Meet the Pros: Kai Budde, The Juggernaut

Kai Budde (born October 28, 1979[1]), is a former professional Magic: The Gathering player, who holds the record for Pro Tour victories, and for a long time held the records for earnings and lifetime Pro Points.[5][6][7] His performances earned him the nicknames “The (German) Juggernaut” and “King of the Grand Prix”. Kai left the game in late 2004 to focus on his studies, and his appearances in tournaments are less frequent than in earlier years. Budde is widely considered to be one of the all-time greatest Magic: The Gathering players.[8]Wikipedia.org

Nickname The German Juggernaut
Born October 28th, 1979
Residence Hamburg, Germany
Nationality Germany.png German
Pro Tour debut Pro Tour Mainz 1997
Winnings $383,220 (as of 2017-08-23)
Pro Tour top 8s 10 (7 wins)
Grand Prix top 8s 15 (7 wins)
Median Pro Tour Finish 51
Pro Tours Played 56
Lifetime Pro Points 562 (as of 2017-11-28)
source mtg.gamepedia.com

Andreas: Browsing through your resume on Wikipedia, it is nothing short of amazing how many tournaments you actually managed to win. Even top 8’ing that amount of tournaments would cement you as an all time great, but talk about the psychological aspect of going for the trophy rather than being content with a top 8 finish.

Andreas: I want to know how you prepared for big tournaments back in your prime. Please tell us about the testing proces, the lack of information on the internet compared to today and introduce the “Phoenix Foundation” for all the newcomers.


Kai: “This sounds a bit like a fairy tale today – but when I started to play in tournaments there was no internet. Newsgroups were the first step, but most people didn’t have access to that. The network those were running on was mostly universities connected to each other and they weren’t much more than message boards. I guess a very early version of Reddit.

All I had at home was an early mac – one of these cubes. But my father is a computer scientist working for a research facility. They had a satellite connection and when I didn’t have classes, I went there quite often. That was the best source of information – and that’s absolutely nothing compared to what everyone has available on their phone. But things took off pretty quickly. The first huge website was The Magic Dojo and launched around 1995. That hosted tournament reports and decklists. That helped somewhat but it was still quite delayed. Some tournament organizers posted top 8 decklists but most of the articles were tournament reports that came up days or weeks after the event. Decklists outside of the top 8 were very rarely available.

Screenshot of the non-profit archive of the Dojo

And the huge difference was that Magic Online did not exist. While you could play on other clients like Apprentice or even draft on NetDraft, it was essential to have a local network. Most of the last few generations of top players are home schooled through Magic Online. There are a few extreme cases like Shaun McLaren who quite often chooses to not have a testing team for a Pro Tour. Someone like that was almost impossible to exist in the pre-Magic Online era. Think about it – if you were a guy living in a small city somewhere in the US and managed to win a PTQ, who would you test with? You only had your buddies from the local store, which most likely weren’t qualified for the Pro Tour and understandably not all that enthusiastic about it.

Pure nostalgia: The Apprentice Interface

In the pre-Magic Online era it was very important to have a strong pool of players in your area. Early on there was a strong group from California, Weissman, Hacker, Frayman. Don’t shoot me if I get some stuff wrong here, that was also before my time. Then Brian David-Marshall started to push the tournament scene in New York through the events he ran at Neutral Ground. Jon Finkel, Zvi, Steve & Dan OMS and many others learned their trade there.

The same thing was true for Europe. A small university city in the woods in Northern Sweden produced a lot of very strong players, Anton Jonsson, Jens Thoren, Johan Sadegphour. It is just incredibly difficult to get better if you don’t have good people around you. I got very lucky in that regard as I grew up in Cologne and back then that had a very strong magic scene, including one of the early Pro Tour winners, Frank Adler. Those guys taught me how to play and that’s also how team for team Pro Tours formed. Dirk Baberowsi moved to Cologne to do his year of civil service and Marco Blume to study. Marco went back to Hamburg around 1999, Dirk also moved back to Northern Germany and I followed suit and moved to Hamburg. The local scene there was again super strong. Multiple people had Pro Tour top 8s and were qualified for most Pro Tours.

While I was finishing school in Cologne and later during University in Hamburg, I was playing a lot of magic. A lot of it was playing both decks myself. Otherwise with Dirk, Marco and a few other guys. It’s still a lot less than what today’s Magic pros clock in – but without Magic Online available you just couldn’t play at any time of the day. I assume I played more than most other pros of that generation.

We had a few testing houses like most pro teams do today, but that only happened a handful of times. Dirk and me were hanging out a lot, both playing magic and football. Dirk had the first score on the Pro Tour, winning in Chicago in 1998, which was the first Pro Tour of that season. I finished 19th in that event. That was the first Pro Tour we prepared together for.

Pro Player of the Year Germany Kai Budde
Rookie of the Year Germany Dirk Baberowski
World Champion Germany Kai Budde
Pro Tours 5
Grands Prix 14
Start of season 5 September 1998
End of season 8 August 1999

Going in we thought we need to get lucky to win some money as the American magic scene just seemed so much stronger from afar. But that tournament showed us that we could easily compete. We started to go to European Grand Prixs afterwards and that kicked off an unreal run for me, which ended in winning the World Championship and Player of the Year.

After that Dirk and me both played professionally for the next few years. When the team Pro Tour was launched, we actually played the first event with Andre Konstanczer but Andrew lived in the south and lost interest in pro magic soon after. With both Dirk and me now living in Northern Germany and being very good friends with Marco, it was a pretty easy decision who to team up with for the next team events.”

Hall of Fame Class of 2007: Kai Budde

Kai’s friend and teammate, Dirk Baberowski


Andreas: How much Magic does Kai Budde play on an average calendar year? Everything from a pre-release to MTGO drafts to various Pro Tours.


Kai: “To be honest, I am not playing all that much magic these days. I work in sports betting, which means during the football (feet kicking a ball, not hands throwing an egg) season it’s not easy to take weekends off. I usually play in one or two Pro Tours per year and one (team) Grand Prix. I haven’t played a physical Prerelease in quite a long time due to work constraints. After moving back to Europe this summer, I’ve played a FNM here and there. But most of my magic playing is just on MTGO – it’s just convenient. I still follow tournament magic, but I don’t think I’d want to play full time again. At least not while having a regular job. The whole traveling didn’t both me while I was playing magic full time – but now it does.

Taking a week of vacation to then spend 50 hours between airplanes and airports … I always have a lot of fun while I am at the tournaments. But whenever I am sitting in an airplane, I ask myself why exactly I’m doing this.”


Most of the readers will know that you won a tournament called the “Magic Invitational” and that you got to help design your own card after winning the event. How do you think the community would welcome a yearly Invitational tournament?


Kai: “The invitational was an invite-only (duh) round robin tournament with I think 16 players. It was something like last season’s Pro Tour winners, Player of the Year, World Champion, DCI rating and then some people got voted in through one of the bigger magic magazines. My first invite was a vote actually.

Everyone submitted a self-designed card before the event starts. Typically this was just a competition to design something outrageous. The one I turned in was:

Note: Card name “Juggernaut’s Presence” and card frame by @Peer_Rich using MTGCardsmith.com. Card design by Kai Budde. Illustration by: © Dan Frazier

Now after winning the event Wizards of the Coast unfortunately I can’t talk with you about the design because future sets have information they don’t want to reveal. For example my eventual card had the morph ability, which didn’t exist before this set. It would’ve been nice to have a slightly stronger card, but having a card in the first place is super cool.

The Final Card: Kai Budde as “Voidmage Prodigy

I’ve always wondered why Wizards of the Coast stopped doing that. Seemed like both pros and casual players liked that whole thing. My guess is that they are afraid someone ‘wins’ a card that later gets banned or somehow else picks up a bad reputation and it reflects negatively on the game? I wouldn’t know really, I loved the whole thing and it’s sad that it was discontinued, but they’ll have their reasons.”

What are the top 3 formats you have ever top 8’ed a big tournament in, and what made them so great?


Kai: “I think I’ve spread out my top 8s throughout almost all formats. Standard, Extended (the old Modern, I suppose), Booster Draft, Rochester Draft, Team Limited. My favorite format by far is Team Rochester Draft. It’s always tough to say how a format like that would evolve with today’s sets and players being much better in general – but back when it was played it was the format that you could have the biggest edge in if you were well prepared. My guess is that it was played so little that people just weren’t prepared as well as for a format like Standard for example.

After that Iike Pro Tour playing various versions of Illusions/Donate in Extended tournaments and that deck does about everything I want in a magic deck. It is a 2-card-combo deck but can easily win games as a control deck and the card draw plus library manipulation was extremely strong.


Next in line would be regular eight player Rochester Draft. Although I’m again not quite sure that format would stand the test of time.

Rochester Draft is a limited Magic: The Gathering draft format where one booster is opened at a time instead of every player opening his or her own pack.[1][2]Image: © 2001 Wizards of the Coast. Description mtg.gamepedia.org

The problem with regular Rochester is that you have full information of what your neighbors are doing and if everyone is good, you just distribute the cards after a few packs because you never want to fight with someone over a color. So the best you can do is settle into colors quickly and not hate draft. Fortunately that’s not how it went down 15 years ago and the drafts were actually pretty interesting.”


Andreas: Name a few players that you either love playing with, watch play or talk to about Magic and why that is.


Kai: “The best entertainer these days is LSV. I must admit at times I am a little over-punned, but if I had to choose one twitch stream and lock that in for the next year or two – it’s Luis’. Otherwise I am frequently watching Gabriel Nassif and Joel Larsson.

For playtesting purposes I’m always having a lot of fun playing with Ben Rubin. He’s always trying to come up with new stuff and that’s refreshing. Unfortunately it’s sometimes up to a point that he doesn’t play the obviously good deck because he wants to play sometimes ‘fresh’ too desperately. But that’s a very common problem with magic players.

When it comes to tournament coverage I’m mostly interested to watch people I know. Especially limited coverage just isn’t that interesting if I am not somewhat personally invested. That’s part of the general problem magic has as a spectator event/sports. Too many games are decided by one player hitting his curve and the other guy missing a land drop. The Pro Tour coverage improved hugely, but even the best commentators can’t make a game interesting where one guy plays cards and the other doesn’t. Games like Hearthstone have a huge edge in that department.”


Andreas: Let’s round this interview off with a hot take. Who will win Player of the Year this season?


Kai: “Seth Manfield is quite a bit ahead and has to be the favorite at this point. There’s only one Pro Tour played though. I’d love to see William Huey Jensen win the whole thing. But given that Seth refuses to lose any games in any event he plays, that doesn’t seem all that likely.”


Andreas: I can’t thank you enough for taking part in this interview. You can share your Twitter and sponsors (if any) before I let you go.


My twitter is @kaibudde, but not that much magic-related stuff is happening there.

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.

Meet the Pros: Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
Nicknames PVDDR, Pablo Doritos
Born September 29, 1987 (age 30)
Porto AlegreBrazil
Residence Porto AlegreBrazil
Nationality Brazil Brazil
Pro Tour debut 2003 World Championships – Berlin
Winnings $439,135[1]
Pro Tour wins (Top 8) 2 (12)[2]
Grand Prix wins (Top 8) 2 (19)[3]
Lifetime Pro Points 588[4]
Planeswalker Level 50 (Archmage)
source mtg.gamepedia.com

Hello Paulo and welcome to the spotlight! It’s a pleasure to have you. I want to talk a little about the conditions as a Brazilian compared to privileged Europeans and Americans with Grand Prix in their backyard every month. With very expensive plane tickets and bad internet (maybe that’s a cliche?), how did you manage to break through? Also please add a key moment or two that you think back on with great joy that sparked your career.

The internet is just fine, but the plane tickets being expensive thing is very real. It’s not only that they’re expensive, but every trip is a big journey – there’s no “leave Friday arrive Monday” kind of thing, you have to commit to every tournament. A trip to an US Grand Prix, for example, takes about 20 hours each way for me, and costs about $1200. If I top 8 the tournament but lose in the quarters, I’m still down money. That’s not even mentioning things like visas, which we need and aren’t easy to get.

I managed to break through due to a combination of trying very hard and being really lucky. I had very supportive parents, and I was able to do well in my first couple of tries, which gave me the qualification and the resources for future ones. For South Americans, there aren’t many chances – you play in one or two major tournaments in a year, so if you don’t do well, that’s it, you might never qualify again. I managed to do well in a lot of them in a row, so I got to the Platinum equivalent of the Pro Player’s Club, which enabled me to continue playing the following year.

more than 10 years ago: PVDDR at Worlds 2006 in Paris

I think there were two key moments that sparked my career; the first was my first Pro Tour, Worlds 2003 in Berlin. I managed to finish in the top 64, which gave me a prize money of around $500, which was a lot of money for a 15 year old Brazilian kid. It showed me that there was more to the game than I originally expected, and opened up a lot of new possibilities.

The second was my first PT top 8, Charleston 2006. It showed me that I could actually do this thing professionally, that I was good enough.

Your resumé speaks for itself and being inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2012 seems like the peak in any Magic player’s career, but you still keep posting strong results and show a lot of love for the game. Talk about your continued motivation and if being considered the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time) is on your bucket list.


This might be unusual regarding Magic players, but my motivation has never been to be the best – I just want to be happy. I enjoy the lifestyle of a Magic player – waking up whenever I want, practicing for as long as I want, not answering to anyone but myself, getting to meet my friends.

My goal has always been to be able to do that while supporting me and my family. As long as this continues being the case, I’ll be happy, regardless of whether people consider me the best or not. In the end, no one can truly judge skill, so who can tell who the best players are?

Titles such as “best player in the world” have always seemed a bit hollow to me because of that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be in the conversation, but it’s not my goal to be considered the best because I know it’s just very arbitrary. Right now, I couldn’t tell you who the best player in the world is – I couldn’t even give you three names. I could, maybe, give you a list of 15 players who could all be the best player in a given tournament. I like being in that list, but do not make my goal to be number one.

The one title that still motivates me is World Champion, which is the one I don’t have. I’d really like to be World Champion at some point.

We initially got in contact on Twitter because of a question of mine in the Christian Calcano interview quoting Andrea Mengucci about team tournaments, and you said that the vast majority of professional players love team events. Can you elaborate on that statement?

Pro players like team events for two reasons. First, they’re fun – you are playing with friends, you share their victories and their defeats. Team Sealed is different from normal Sealed, and I believe it’s even more interesting to build. Overall I enjoy myself more if I’m at a team event than at an individual event.

Second, they mitigate the impact of variance and non-games. If you’re in an individual event and you mulligan to five twice, that’s it, you’re done for the round. If it’s a team event, you can mulligan to five twice and still win because your teammates win. If you’re a team of 3 good players, then your edge is bigger in a team event. Couple that with the fact that team sealed is very hard to build properly, and you have some very stacked team sealed top 4’s.

Paulo’s Team: ChannelFireball Ice from last year

In the past I recall you saying that you really dislike Magic Online and that you prefer to test in real life. With more time to draft the newest set before a Pro Tour online than previous, is this still how you prefer to prepare for a Pro Tour or did you adapt to keep up with the young and hungry MTGO grinders?

I still prefer to not play Magic Online, but I’ve had to adapt to the times. We’ve been meeting in person for less time than we did before, and with the set available on modo right after the pre-release, it’s just more convenient to do drafts on MTGO rather than trying to coordinate live ones. I don’t enjoy playing it as much but I feel like I have to do it.

Legacy will be played at the Pro Tour for the first time this year, and Modern is back after a few years break. Share your thoughts on those formats respectively, and could you see your self playing Legacy at professional level?

I love Legacy as a format – I think it’s diverse but the gameplay is also intricate. Every small decision in Legacy matters – what land you play, what land you fetch, what spell you play, how you resolve it. In Standard and Modern, you often just have scripted plays – you’ll play your second land and then your two drop. In Legacy, every tiny variable changes what you’re supposed to do, and I really enjoy that.

I’ve played Legacy at a professional level many times before – I’ve played multiple Legacy Grand Prixs, and I’ve also played it at the World Team event some years ago, so I can definitely see myself playing it at the Pro Tour.

Grand Prix Paris 2014 Quarterfinals: PVDDR is on Miracles


It’ll be interesting to see whether Legacy actually stands the scrutiny of being a Pro Tour format – it being teams will probably help with this a little bit. In a Grand Prix, people just play whatever they want, what they like or what they have access to; in a Pro Tour, everyone will be bringing in the deck they feel is the very best. This could make everyone converge in one dominating deck and actually have a lasting negative impact on the format, but I’m hoping this won’t be the case.

As for Modern, I think it’s by a wide margin the worst competitive format of all. There are about 25 decks you can play, but they are very polarised in matchup and the gameplay is completely random.

Did you draw your sideboard hate? Well, you can’t lose now.

Did you not draw it? Well, you can’t win.

A lot of matchups are just two decks goldfishing against each other or trying to draw their sideboard cards, and it’s not fun being on either side of that exchange. Since there are many many decks, you cannot even sideboard against all of them, and, since every deck is 7%, you’re not actually supposed to.

For example, should I make my deck beat Dredge when I know Dredge is 7% of the field and it’ll hurt me in other matchups?

Likely not, but then I can just get paired vs Dredge twice and my tournament is over.

Now apply this to Storm, Tron, Living End, Ad Nauseam, Infect, Affinity, Goryo’s, Through the Breach… you’ll always get to a point where you have to give up beating something, and then it becomes a pairing roulette.

Editorial Note: Modern is known for linear decks.


You had a very good season last year and went out with a bang winning the Pro Tour in Japan this summer. What are the goals for Paulo this season?

PV’S HOUR OF GLORY: Paulo winning Pro Tour Hours of Devastation

My goal is mostly to do well enough that I can continue doing what I do, which usually means getting to the Platinum level in the Pro Players Club. As far as more precise goals, I’d really like to win Worlds or Team Worlds.

Lastly, feel free to link to your sponsors, leave your Twitter handle or whatever you like.

Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview out of your busy schedule!

No problem 🙂 My twitter handle is @pvddr and you can find my weekly articles on www.channelfireball.com.

A fanboy goes to the Pro Tour Part 1

What a trip I’ve had. I went to the US not only to compete in my first ever Pro Tour, but also to play 3 Grand Prix and hang out with two of my best friends. That sounds great but it turned out to be so much more. I will be name dropping a lot of professional players today, partly because I made friends and hung out with some of them so they are a part of the journey, but also because being a Magic pro is one of my dreams.

So meeting all these people who have the life that I hope to have was awesome and I don’t want to kid me or you by saying that I just met some normal people like myself. Of course they are still people but I don’t think there is anything wrong with having idols, and it was a big part of my trip. There won’t be much strategic magic content, as I wanted to try a different kind of article. I hope you enjoy my story!

Let’s start at the beginning with Oscar Christensen, Christoffer Larsen (who is becoming one of these awe-inspiring pros) and I arriving in Phoenix Thursday evening before the Limited GP. Chris was staying with Team Genesis/Revelation so me and Oscar went to our Travelodge. It is one of many cheap American hotel chains and if you haven’t had the displeasure, don’t worry. Luckily we would not be spending much time there, but I managed to get dropped from one draft because of their “high speed wi-fi”.

I had brought a couple of boxes of Ixalan so I spent Friday trying to get some team drafts going. Oscar introduced me to Luis Salvatto and so I got to team draft with him, Thiago Saporito, Marcos Freitas, Sebastian Pozzo, Dan Ward, Vitor Grassato and Simon Nielsen over two drafts. I did manage to embarrass myself on my way to 0-3 in the first one by Simon killing my Deathless Ancient, saying out loud that I could just get it back, after which I just forgot to take it back and losing the game and match because of it. Oh well, at least Dan said he would let me know if they went to play basketball in Albuquerque. I have played basketball for many years and had heard of these high pro point games so this was a quite high priority goal for the trip already in the bag.

The GP itself went poorly as my RG dino deck splashing Gishath, Sun’s Avatar didn’t manage to get to 6 wins. I did manage to play and attack with Gishath, put Thundering Spineback, Snapping Sailback and Regisaur Alpha into play, draw the second Spineback next turn to attack for 38.

For the Sunday PTQ I played a Temur Black deck with 2 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and no Glorybringer, with two River’s Rebuke in the sideboard. This led to an awkward situation since someone from team Team Genesis/Revelation saw me play and concluded that Chris had given their tech away. Now I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, but all of these things were available from just looking at MTGO league 5-0 decklists, which I had actually done leading up to the trip.

I wasn’t sure which version of energy to play and I did talk to him about it, but all the information was still available. Funnily, the biggest piece of information I hadn’t gotten from the online decklists was to bring in Rebuke in the mirror, but I knew that from watching Joel Larsson and Paul Dean play the mirror in their hotel lobby; hardly an information bunker.

The PTQ went smoothly until my name wasn’t in the pairings for round 3 or 4. I went to the scorekeepers and was told that I had indeed been dropped. They re-enrolled me but to disrupt as few matches as possible, I was paired down, which I had also been the round before. Now, I am fine with this procedure, the problem was that I’m no information bunker myself so when I sat down for the last round of swiss against the only other undefeated player in our pod, I told him that I had been paired down twice. He was playing tokens and after two long games we had little time left for the decider.

It can be dangerous to speculate about people’s motives but the fact was that he played very slowly in the last game, taking a long time to shuffle for every Attune with Aether and Renegade Map. We drew a game that I’m certain I would have won (I had Planeswalkers and plenty of creatures and drew both of my Rebukes) and I came second on breakers. I was pretty bitter at that point but mostly at myself, because I should have just called a judge to watch for slow play on turn one of game three. It is one of my biggest flaws as a player and one of the things I am focusing on getting better at; when in doubt, call a judge. It’s what they’re there for and it’s hard for it to go worse for you than if you don’t. Anyway, at least Vitor Grassato won the tournament so the invite stayed in the Snapcardster family.

While in Phoenix we got to talking with 3 Swedish guys there, Elias Watsfeldt, Niklas Dahlquist and David Stenberg. They didn’t test with anyone so they sort of joined our group of me, Oscar, Jake Haversat and Piotr “Kanister” Glogowski. It is hard to describe to people who haven’t met him but Niklas is one of the funniest people I have ever met. He is pretty quiet but he makes these ridiculous comments with a brilliant poker face. One night we were in a bar with Chris, Corey Baumeister and a couple of his friends, and we talked about where each of us were from. Out of nowhere Niklas asks “just to be clear, am I the only one from Afghanistan?” More from him later.

Monday morning, Oscar and I headed to the airport for the 45 minute flight to Alberquerque. Tuesday Piotr joins us and we get to the task of figuring out what to play. I was pretty sure I would be playing some form of energy and I think so was Piotr. Oscar was torn between energy and Esper Gift, Niklas and David were on RB aggro and Elias had a UW Approach deck that splashed black for Fatal Push with the help of Field of Ruin to both get a Swamp and turn on revolt. Aside from the mana I think it was actually quite similar to the deck that won GP Atlanta a week later.

Multiple times during the week Elias proclaimed that he was done with the deck but he kept falling victim to the sunken cost fallacy; he had put so much work into it that he didn’t want to go to waste by not playing the deck. In the end, I convinced him to just play Temur Black like us and he was rewarded with an 11-5 finish and invite to the next Pro Tour.

 

Trying to decide which of my friends to root for


He didn’t even do the best out of our group as Piotr just kept winning and winning until he had secured a spot in the FREAKING TOP 8 OF THE PRO TOUR!!! I couldn’t believe it. A guy I tested with and who played the same 75 as me had top 8’ed the Pro Tour. This is also a guy who is 11-1 and playing against a Hall of Famer, crews his Skysovereign and when it eats a Harnessed Lightning, he crews it again with itself, just because it’s a legal play and makes no difference! This guy’s penchant for screwing around is the stuff of legends and I look forward to hanging out with him again. Make no mistake, though, he is great at Magic, just look at the year he is putting together, and I was ecstatic for him. For reference, here is what we ended up playing:

Planeswalkers (2)
Vraska, Relic Seeker

Creatures (21)
Longtusk Cub
Servant of the Conduit
Rogue Refiner
Whirler Virtuoso
Bristling Hydra
The Scarab God

Spells (13)
Attune with Aether
Blossoming Defense
Harnessed Lightning
Abrade
Supreme Will

Artifacts (2)
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Lands (22)
Botanical Sanctum
Spirebluff Canal
Blooming Marsh
Aether Hub
Rootbound Crag
Sheltered Thicket
Forest
Mountain
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
River's Rebuke
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Negate
Cartouche of Ambition
Deathgorge Scavenger
Jace's Defeat
Confiscation Coup
Chandra's Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural

I realise that my story is getting rather long so you’ll see how I did at the Pro Tour and the ensuing Grand Prix in part 2. Hope you enjoyed so far, but I’d like any feedback you have in the comments or on social media. Thanks for reading!

Meet the Pros: Joel Larsson

Tjena, Joel and thank you for being here! Most of us know you are a Pro Tour champion, but I want to hear about the journey up until that point. Where did it all start and do you remember any key moments that influenced your career path (negative or positive)?

I guess it all started after I finished gymnasium back in 2011. I wanted to take a break from doing anything and wanted to just have a lot of fun that summer. That meant I partied a lot, hanging out with my friends, but also started drafting on Magic Online A LOT. Like a few drafts every day. Then Grand Prix Paris came around, during the super weekend in Paris where there was both a Grand Prix and Pro Tour.

I wasn’t qualified for the Pro Tour, but managed to go 14-2-1 (was 16 rounds) and that qualified me for Pro Tour Nagoya where I came 10th which got me on the gravy train. So drafting tons and doing well at Limited is what first made me a much better player.

After that, I would say my next big thing was when I joined Team Eureka, which is the predecessor of the Revelation and Genesis collaboration. I got to test with Martin Müller, Martin Dang, Matej Zatelkaj, Magnus Lantto among many others and it kind of became my first great testing team and Magic family. That definitely helped my results and helped me getting better at constructed.

For negative influences, whenever I haven’t done well in a season, I’ve always thought about doing something else and preparing for that. However, whenever I think about it, I tend to do well and it gets me back on the grind. Maybe it gets me more relaxed and that I play better when I put less pressure on myself? I would assume it’s variance though.

© wizards.com Team EUreka from 2016

Following you on social media and reading your articles on ChannelFireball, you seem very open to most formats. Which format do you hope is the next to hit the Grand Prix curcuit and why?

Oh, tough one. My two favourite constructed formats to play is probably Frontier or 1v1 Duel EDH. Frontier is awesome because the games are so great. There’s a lot of interaction, nothing really too broken and still there’s tons of different archetypes. 1v1 EDH also has great games, because they tend to go a bit longer and being more intricate, but the real deal with it is the deckbuilding possibilities. With the restrictions of the Commander Rule forcing colours as well as the possibilities how to abuse your general, I think it’s fantastic. It also lets some of the cards you always thought were pretty good, but never saw play because there were similar effects – only slightly better – see play, which is pretty sweet.

Streaming is something you have done on and off. What does streaming do for you as a person and Magic player respectively?

First off, I mostly do it because it’s fun. I don’t expect to gain a lot of value doing it. Whether it changes me as a person or Magic Player I don’t know, but it makes me better at explaining situations and perhaps making me better if I want to commentate more Magic in the future.

Joel Larsson on Twitch

I know you are interested in other card games and e-sport in general. With all the new card games coming out and posing real threats to Magic Online, how does Magic Online need to evolve?

It’s a tough question. I think Magic Arena is great first step. However, I do think that the best way to get through on the market is building more clients similar to Hearthstone that’s working for your phone. Simplified rules and built for Unity gaming. However, I think they have to make Magic Arena first though to finally get an upgrade of the long outdated Magic Online to then later explore those options.

Magic Arena MTG Arena

Joel Larsson is looking forward to Magic:The Gathering Arena

With more and more team tournaments on the schedule, both at Grand Prix and professional level, what do you feel about the direction Magic is heading?

I honestly think team competitions are great for many reasons. The pros get more happier because it reduces some of their variance, sharing it between three players. The worse players also like it, because it’s a lot of fun with a team tournament and there’s less pressure if you play together. Finally it also brings back a lot of veterans of the game who can see themselves coming back and play a Grand Prix together with a few other friends from the time they played a lot more themselves, instead of showing up to play solo. However, I don’t think you should let go of individual tournaments either.

What’s next for Joel Larsson? Upcoming tournaments, goals for the season etc.

First off, I will do anything in my power to do my best for Team Revelation this season. Testing with Genesis and Revelation is really a blast every time and these are some of my best friends, within the game and outside of it, which also makes me a lot more invested in everybody’s results and working as a unit. Personally, I hope I can get back to Platinum again, since I had a pretty bad season last year, missing Platinum by a few points. If I don’t hit Platinum, I might seriously consider doing something else or start studying again, since playing full time isn’t really an option missing two years straight. It’s pretty much night and day.

I’m also interested in the new Artefact game released by Valve, which is their take on Card Games inspired by the Dota Multiverse. I played a ton of Dota myself earlier in my life and from people who have tried and tested it, I’ve only heard good things, so I will definitely check that out and possibly try to go competitive.

Team Genesis amd Relevation

© wizards.com. Team Relevation and Team Genesis at PT Ixalan

Thank you very much for the interview! Feel free to share your Twitch and Twitter and mention your sponsors.

Thank you!

Follow Joel Larsson:

Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/joellarsson
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoelLarsson1991
ChannelFireball articles: https://www.channelfireball.com/author/joel-larsson/
Sponsored by ManaTraders.com. Look up my stream for coupons!

Meet the Pros: Christian Calcano

Hola Chris and welcome to the hot seat!

First of all, please tell us a few words about your self like where you live, pro status, key achievements etc.

Thanks for having me! I live in New York City and I’m a Platinum level pro. I have

  • 1 Protour Top 8,
  • 3 Protour Top 16,
  • 8 Grand Prix Top 8s with 2 wins

and I finished 11th in the 2017 World Championship.

I love asking players a question similar to this, and you are no exception: Do you remember the point where you realised you were good enough to play the game at the highest level?

Well, it had taken many years for me to reach the Protour, but it was probably after my first ever match on the Protour. I defeated Adam Yurchick who was dominant American pro at the time. I remember leaving that match with the confidence that I could compete on the Protour.

Watching you top 8 the Pro Tour and following you on social media in general, you seem like an emotional guy. Please share the pros and cons of having big emotions in a craft like Magic.

Ironically enough I’m not very emotional about the games. That’s mostly to do with the cons because negative and positive emotions can get in the way of making the best decision in any given game. I basically conditioned myself to not caring much for the result rather just trying my best to play good games of Magic. The Pros I’d say would have to be people seeing that emotion after a big win since we don’t see it enough at the higher levels. I’ve gotten a lot of positive response about my top 8 interview. While that’s clearly not how I drew it up, everyone clearly got to see just how much it meant to me.

Editorial Note: One of Christian Calcanos most memorable moments at Pro Tour Amonkhet


Do you enjoy all formats in Magic or do you secretly have a favourite format we don’t know about?

I mostly just enjoy Draft but I do enjoy Standard as well when I like the decks. I secretly like Legacy quite a bit as well, but only get to play in about 1-2 events a year.

I also want to ask you about team tournaments, as the opinions amongst pros are pretty divided. Do you want more or less team tournaments and why?

I love team tournaments, but definitely would like to see less going forward. I think we will see less since the main reason we’ve had so many is because of the Team Protour coming up for the 25th anniversary of Magic. It’s not always easy for everyone to find a team, and I generally dislike the politics that can sometimes come up when making a team. But they’re still some of the most fun events you can play in.

Lastly, I want to hear about your personal goals for 2018.

For 2018, my goal is the same as 2017, which is just to continue to play good Magic. Of course I would love to find myself in another Protour Top 8 or playing in Worlds again. But I find that pressuring myself to attain such things just puts unnecessary stress on me which causes me to not play my best. So I’ll just keep trying to improve as a player, and play as well as I can and see where I end up at the end of the season.

Thank you a lot for taking your time today. Feel free to share your Twitter and link to your sponsors.

You can follow me at @ccalcano on Twitter and can read articles from me and the other Hareruya Pros at hareruyamtg.com/en/

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…

Temur’s next Move

So William Jensen crushed Worlds in what looked like a most deserved tournament win in terms of preparation and level of play. Of course he got lucky along the way but I don’t think anyone has won a tournament without luck. His and his PGO brothers’ weapon of choice was a very finely tuned version of Temur Energy (you don’t randomly put one Supreme Will and one Glimmer of Genius in your deck for Worlds), and it begs the question: “why play anything else?” An identical copy even won the MTGO PTQ on Saturday.


Temur Energy

Creatures (23)
Bristling Hydra
Glorybringer
Longtusk Cub
Rogue Refiner
Servant of the Conduit
Whirler Virtuoso

Spells (15)
Abrade
Attune with Aether
Commit // Memory
Confiscation Coup
Essence Scatter
Harnessed Lightning
Magma Spray
Lands (22)
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Abrade
Confiscation Coup
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Aethersphere Harvester
Chandra's Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural

To answer the question, let’s start before the rotation where I thought UB Control was a good choice against Temur and the metagame as a whole. Two important changes mean that this is no longer the case. First, the departure of Grasp of Darkness really hurts, especially against Monored where you also lose Flaying Tendrils and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Vraska’s Contempt is considerably worse as the two life just isn’t enough to remedy two extra mana spent to kill Hazoret the Fervent (or heaven forbid, one of the cheaper creatures).

Against Temur it is also a blow because you now have to lean heavily on Fatal Push in the early game. With Grasp you could board out some number of Pushes and still be able to deal with early Longtusk Cubs and Servant of the Conduits. Having to keep in all four Pushes means you end up in spots like Kelvin Chew did in game 4 of the semifinals where he drew all four and had to spend two on Thopter tokens while not being able to kill the Whirler Virtuoso that made them. If just one Push had been a Grasp I think he would have won that game.

Second, you can now expect Temur to have Essence Scatter in the main deck. Having such a tempo positive way to deal with The Scarab God for good or Torrential Gearhulk while stopping the trigger is huge. Of course they don’t always have it and the God is still game over if you untap with it but it does change the matchup and the way you have to play. Search for Azcanta is getting rave reviews but I just don’t think it does enough to make UB the place to be (although I have only played 4 leagues with it).

Generally I would say the way to punish Temur is to play a focused strategy that goes over the top of them. There are two decks that I think do this in Standard, Anointed Procession decks and God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks. The problem is that these decks have either/both consistency issues and/or trouble against the other big decks (UB and Monored).
So even if you beat Temur (which you might not if they prepared their sideboard for you) you aren’t necessarily favored against the metagame. There was an Anointed Procession deck that crushed the PTQ Swiss and it looks to have addressed at least the inconsistency issues with Champion of Wits, so I will be exploring that avenue soon. For now, though, I want to play the best deck and beat the mirror, a tried and true strategy:


Temur Energy

Creatures (23)
Bristling Hydra
Glorybringer
Longtusk Cub
Rogue Refiner
Servant of the Conduit
Whirler Virtuoso

Spells (15)
Abrade
Attune with Aether
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Confiscation Coup
Essence Scatter
Harnessed Lightning
Magma Spray
Lands (22)
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Struggle // Survive
Confiscation Coup
Carnage Tyrant
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Aethersphere Harvester
Chandra’s Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural
Nissa, Vital Force

This list isn’t revolutionary but the core of the deck is so large now that there is limited room to maneuver, in the main deck at least. I like Chandra a lot and I was actually surprised to see PGO omit her from the main. I hope it was because they wanted to strand opposing Negates and that there isn’t a bigger picture that I’m not seeing (interestingly the control decks largely omitted Negate from their main decks).

As the Worlds list indicate, the sideboard is fair game and where you really make your edge with a deck like this. I haven’t liked the Torrential Gearhulk plan that much so I want to make room for some real mirror-breakers. I think Nicol Bolas is the best for the job but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to play more than one seven-drop.

As I mentioned earlier, The Scarab God has lost a little luster with Essence Scatters being more populous, but it is still the next best in my view. However, you need to play a Swamp which I would like to avoid. The mirror isn’t everything and your mana is pretty stretched as it is. You could put a Swamp in the board but I think Swamp and a God is worse than, for example Nissa and Confiscation Coup.

By the way, I had a great chat with my friend Mattia De Colle and he brought up a good point about Confiscation Coup: what are you actually hoping to steal in the mirror? Longtusk Cub is a great target but you usually board it out. Taking The Scarab God is obviously amazing but many aren’t even playing it. Then you’re basically left with a tapped Glorybringer which means you get a two for two (I’m assuming it killed a creature so the creature and your coup for their Glorybringer and a Harnessed Lightning which they often have since you save it for Glorybringer mostly).

I guess it helps you get Glorybringer superiority but we think the game more often comes down to Bristling Hydra superiority. I will still bring in coup for the mirror but it’s mostly for mono red.

I will board in Carnage Tyrant in the mirror but it’s really there to crush UB. Bristling Hydra is your best threat against them and the tyrant is even better. It’s basically Bontu’s Last Reckoning or game over. Nissa is also quite the boss against control, I only lost one game where it stuck and that was because I punted.

Initially I wanted to cut Appetite for the Unnatural because it just seemed unimportant but with Anointed Procession and God-Pharaoh’s Gift on the rise, it gets to stay. This is also where I hope Struggle // Survive will come in handy. These decks can seem like tough matchups and you can easily lose to their good draws. They are inherently inconsistent though as they need Anointed Procession or God-Pharaoh’s Gift respectively to do broken things.

Since you have answers to both of them, it is possible to keep them from functioning properly in which case you just need to make sure to close out the game before they can find another one. This is a prime example of why Temur is the best deck: it might only be an 8 on the power level scale but it is an 8 almost every game, whereas something like tokens regularly varies from 2 to 10.

The final point I want to discuss is flooding. My list has 22 lands, the Scarab God version goes up to 23. Then you have 4 Attune with Aether which thins your library a bit but still almost counts as a land, and 4 Servant of the Conduit. That’s almost half your deck just making mana (yes you get a bit of extra energy but still).

Variance and observation bias probably plays a role here but I’ve flooded a lot since I picked the deck up a couple of weeks ago and I can’t help but wonder if there are too many mana sources in the deck. I don’t have any conclusion so feel free to chime in but I will try shaving a servant since it pretty much always gets killed turn 2 and is a pretty bad draw late.

I hope I can find something that beats Temur consistently before the Pro Tour but I am content with it as my fallback plan. Let me know what ideas you have for both. Thanks for reading.

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
Censor
Negate
Essence Scatter
Supreme Will
Disallow
Flaying Tendrils
To the Slaughter
Glimmer of Genius
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Aether Hub
Sunken Hollow
Choked Estuary
Swamp
Island
Evolving Wilds

Sideboard (15)
Gifted Aetherborn
Lost Legacy
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Hour of Glory
Dispel
Negate
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

(40)
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
Plains
Island
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.