5 lessons from Nationals

We’ve waited 6 years and last weekend we finally had nationals again in Denmark; two days of Standard and draft to determine who would represent us at the World Magic Cup alongside Martin Müller. More importantly, for me at least, it was two days where all the awesome people I’ve met in the Danish Magic community met up, even the ones that have stopped playing. It was impossible to be bored because I was either playing Magic or I was hanging out with some of the funniest people I’ve met. I already cannot wait for next year, and I’m sure it will be even better. But we are here to learn, so let’s take a look at some of the decisions I made and see if there are any takeaways.

1. Metagaming

First up is deck selection. I started with UB since it had just won me a Pro Tour invite and the metagame hadn’t really changed since. I was a bit concerned when Mardu Vehicles won one GP the week before and UB won the other. You may think that UB winning was a good sign but it just meant that now everyone knew about it and would get a lot of reps in against it if they played online. Also the GP’s showcased GW Ramp which is a horrible matchup. I stuck to my guns, though and Thomas Enevoldsen was also on board so I hoped we could come up with a good list. This was the result:

UB Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (6)
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (28)
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Essence Scatter
Supreme Will
Flaying Tendrils
To the Slaughter
Glimmer of Genius
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Aether Hub
Sunken Hollow
Choked Estuary
Evolving Wilds

Sideboard (15)
Gifted Aetherborn
Lost Legacy
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Hour of Glory
Contraband Kingpin
Liliana, the Last Hope
Never // Return
To the Slaughter
Summary Dismissal
Aether Meltdown

The key change was removing Kalitas from the maindeck and putting in a fourth gearhulk. Thomas suggested it but I wanted to try out the third god as per Dolars list. I had just won so many games with the god whereas I always felt like my gearhulks got killed by otherwise dead removal. Turns out that while The Scarab God is still a great card, the new kids on the block (GW Ramp, Mardu Vehicles and the mirror) aren’t as weak to it as, for example, Temur Energy, whereas gearhulk is great against ramp and control at least.

It looked like most of the good players would be on GW, Mardu or UW so gearhulk made the most sense. The only change I would have made in hindsight is an extra Summary Dismissal over one of the sideboard creatures though I can’t decide which one. The format is a lame duck now so it doesn’t matter much. As for the process it was mostly: I suggested something radical and Thomas countered with something reasonable which we then settled on. Not much to improve upon.

Jokes aside, I think the main problem I would have gotten into by myself is overvaluing the recent results and what I thought the people I knew would bring. I was counting on over 100 players and I had a reasonable expected metagame for maybe 20 of them. The rest would probably still be playing decks like Zombies, Mono Red and Temur Energy so we should still keep the deck strong against those. You should try to metagame against the winning metagame but with only 6 rounds of Standard, there were too many variables to do that properly.

2. Remember you have an opponent

The first stretch of constructed went without any mistakes that I can identify, winning against Zombies and losing to Mono White Eldrazi. I think it’s a good matchup but my draws lined up poorly. Then came draft. I first picked Hour of Promise and second picked Reason/Believe. I think both of those were correct but I locked in on GUx ramp way too early. I should have been either UB Control or UW Aggro. I don’t think it was nerves but I just felt uncomfortable during the whole draft, and didn’t manage to think things through before the judge yelled ‘draft’.

Oh well, at least I opened Glorybringer to splash alongside my Chaos Maw. I beat Simon Nielsen as you would expect, but then I threw a match against local game store operator and nice guy Johannes Kristoffersen. His was a UB control deck with Torment of Scarabs (the one I should have drafted on his right). I won game 1 and game two I had a Glorybringer in play that hit him down to 9. He had Torment out and I was down to 1 life with no other nonland permanents and 1 card in hand. My next turn I discarded and drew Scrounger of Souls.

I figured I might as well play it in case, for some reason I would rather sacrifice Glorybringer and let the Scrounger’s lifelink negate the Torment so I wouldn’t have to discard all the time. The problem was that he hadn’t played anything for a long time and had 4 or 5 cards in hand so I should have seen the Countervailing Winds coming and just tried to ride my Glorybringer to victory. He had also complained a bit when he milled his Final Reward off a Winds of Rebuke so chances of him having another removal spell for the dragon seemed low. I also lost the last round of the draft to finish day one at 3-3 and thinking I was out of contention (which turned out to be true).

3. Don’t get married to your first picks

I started out day 2 with quite a masterpiece of a deck; I first picked Ambuscade, second picked Puncturing Blow and then took Adorned Pouncer and Vizier of the Anointed and got a sick UW deck:

UW by Anders Gotfredsen

Proven Combatant
Adorned Pouncer
Oketra's Avenger
Anointed Priest
Sinuous Striker
Devoted Crop-Mate
Eternal of Harsh Truths
Aerial Guide
Champion of Wits
Vizier of the Anointed
Steadfast Sentinel
Curator of Mysteries
Supply Caravan
Aven of Enduring Hope
Angel of the God-Pharaoh
Traveler's Amulet
Act of Heroism
Strategic Planning
Cartouche of Knowledge
Compulsory Rest
Unquenchable Thirst
Trial of Solidarity
Oketra's Monument
Desert of the Mindful
Survivor's Encampment
Endless Sands

Yes, getting third pick pouncer is an easy signal to see, but I’m still proud I did the right thing and didn’t try to stick to either of my first two picks. I don’t remember an easier 3-0, and that’s no slight on my opponents; Three ways to give my aggressive creatures flying, and of course the combo of Oketra’s Monument and Trial of Solidarity spelled doom for all three of them.

4. If you’re gonna plan, plan for everything

At the start of the day someone also told me that x-3 was enough for top 8, so hoopoe started to creep back in. It was amplified when I sat down across from Kenneth Brandt in Standard because I thought he was playing UW Approach. When he played a Fortified Village, and I realized he was on GW Ramp, it was quickly quenched again, but I drew Lost Legacy both sideboarded games, hit the only Eldrazis he had in hand and he didn’t draw any others. It seemed meant to be.

I actually think I could have won game 1 as well and it’s an interesting case of planning ahead. I am at 4 with The Scarab God in play and he attacks with his World Breaker. I have the choice of bringing back his Thraben Inspector or his Linvala, the Preserver. I took the Inspector and chumped because if he played one more creature I would get a 3/3 from Linvala. He then played a second World Breaker.

Next turn he played Ulamog and I had to Disallow the trigger and then eternalize Gearhulk to Disallow Ulamog himself, but now I had less than 4 mana left and had to block with both my creatures, returning the god to my hand. Now I had no choice but to play the god and eternalize Linvala to survive leaving me open for his second Ulamog.

If I instead had brought back Linvala to start with, I wouldn’t have had to chump with my god and I could have brought back his first Ulamog after he cast his second, giving me the first attack, and I think I could have chumped his first Ulamog attack letting my second attack trigger eat the rest of his library. I did plan ahead in trying to get the extra 3/3, but I didn’t consider my life total in that plan. When you start planning turns in advance, be aware that some factors that seem unimportant or under control now might not be so in a turn or two.

5. Never give up (and learn math)

In the last round I was up against Lasse Hansen on Temur Energy, and everything looked to come up gravy. This was one of the decks I was hoping to face after all. We traded games and in game 3 he hit me to one with 3 thopter tokens but I untapped with gearhulk and The Scarab God in play and 8 mana. I was pretty sure I was dead, but I brought back a Whirler Virtuoso to go up to 4 energy and scry 1 just in case there was a card I had forgotten about. I bottomed another god and drew a Sunken Hollow. I was about to just scoop but decided to make him play it out; there were a bunch of people watching and they should get their money’s worth.

When he attacked, I realized I actually had a shot: I brought back a Rogue Refiner to go up to 6 energy and if I had Fatal Push on top of my deck I could eat his entire board (he had gotten excited and attacked with all his ground guys as well). I made a wish and flipped…. Swamp. Can you spot my mistake (it didn’t end up mattering but slightly decreased my chances anyway)? By waiting until his turn to reanimate the Rogue Refiner I cost myself a scry and land + push had to be either the first and second cards or the second and third cards of my library. If I reanimate it in my upkeep, the first card has to be either land or push and then the second, third or fourth has to be the other. I had 4 push left and let’s say 10 untapped lands left out of, say 30 cards (the specifics don’t matter as long as they’re the same for both scenarios).

In the first scenario I get 4/30 * 10/29 + 10/30 * 4/29 + 16/30 * 4/29 * 10/28 + 16/30 * 10/29 * 4/28 = 14.45% chance to win. In the second scenario I get 10/30 * 37.1% + 4/30 * 73.5% = 22.2% chance to win. There are two important lessons here: First, Magic can be very complicated and often comes down to math and probabilities, so do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the hypergeometric distribution.

Obviously, you can’t do these calculations in the middle of the match but if you do them during practice, it improves your intuition which is often what you will have to rely on in-game. In this scenario there was an 8% chance of winning to be gained and I’m sure it can be even more. Second, never give up! While I didn’t physically scoop here, I had already resigned myself to losing and while it didn’t cost me here (if I had made the correct play and brought back Rogue Refiner on my upkeep I would have drawn The Scarab God and lost) I would prefer to give myself all the percentages possible, and I hope this will serve as a reminder for me in the future.

Lasse ended up in ninth place, which is also what I would have gotten, so it was much ado about nothing (except the extra 75DKK he got compared to my 16th place). Congratulations to our new national champion, Bjarke Larsen, and my friend, Control Maestro Andreas Bendix for making the national team. I hope Martin Müller will put Denmark back in the top 8 of the WMC where they belong when I’m not on the team. Thanks for reading.