It's weird thinking back on how I used to experience pro Magic years ago. There was a time before the swiss rounds of the Pro Tour were streamed live, where I would watch my computer screen, refreshing the coverage page, waiting for a new write up of a feature match. It seems like a such a small window to the Pro Tour in comparison to what we see now. Now it's rare I even read match write ups at all. Back then it was everything. It didn't matter who was playing, it didn't matter what the matchup was or who won, or even if anything interesting happened. It was Magic, and that was enough.
The broadcast of the Top 8 was on a whole other level. More sights, some sounds... it almost tripled your engagement to the Magic coverage experience. I remember Worlds in 2004. Lots of Affinity. Julien Nuijten winning the whole thing. The blurry colors. The blurry commentary.
Ten years later, and Worlds 2014 is now in the books. My relationship with the game has changed, but my love for it hasn't diminished. That love may have evolved, perhaps it isn't lusting for action, anything Magic I could get I would greedily drink in. Now that relationship is storied, distinguished, and has a solid foundation, even if it's not quite as exciting and fresh. (Just don't tell Magic about Hearthstone, it would break her heart.)
I ended up finishing fifth at the World Championships to miss the cut to Top 4 on tiebreakers (a very large gap of tiebreakers). As for the World Magic Cup, well that didn't go quite so well.
The whole thing was a blast. I suppose I should save the sappy stuff for the end of the article, but I really am just thankful to have had a chance to play with, and against, a great group of Magicians.
Coming into the tournament I was feeling supremely confident about my practice and ready to allow good things to happen. I had locked in my lists early and got plenty of practice. I was ready to crush, and was willing to accept that I might get crushed.
Here's how it went down.
Day 1 - Vintage Masters Draft
You can view my draft here.
I started out first picking Yavimaya Elder out of a weak pack and then Solar Blast second over a Fyndhorn Elves and a Krosan Tusker. Next, I took a Shivan Wurm out of a weak pack with hope that I would see some Fires of Yavimaya, which would turn the otherwise mediocre Wurm into an all-star. The fourth pack threw me for a loop with Visara the Dreadful, which I took over Chain Lightning. The black continued to flow the rest of the pack without too much green. I noticed blue appeared to be open though. Pick 3 of Pack 2 was my chance to switch into blue fully when I saw a Psychatog, but I decided to play it safe and take Arrogant Wurm since I had just taken a Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary. If I would've taken the Psychatog I think my deck would've ended up better since I had to pass up a second one later. Pack 3 fleshed out my deck with two copies of Hymn to Tourach, and I eventually ended up with this:
- 3 Arrogant Wurm
- 2 Death's-Head Buzzard
- 1 Elvish Aberration
- 2 Fyndhorn Elves
- 1 Giant Mantis
- 1 Krosan Tusker
- 1 Penumbra Wurm
- 1 Putrid Imp
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
- 1 Visara the Dreadful
All the decklists from my pod can be found here.
I was pretty lukewarm about the deck. I should've switched into blue when I noticed it was open and saw the first Psychatog though, and I was kicking myself for it. I realized I had to make do with what I had though and tried be happy with my imperfect G/B Ramp/Control/Reanimator.
Round 1 vs Yuuya Watanabe on B/W Aggro
Highlights include me Chainer's Edicting my own Starving Buzzard in game 1 and him topdecking a second Radiant, Archangel. I was aware there were a bunch of weird legendaries like Sidar Jabari, but Radiant, Archangel doesn't even have a specific name!
In the second game, I resolved a Visara the Dreadful and won.
Round 2 vs Shahar Shenhar
Shahar had a very solid goblins deck splashing white, highlighting Sulfuric Vortex. Game 1 he flooded out completely which was slightly mitigated when I Hymn To Tourach'd two of his lands, but the four spells he drew couldn't quite finish me off. Games 2 and 3 he drew enough gas and finished me off with Sulfuric Vortex.
Round 3 vs PVDDR
PV had a really strange four-color deck featuring Recurring Nightmare, Decree of Justice, two Grizzly Fate, and two Man-o-Wars. It looked very difficult for me to win on paper. I manage to clear his side of the board and swing for lethal with a Starving Buzzard and Famine combo the turn after he made a bunch of angels with Decree of Justice. Game 2 he comboed off with Man-o-War and Recurring Nightmare, which I was essentially just dead to unless I could make him discard Recurring Nightmare. Game 3 I double Hymn to Tourach on turn 2 and 3 and followed it up with Visara the Dreadful that got Aether Mutation'ed. I cleared the board with Starving Buzzard and replayed Visara and he bricked for a few turns, which was just enough for me to stabilize at a low life total and take the match.
I was feeling good about escaping Vintage Masters Draft with a 2-1 record since it probably had the most potential to go wrong in my mind. I was ready to crush Modern. It is my specialty format, so it should be a cakewalk, right?
All the decklists can be found here
Round 4 vs William Jensen on Storm
Huey was on Storm which isn't a great matchup, especially game 1, but he failed to put anything together the first game after drawing a million cards. Game 2 he comboed off for a big Empty the Warrens, which I had no answer for. Game 3 he Emptied the Warrens again, but this time I had Anger the Gods. I held onto a couple Wear//Tear the rest of the game just in case and eventually grinded him out.
Round 5 vs Patrick Chapin on U/R Delver
This would be the first of two very methodical chess-like matches against Chapin, where we know each other's lists and each have a good deal of room to maneuver. He got the best of me here despite me winning game 1 after he drew a boatload of cards when I stumbled on mana game 2, and had a Dig heavy hand that was just too slow in game 3.
This seemed like the deck of the tournament, especially from my perspective, since it was a pretty bad matchup. I just didn't have the cards to fight Fatestitcher. I managed to win game 2 by locking him out with Crucible of Worlds, but the other two games he simply outcarded me. I am of the opinion that Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Jeskai Ascendancy should all be banned in Modern and this deck displays why.
Round 7 vs Lars Dam on Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
He's on the other version of the Jeskai Ascendancy Combo with green; this version of the matchup I was confident in. Game 1 I kept a two-lander without red mana on the play and never saw a third land. Game 2 I disrupted him and pulled ahead with card draw. Game 3 was very interesting since it went long enough for him to Glittering Wish for Sigarda Host of Herons and he was able to resolve it against my gas-light hand. After chumping with Celestial Colonnade on the last turn before I was dead, I drew Supreme Verdict and thought I had it won for sure. Unfortunately, I never saw another threat or card draw spell to close out the game, and Lars eventually killed me through the removal I drew before decking with one of his few remaining Birds of Paradise protected by 2 Pact of Negations.
I was feeling pretty down about being 3-4 after starting out 3-1. I got over it pretty fast thanks to the usual combination of taking my mind off Magic, meditation, and a few pep talks from friends and family. I got a great night of rest and felt ready to crush once more. It was like a brand new tournament!
Day 2 - Khans Draft
This was a really weird draft since Willy Edel and Sam Black were both partially in Abzan on either side of me, and I'm still thinking I messed up the draft by not going Abzan. I saw a couple Abzan Charms and Abzan Guides float by while I was sticking to taking decent blue and white cards. The three rares I opened were top-notch in Master of Pearls, Ghostfire Blade, and Crater's Claws, and they really helped boost up my power level while I was aiming for consistency.
- 1 Ainok Bond-Kin
- 1 Alabaster Kirin
- 1 Clever Impersonator
- 2 Dragon's Eye Savants
- 1 Glacial Stalker
- 1 Jeskai Elder
- 1 Jeskai Windscout
- 1 Mardu Hordechief
- 1 Master of Pearls
- 1 Sage-Eye Harrier
- 1 Scion of Glaciers
- 1 War Behemoth
- 2 Wetland Sambar
The rest of the decklists can be found here.
Round 8 vs Willy Edel on Sult-Abzan
Willy's deck is quite slow and he mulliganed to five game 1. Game 2 we got into a racing situation and Crater's Claws finished him off.
Round 9 vs Sam Black on Abzan/Mardu
Here's where things got awkward. I should've 2-0'd this round but made an epic level punt in game 2. I was about to win next turn with Master of Pearls and a bunch of creatures when Sam played Rush of Battle and swung with his team. I unmorph a Dragon's Eye Savants and saw a bunch of red cards while he was lacking red mana. He couldn't do anything and the game was essentially won on my part. Unfortunately, I blocked in such a way that left me dead since it turns out Hooting Mandrils has trample, a fact which I had simply forgotten. Adding insult to injury, I'm forced to reveal the morphs I had which I could've easily used to save myself.
You know you've really gone and screwed up when even the judge watching is chuckling at how bad you just played.
I've been in this situation enough times to have built up my defenses against tilt. Misplays matter a lot less than how you handle them. I'm still punished the full amount by losing game 3, but I don't let it send me into a tilt spiral. Playing tight while ahead is difficult, so don't lose focus, and don't play too quickly.
Round 10 vs Paul Rietzl on Temur
The rest of the decklists can be found here.
Now it was time to see how my Abzan list would do. I had abandoned my precious Jeskai deck to ride the mighty Rhino, and I was hoping I wouldn't perform like a noob out of water.
Round 11 vs Stanislav Cifka on U/B Control
Game 1 he had a strong hand and powered through thanks to a bunch of accumulated dead game 1 Hero's Downfalls. Game 2 Nissa, Worldwaker quickly bashed him silly. Game 3 we get into a topdeck war that I drew out of sooner.
Round 12 vs Lars Dam on Jeskai Control
I was confident with this matchup since I had prepared my list very well against control, and this version didn't seem too well-positioned against Abzan in general. The games went according to plan, and my beefy spells took me to victory.
Round 13 vs Yuuki Ichikawa on Abzan Reanimator
His deck wasn't particularly Whippy or Queeny, which was good for me, and his draws weren't very explosive.
Round 14 vs Patrick Chapin on Abzan Midrange
Once again I'm up against Chapin in a very thoughtful match with swings back and forth and topdecks galore. It was easily the most exciting match I played all week. Game 1 he immediately ripped an Ajani, Mentor of Heroes right when we both ran out of cards, which sealed the deal. Game 2 he stumbled a bit and I was able to run him over.
Game 3 was really the most interesting, since both had a Courser of Kruphix going and knew each other's lists. It was a lot information to process all at once and difficult to come up with a good plan on the fly. I actually felt I was going to get steamrolled, since in the early game I was behind on the board and cards. I managed to wrestle back a bit of the board at the cost of card advantage and then make a gap in his defenses with Thoughtseize to get Elspeth, Sun's Champion to mitigate some of my card disadvantage. It's hard to describe my thought process while in the game, as it was mostly me trying to find a path that didn't lead to an immediate loss of value, and marking off options until I found one that seemed like it would work. We eventually hit parity and a few more timely draws helped me take the match.
The Abzan mirror can be quick and brutal, or long and intricate. Standard practice for sideboarding is take out the Sylvan Caryatids, and I think that Sorin, Solemn Vistor is actually a bit of a weak link in the mirror (and perhaps in general), and if you can find room to cut him, you should.
I managed to 4-0 Standard, but it still wasn't quite enough. The list handled very well though. Days later I actually tuned into the SCG Portland to see Sheldon Freerksen playing an exact copy of it in the Top 4 vs Glenn Jones on Abzan Reanimator... whose older lists we had used as a reference for our Abzan Reanimator deck in the World Magic Cup. I'm not sure if there's a word in any language to quite describe that situation. Ironical maybe? Sheldon took down the event so kudos to him, and that probably suggests that my style of Abzan might be the correct direction to go in the near future.
I ended Worlds 9-5 and painfully close to squeezing into the Top 4. I had been defeated, leaving my heart bloody and beaten, having failed after giving it my all. I know that I could've been just a bit tighter in any number of different areas, and that stings harder than any hornet. I'm hoping to use the experience to improve. On the bright side, the extra pro points I earned have already locked me for Platinum for another year if I don't win another match of Magic until 2016.
That's All Folks
This report is already getting long, so I'll have to discuss my experiences at the World Magic Cup next time. I will say that I thought we had a great team, and my teammates were all incredible, but things just didn't go our way. Congrats to Shahar and Team Denmark and also everyone who managed to qualify for Worlds at all, because win or lose, it's the experience of a lifetime.
It has been an excellent year of Magic, and I look forward to trying to run back Worlds, as well as a bunch more great finishes next year. As usual though, I'm just happy to be a dot that's a little part of the awesome tapestry that is Magic. Ten years from now, when we're all watching coverage on the Holo-Streams, there will probably be someone competing at Worlds that watched this year's coverage with the same enthusiasm I did, dreaming of one day competing in the greatest tournament Magic has to offer.