re used to.

This to me is one of the most important signs of a good limited set; You might lose to Sanctum Seeker but at least it required your opponent to draft reasonably well and they would probably still have a deck that could win without drawing it. I actually didn’t even enjoy many of the draft decks where I had Glorybringer because I lost so many games where I didn’t draw it.

So back to vampires, how do you draft them? As I said, Anointed Deacon is the key but I don’t like first picking it. There a lot of generically good black and white cards that you can often first pick, like Contract Killing, Pious Interdiction, Vanquish the Weak, and Adanto Vanguard. Then if cards like that keep coming for the next few picks, maybe including a Deathless Ancient I will start to look for the deacon and the uncommons.

Legion ConquistadorIgnore this card at your own peril

One important thing to keep in mind is if you have passed any Legion Conquistadors. It is likely to wheel and you obviously need more than one for it to be playable. Let’s say it’s pick 6 and I have a couple of removal spells, a deacon, a Bishop’s Soldier and some good card in another color that hasn’t looked open so far. The pick is now between Queen’s Commission, Skymarch Bloodletter and Legion Conquistador.

If I have passed a Conquistador earlier I will probably take it here but if I haven’t, both of the other cards have higher priority (probably the flier first). Two Conquistador is just playable but as soon as you get more than that it becomes insane since it helps stall the ground and with a deacon to help them trade up, it will grind the opponent out quite effectively.

So you have a couple of removal spells, a deacon and a couple of vampires and now you have to choose between a Contract Killing and a Queen’s Bay Soldier (your first two drop). I am going to go out on a limb here and say you should lean towards the removal spell. The reason for that is that there is so much lifegain in this archetype that your curve matters less than it normally does in limited.

This particular example might be a stretch and it also depends if you have any lifegain so far, but keep in mind that the tools are available in this archetype to stabilize both the board and your life total. Of course, you would also like to have a board presence so your deacon has an effect the turn it comes down so if it’s a Bishop’s Soldier instead, I’d probably take it. I guess a more general way to express it is that you often don’t have to take subpar cards for curve considerations if you have a lot of good ways to gain life.

That’s about what I have learned so far. I will spend next week playing a lot of Standard so I’ll hopefully have something to report back soon. Until then, thanks for reading and good luck in the queues.