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.

Look ma, I made it to the ProTour!

This article will be about two things; my personal experience of qualifying for my first Pro Tour, and the UB Control deck I used to do it. I will start with the deck since I assume that will be the most interesting to people who don’t know me. Let’s kick things off with the list:

UB Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Spells (28)
Yahenni’s Expertise
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Censor
Negate
Essence Scatter
 Glimmer of Genius
Supreme Will
Disallow
To the Slaughter

Creatures (6)
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Sunken Hollow
Aether Hub
Choked Estuary
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Dispel
Yahenni's Expertise
Bontu's Last Reckoning
Gifted Aetherborn
Summary Dismissal
To the Slaughter
Never // Return
Liliana, the Last Hope

This was a perfect storm of being both a powerful, consistent deck and a great metagame call, and with the results from GP Denver, that looks to continue being the case. The most common decks are Temur Energy, God-Pharao’s Gift, Mono Red, BG Constrictor, RG Ramp, Zombies and UW Approach. I have no problem facing any of these decks and I’ll go through all of the matchups, but first I have some general notes on the deck:

“Best card in Standard(?)”

This card is the reason to be UB instead of UR or UW. The only cards in the above decks that can deal cleanly with The Scarab God are the white exile removals, Cast Out and Stasis Snare, but they are only in the UW Approach deck which, as I’ll explain later, is close to impossible to lose to (there are of course also counterspells but it’s mostly Censor and Supreme Will, which you can play around).

All other decks need two cards and many of them have no way to keep it from coming back. If you get to untap with it or play it on 9 mana, it will immediately dominate most games, and I often had a Torrential Gearhulk in the graveyard along with a counterspell, which is basically game over for anyone (or they might have Goblin Dark-Dwellers in their yard, which is how I sealed the last game of the RPTQ). Against Mono Red, I actually like it more than Kalitas because you can just slam it on turn 5 and unless they topdeck an Ahn-Crop Crasher (I assume they would have played it sooner if they had it, and then you have probably either countered or grasped it), they are completely brick walled.

Alongside my new favorite insect buddy we have all the run of the mill control options: removal, counterspells, Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk. There is nothing groundbreaking about it, which kind of proves my point that the god is what makes this deck the best. Censor and Supreme Will are key for a strategy like this since you can’t be stuck with a bunch of them in hand and not be able to deal with something on the board. You can customize a lot of the spells in the deck but I would be hard pressed to play less than 4 of each of these.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Temur Energy has been the top dog for the last couple of weeks. It won the MOCS two weeks ago, an MTGO PTQ a week ago and this weekend it put 3 copies in the top 4 of GP Denver. It also had 3 or 4 copies in the top 8 of my RPTQ for what it’s worth. In short, you want to be able to beat this deck and UB is great at it. You have Fatal Push for their Longtusk Cub, To the Slaughter for Bristling Hydra and Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Grasp for Glorybringer and everything else. This is of course only needed if they resolve, and all your counterspells are great here.

Then you play The Scarab God and get to enjoy all of the delicious ETB triggers from their creatures. Be aware that some Temur decks splash for The Scarab God (and Nicol Bolas) themselves so try and save an Essence Scatter or Disallow for it. Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Never // Return and To the Slaughter Negate come in from the board for Kalitas, Expertise and a counterspell (not completely sure which one, maybe since we are bringing in two potential answers to Chandra).

Try to line up your answers as listed above and try to save the hard counters for last. For example, if you have the choice between Fatal Push and Essence Scatter for their cub, use push. If you have the choice between Disallow and To the Slaughter for their hydra, use To the Slaughter. Be aware of Confiscation Coup on your god post board.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Next is God-Pharao’s Gift. Currently the most popular version is UR but all them share important traits: crappy creatures and then some number of 3 and 7 mana artifacts that can actually beat you. Luckily we are packed with counterspells for them and if you kill Minister of Inquiries they can have a hard time filling their yard to activate Gate to the Afterlife. You should at the very least be able to slow them down and The Scarab God is game over when you untap with it in play.

They have Dispel after board but they need to draw both Dispel, Gate/Refurbish/Gift and some ways to fill their graveyard to beat just a single counterspell from you and their are in a real hurry before we get to five mana. This is about as easy a matchup as you can get in Standard.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Hyper Aggro has traditionally been the bane of control decks and I will say that this is the matchup where I am least certain about my opinion, but I will go out on a limb and say that it’s a fine matchup. You have cheap removal, cheap counters, removal that can kill a resolved Hazoret the Fervent and threats that can close the game out fast. As I mentioned above, The Scarab God is still great here (noticing a trend?) and you get to bring in Gifted Aetherborn, Liliana, Never // Return and an extra Expertise, while lowering your curve a bit (I like to cut one Gearhulk, one Glimmer, To the Slaughter, Disallows and Supreme Wills for the rest). I’m torn on the expertise because your main concern is keeping your life total high and so you can’t really afford to just take hits from their creatures to set it up.

Let’s say they play Falkenrath Gorger turn 1. Do you Fatal Push it if you also have expertise in hand? I think you have to. Then they play Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. Do you grasp it? Again, I think you have to. Then they play Earthshaker Khenra or Ahn-Crop Crasher.

Now your expertise can kill one creature. If you say go and they play another haste creature, do you counter it or take 5 damage? Maybe this is getting too specific but my point is that I don’t really like a 4 mana sorcery speed removal spell when I’m trying to keep the board clear and have mana open on their turn to counter Chandra, Hazoret and Glorybringer. It can still give you a chance in the games where you stumble a bit so I think two is an appropriate number. Again, I’m not sure it’s a great matchup but I just keep beating it over and over again on Magic Online so, running the risk of being too results oriented, that’s what I’m going with.

“A sign that you will win this match”

This is a Midrange and so plays out similarly to Temur except BG is more straightforward and they rely more on synergy which is good for the all removal and counterspells deck. I guess you can lose if they somehow resolve Dispossess and Lost Legacy but that should be rare. Maybe turn 3 Nissa on the play if you have neither Negate nor Censor but it’s still a pretty slow clock if you can keep Winding Constrictor off the table. Negate, Never, To the Slaughter and Reckoning replace Kalitas, Expertise, a Disallow and a Censor for game 2.

“A sign that you will win this match”

You can lose game 1 to ramp if they get to play Ulamogs before you get enough lands into play to be able to afford losing two of them but after board you get an extra Negate and 3 Summary Dismissal along with a To the Slaughter and Never to replace your useless Fatal Pushes and upgrade two Grasps. So not only can you counter a lot of their ramp, when they finally get to 7 or 10 mana, you have clean answers to their top end. They bring in Tireless Tracker and Thought-Knot Seer but they still fight on the same axis and your counter magic has that axis on lockdown.

“A sign that you will have a fair fight this match”

This is a close one. They have a lot of recurring threats and threats that produce more than one creature and after board they get a few more along with Transgress the Mind. Game 1 is usually pretty easy as they tend to draw a couple of removal spells that don’t do anything until it’s too late but try and make sure that Diregraf Colossus doesn’t get to make a token and that Liliana’s Mastery doesn’t resolve. I bring in all 3 sweepers, Liliana and Never for To the Slaughter, 2 Disallow, a Censor and a Supreme Will. As with the other matchups where I shave counterspells, I’m not 100 percent sure about which ones are actually correct to cut and it also depends on your opponents play. If they always play around Censor, trim those, if they play very aggressively you can trim Supreme Will instead since Censor will often be as good and you might not have time to spend 3 mana for card selection.

“Ask your opponent to just concede so you can go get lunch. He’s not winning”

I said the Gift deck was about the easiest matchup in Standard, well this is the easiest matchup I can remember ever playing in any format. You have all the time in the world and as soon as you’ve drawn 3 of your 4 Negate/Disallow along with enough lands to pay for Supreme Wills and Censors you can’t lose game 1. My opponent in the RPTQ even had a Sphinx of the Final Word main but when he played that and then Approach on 14 mana I could respond with To the Slaughter and Negate which is one of the better feelings I’ve gotten from a play.

It was even more satisfying because I had replaced the maindeck Never//Return with To the Slaughter specifically because I kept facing UW players online who had Sphinx main. Post board they get some hard counters but so do you along with 4 more answers to Sphinx. They probably also bring in a couple of Linvala, the Preserver and/or Regal Caracal and maybe Torrential Gearhulk but you still have Essence Scatter along with all the other counter magic and they just aren’t able to compete in the slightest as long as you don’t draw all spells or all lands.

As you can see from this walkthrough, the current Standard metagame doesn’t really contain any problems for UB; I might not be certain of how good the Mono Red matchup is but I’m sure it’s nowhere near as bad as it is for UR Control (I haven’t played against UR Control with this deck but you are very similar and so I would assume it to be quite even).

I guess Mardu Vehicles is still a deck and that might be problematic but I haven’t faced it at all and from what I hear it’s bad against Temur Energy so I wouldn’t expect to face it anytime soon. Unless something changes drastically, I will bring this to Nationals and I wholeheartedly recommend you do the same. If, by some chance, this deck picks up in popularity, I will figure out the mirror before then and write another article.

Now it’s time for me to get a little sentimental because this past Sunday was a culmination of 6 or so years of trying to get on the Pro Tour. In fact, the last 3 years it has pretty much been the only thing on my mind. Almost every day when I came home from work, I would fire up Magic Online and play until I went to bed. Work, Magic, sleep, repeat. Even at work, I would constantly be thinking about Magic.

I have had a lot of close calls; 1 GP win and in, 10 or so PTQ top 8’s along with a bunch of good GP performances in the first 9-12 rounds only to get crushed in the last rounds. When you have that many near misses, you can’t really blame it on just bad luck anymore. I have enough insight to know that I am theoretically good enough to compete on the Pro Tour, but when the matches got important I would crumble under the pressure.

I qualified for the World Magic Cup twice but failed to make enough of the opportunity to get on the Pro Tour. Both years Denmark top 8’ed the WMC, I lost in the finals of one of the WMCQ’s. Many times, I have contemplated giving up and just do a regular 9 to 5 job and be “normal”, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. About a year ago, I decided to dedicate myself even more and go to all the European GP’s. Around Christmas, when my results kept being #mediocre, I tried to focus not so much on winning but more on just enjoying the competition, the game and the awesome people I have met on the GP circuit.

Brad Nelson and other great players have written articles telling you some variant of “don’t focus on the results” and I have really tried to take that to heart. Make no mistake; I think this game is a lot of fun and I have made a lot of friends that I would love to hang out with outside of Magic, but it can be hard to justify spending that much time and money on something “just” for fun.

So a couple of months ago I began seeing a sports psychologist to deal with the root of the issue: If you present me with a situation, I will usually be able to tell you what the correct play is but when matches become important, my thought process goes awry and I mess up. I am not sure how much of this qualification I owe to my shrink, and I know I have a long ways to go, but I know I’m making progress, so maybe in a year or two, it will just be my strategic ability that limits my performance.

And when I sat down for my top 8 match in the RPTQ I could feel a difference in my mentality; I didn’t like the matchup (BR Control with Scorpion Gods and tons of discard. I wouldn’t expect to face it though) but at least this time, I wouldn’t just be throwing the match (You might think that I didn’t literally throw matches away but the one of Lasse Nørgaard and Martin Dang who sat behind me for the WMCQ Final against Christoffer Larsen will testify that it is true).

I lost game 1 but game 2 he got mana screwed and game 3 he mulliganed into a poor hand and didn’t draw out of it. I have heard myths of winning important matches like this (Oscar Christensen won his win and in at GP Birmingham against an Ad Nauseam player who just did nothing for two games in a row), and always lamented the fact that it didn’t happen to me. Now I’ll have to find something else to complain about, I just hope it won’t be that I got terribly unlucky and scrubbed out of my first Pro Tour. Jinx.

It was so heartwarming to see so many people congratulate me on Facebook and Messenger, and I feel so fortunate to have so many people care in the slightest about how I do. I am a social person and while I try not to chase recognition, of course it’s great when you get it, but ultimately, I started this chase for me; because I want to make me proud. I can finally say that I am proud of my Magic career, but I am not good at settling and I already have a new goal: Become a mainstay on the Pro Tour, and/or make top 8 of one. I’ll get back to you in 20 years or so, probably. Until then, my best piece of advice is to be honest about what weaknesses are keeping you from achieving whatever goals you have for yourself, and do whatever it takes to remedy them.

Next week I’ll be back to tell you about my adventures in Metz and AKH-HOU Limited. Thanks for reading.