When Grand Prix Baltimore ended just over a week ago, that marked my last sanctioned event of 2014.
As with the last two years (which you can find here and here), I'm going to take some time to look back and forward at what I wanted to accomplish, what I learned, and what I want out of the next year on the Pro Tour.
Goals From Last Year
7. Write my odds-based Momir primer.
The dream is super dead. Even more dead than I could imagine.
When I last wrote about my goals, Momir Daily Events didn't exist. I was almost okay writing about a dead format because I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from it, but there was another thing I failed to realize.
Magic Online Version 4 is terrible for Momir.
When I wrote about this last, Magic 2015 was the most recent set. The Magic Online version switch over was only a couple months old, and most of that time I had spent preparing for the Pro Tour via other methods. Sure, I had run a couple of Magic 2015 drafts, but that format was quick and smooth.
It turns out that V4 is far worse than V3 at handling large boardstates. The lag builds up fast as you start adding more and more permanents and tapping more and more lands. So, when you inevitably play the games of Momir where you are firing off eight-drops at each other and playing from stalled boards, the client becomes incrementally worse as each turn passes. And that's not even talking about what happens if someone hits Stormtide Leviathan and each land tap takes an extra click.
Of course, like all things Magic Online, this isn't going to stop me from registering for a Momir Daily if I find myself randomly available and remember they exist. I'm just not going to go out of my way to do it, and it has very low value over replacement for basically any other Saturday/Sunday activity.
6. Run back a team event with Alex and Matt.
Done. Min cashed Grand Prix Nashville with the two of them. In true fashion, I went 6-8 with mediocre red aggro after getting the Sarkhan both times, Matt was handed the tempoish blue decks and won a lot, and Alex's decks averaged four and a half colors.
Of course, I'm immediately abandoning them for Craig Wescoe and Chris Fennell at GP San Jose while they are likely to pick up DJ Kastner if they go.
5. Keep at least six or seven of my current Pro Tour teammates on the Pro Tour for next year.
We ended the season with only four Gold/Platinum Pros (Craig Wescoe, Chris Fennell, Seth Manfield, and me). Our first reaction was to scour the list of "free agents," especially given that our biggest gain from last season was picking up the unaffiliated duo of Chris Fennell and Steve Mann. We found no one that really lined up with our structure to add.
Despite this, we have nine returning members for the upcoming Pro Tour Fate Reforged in DC and had eleven for Khans of Tarkir in Honolulu.
Consistency is important in a team, and we've solved that in a bit of a non-traditional way. Instead of a bunch of Gold, Platinum, or Hall of Fame Pros, we have a lot of rotating Silver or similar players who are qualified reasonably often and help out when they aren't.
This is pretty cool to me, as it implies that you don't need to be invited to an elite team to build the required network for high level play as long as you and some other people who want to work hard decide to build one yourself. Not to say that skill doesn't matter, as there is a ton of talent in the group I'm working with, but in all of my past groups' failings the problem most of the time has been structure and focus, not skill.
4. Fill my last two Grand Prix point slots with Top 16s at a minimum.
This referred to last season, whereas the end of 2013 I was A) 3/5 on top 8ing Grand Prix in the 2013-2014 Pro Season and B) 6 points off of locking up Gold with 2 open Grand Prix slots, which is exactly two top 16s.
I did that, and it still feels mediocre. Even more mediocre is how this year's zero top 8s for 13 Grand Prix played lines up against my 4 for 10 heater in 2013 and my lifetime 1 out of 6 conversion rate.
Some of this is just randomness. If my lifetime 16-17% top 8 rate is representative of my actual conversion rate, going 0 for 13 is still about 10% to occur. Well within reason. If you look at it from this perspective I really can't complain, as my run goods this year were pretty well distributed.
Some of this is preparation. I've spent a lot more time preparing for Pro Tours, leaving less time to prepare for Grand Prix that surround them, and I've also started going to significantly more Grand Prix, giving me less time to prepare for each one. Also, barring GP Toronto, I was extremely out of touch with Theros block in Standard and Constructed, which covered a significant portion of those Grand Prix, and I also have not had a chance to play Legacy since moving to Boston, since there aren't local events for the format. Formats change, this happens to everyone. Even Brian Kibler has to play a year against Lifebane Zombie sometimes.
Regardless, I expect more from this next year. I'm going to go back to targeting specific Grand Prix to practice, sacrificing some to improve results at others. I have a much better understanding of Khans of Tarkir's influence across all formats, and I'll see how things sit a year from now.
3. 3-0 a Pro Tour draft.
Done. It only took a deck that with as many rares and mythics as it had basic lands.
I will say, the crazy clan mix synergies of Five-Color were pretty awesome. My current greatest full five-color hits are:
-Curve Savage Knuckleblade into Zurgo, Helmsmasher.
-Warden of the Eye back a Villainous Wealth.
I only hope Fate Reforged lets me keep it up with more ridiculous domain combos.
2. Do something new and notable.
To use a throwback line: Ctrl + Q + E.
(Prior to V4, this was the hot key for the trophy emoticon).
To make it into an even cooler stat, I am the fourth person to win a Pro Tour after starting the event with a loss. Paulo, David Sharfman, and Alex Hayne are the other three.
1. Maintain and improve on the quality of content I've been producing over the past year.
I feel like I definitely struggled with this at times over the first half of the year, and this ties into how I just didn't really get Theros block. Sealed was about weird low option threat-answering and positioning battles that I've always hated, and Standard was fairly similar. If you don't understand the subject yourself, it's really hard to teach anyone about it. My immediate observational writing was fine, but that was all after the fact once the relevant event was over.
That caveat aside, I feel like I did fine in this respect over the year. With Khans of Tarkir, I've caught back up quite a bit.
The big shift in my writing has been that I've done far less deck specific articles that aren't event retrospectives. I always liked doing those and felt like they provided a lot of interesting content, but there are a few reasons for the shift here. First is that I simply have less time to do this than I did before to try random things all the time. I've opted to dedicate almost all of my Magic playing time working on an upcoming event, and I attended an extra three Grand Prix and an extra Pro Tour in 2014 relative to 2013. That might not seem like a lot, but the Pro Tour alone is a solid month where I'm only testing for that event. The other shift is that I've moved a lot of this from articles to videos. While it's not the same level of depth, I do like how videos allow people to make their own assessments of the deck in action as opposed to just taking an author's word.
Reid Duke's StarCityGames Players' Championship profile had him use an interesting phrase to describe the field at that event: "best in the business."
When we were examining our team's failings at Pro Tour Theros last October, Chris Fennell stated that he wanted to make the team run more like a business.
Magic is a great hobby, pastime, or game. But if you are going to play it at the level I've been trying to, you have to treat it as more.
This might seem like it conflicts with my general line of "If you aren't having fun playing Magic, why are you playing it?", but putting in real work and enjoying what you are doing aren't mutually exclusive. If you want to get business-like rewards out of Magic, you probably will have to approach it that way.
As mentioned above, I failed to heed my own previous lessons for Grand Prix. I need to focus more on specific events. I've known this for years, and I've been slacking on it as I've put more and more work into Pro Tour testing. Putting half my effort for two events is way worse than putting full effort for one and letting one just happen. This is basically the obvious observation that prizes scale rapidly as your finish rises as it applies on a testing scale.
This article from a couple weeks ago sums a lot of it up. I wanted to get better at Limited, and this is probably the best thing I've started focusing on in the last year.
In terms of Constructed, I feel like I've improved at threat timing to minimize the efficiency of my opponent's answers. In the past, I've played a lot of decks where this is less relevant: combo, control, Faeries and other flash style decks, or just midrange where their answers are always bad, like Pod or Jund with cascade spells. This was a big part of playing G/W Aggro and Mono-Blue Devotion during last Standard, and a big part of almost every deck in post-Khans standard.
Goals for Next Year:
1. Create a well-structured testing group for Worlds
Worlds is a unique challenge on a lot of levels. Four formats is a ton of ground to cover, and 24 players limits your group size to cover all of them. Not only are there less options for teammates, each additional member is a much larger percentage of the field you are informing. You need to generate more info than for any other tournament, but you have less man hours to do it in. Either you need to make more time, or make more people.
I'm going to work on this from both sides. Get more people involved, and start testing way earlier.
2. Help qualify at least one more member of my team for Worlds.
This is the easiest way to make more people. The easiest way to do this is concede to my teammates when possible or reasonable. I'm locked for Platinum, they aren't. In terms of an equity argument, if it's not a Pro Tour top 8 on the line, they are getting way more out of it than I am.
Unfortunately, as has already come up once, there's a conflict.
3. Stay competitive in the Player of the Year race.
It's so odd. On paper, Player of the Year doesn't come with any big prize like Platinum or an event win. It's simply a title.
But for some reason it matters.
By stay competitive, I mean go into the last Pro Tour not needing a top 8 to win the title. It's a lofty goal given the competition, but given that the basic goals are accomplished, I may as well shoot for the moon.
4. Cash two of the next three PTs.
This is an easy way to set up the above. This might even be a more unrealistic goal, given that I've only cashed five Pro Tours lifetime out of around twenty, but again, go big or go home is the plan. There isn't much else here. Either I do it or I fail miserably trying to.
5. Get better at pulling out solid finishes while out of top 8 contention.
I think a big part of the above is taking the out of contention matches at the Pro Tour more seriously. After my fifth loss, I definitely just let myself mentally leave the event. As evidenced by plenty of comebacks from the best players in the world, such as Eric Froehlich's conversion of a 1-4 start at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir into a 11-5 finish, that really isn't something you can let yourself do if all of the Pro Points matter.
6. Figure out where else I can improve my game.
I looked back at this list of goals as I was wrapping up and realized these are almost all very discrete goals. If they happen, there's a clear reward. These goals are all good, but in order to achieve any of them I'll have to figure out how to build a path to that point.
You don't get better by winning an event. You win events by getting better.