“The town hall was buzzing with anticipation Monday morning in Kaladesh. The elders originally promised a diverse competition where the possibilities were endless. Inventors from all over the globe took this to mean good things to come, but everyone soon realized that wasn't the case. Instead of endless variety and exploration, the citizens of this fine plane found two inventions to be better than all the rest. No new creations stood a chance at impressing the judges with these two roaming around. Frustrated, the citizens waited with bated breath for the elders to 'make good' on their recent blunders.
"The elders did nothing. They spoke of pillars, towers, and other constructs engineered to imprison both body and mind. Helpless, the residents could only look to one another for support. They finally understood their 'bottom of the barrel' importance. Nothing would change for them, and accepting this was the only silver lining to be found. Together they stood fully understanding the old standard was dead.”
- "The Birth of a Modern Player"
This week I planned on writing about how the decision to not ban Felidar Guardian would end up biting Wizards sometime down the road. I spent hours formulating new arguments distinct from those I made last week, but they all came off feeling repetitive. I could spend my time making toxic justifications for why I'm right about something, but that just didn't feel healthy. Not after the wonderful weekend I just had. Instead I'll just let sleeping dogs lie, since Wizards will have another opportunity to kill the Cat right before Amonkhet releases anyway.
That realization of second chances is really what today is going to be about. In life we rarely get them, which gives these opportunities their unique level of importance. More often than not, we don't know how to quantify the significance on the first go-round, but the contemplation of “what could have been” reveals the relevancy after it's too late. A second chance is that opportunity to get back what you never knew you wanted, but to also make better decisions, proving to yourself you have what it takes to achieve what you want. Second chances pretty much mean having your cake and eating it too.
Don't Q Me, Bro
Now, don't think I'll leave those of you looking for insight on the updates to Four-Color Saheeli hanging. After today's story time, we will briefly go over the changes I've made to the deck, along with some brief sideboard strategy for the deck. Nothing too extravagant, given the state of the format, but just enough to help those participating in #GPPOA.
My story begins at the end of Day 1 at #GPNJ. I found myself 9-0 after the first day of competition. My weapon of choice for the event was obviously Four-Color Saheeli, a deck I'd been working with for close to a month. I was excited about such a good start, but knew it would take much more than that to solidify a result worthy of self-validation and praise. You see, I've had a rough couple of years when it comes to Grand Prix competition. May will be the two-year anniversary of my last GP Top 8. That might come to a surprise for anyone not closely following along, since I've been in the limelight at most of these events, but facts are facts. I've found myself on the cusp of greatness more times than not, but each brush with glory has turned into yet another “near-miss” blemish on my resume. This event would be no different, as I found myself losing many close matches on Day 2 to finish the event with a meager 11-4 record.
With no external emotional investment, that would have been the end of this story, but luckily the blood that runs through my veins can also be found in another. My younger brother did not share my fate on Sunday. Instead of crashing and burning, he rose above adversity and found himself in the finals of the event for the second time in his extremely limited career with professional Magic. This time he walked away with the victory and a brand new start on the Pro Tour.
“Without ash to rise from, the phoenix would just be a bird getting up.” - Schmidt
Many may believe Corey's on the fast track for something along the lines of Rookie of the Year, but that couldn't be further from the truth. He actually made his Pro Tour debut a year before I did! In fact, he and Josh Utter-Leyton shared a hotel together at their very first Pro Tour. That's right, their first Pro Tour. The slam-dunk Hall of Fame nominee played in his very first Pro Tour alongside my little brother. At the time, Corey was a young seventeen-year-old that found playing in the Pro Tours themselves as the excuse to get to travel the world and have fun with his friends. He stayed qualified through very little effort of his own and a great Elo rating. That system would eventually change, and so would his opportunities to travel the world as a degenerate minor. He was forced to take a step back from Magic and readjusted his focus onto his education. He may have put Magic behind him, but always wondered what could have been if he treated the game with a higher level of respect.
It wasn't until I won the SCG Players' Championship in 2014 that his career with Magic would be revitalized. That event was the final of the year, which meant I would be traveling back home to North Dakota for Christmas with a surplus of disposable income. No normal Christmas present would now do for “FFfreakslittlebro,”so I had to think bigger. I ended up offering him an all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere in the U.S. for a Grand Prix. You know, one last hurrah for old times' sake. His choice, being a North Dakotan in the dead middle of winter, wouldn't be a surprise to anyone. The bros were headed to Miami!
I envisioned this trip to be more about the times than the tournament, but Corey had different plans. He wanted his second chance. He worked day and night on Magic Online, trying to replicate that unbridled skill he once had in the game. Long story short, we found ourselves playing each other in Round 15. The winner would move on to the Top 8, while the loser collecting three pro points and that bad aftertaste that comes with defeat. I conceded. Now, I'd like to say it was an easy decision, but at the time it was a tough pill to swallow. Looking back, I would make the decision again in a heartbeat, but at the time it was a tough reality to accept. That said, my sacrifice to get him back to the Pro Tour was nothing compared to the disdain I'd have for myself if selfishness took over in that brief moment.
Here's a video with Nick Miller interviewing us after this unique moment.
Now, some of you out there are shaking your heads at the thought of one of us conceding to the other instead of just playing the match out. After all, this was right in the heart of the concession controversy that was rolling through social media. The hilarious thing about our match was that it was impossible for one of us to actually win in the allotted time, given the deck we were playing. Even if we wanted to play the match out, we would eventually end up drawing us both out of Top 8!
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Genesis Hydra
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Whisperwood Elemental
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
Sadly, his qualification didn't stick as he found himself not requalifying after Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, but the fire was reignited. No longer was Magic a part of his past life, but something he began playing in his free time once again. As the rust began to break, the Magic player I once knew took shape, this time without the immaturity that would become his downfall during his first attempt at Magic glory.
His year of hard work in the MTGO trenches began to show results as he took down an RPTQ one week and a PTQ on Magic Online the next. In a three-week span he went from not being qualified for anything to preparing a march on Gold. With two qualifications already in the holster, the two of us began strategizing how he would find two more for Nashville and Kyoto. It was time to once again send him to a Grand Prix! The only problem? He had no byes!
Starting from the bottom is way more difficult than I ever imagined. It's tough for me to truly understand just how razor-thin the edges are for someone trying to go from nothing to something on the Pro Tour. I've sat in my Platinum tower for some time now, spouting nonsense equivalent to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “there's always next time,” but investing in my brother's career has shown me that it's much more complex than that. One bad event can be the difference of playing in the next three Pro Tours or not playing any of them at all. Now, his story is anything but a sad one. It's just eye-opening to see it from a perspective I've all but forgotten. This is a topic for another day, but one I will be working on in the near future.
With two Pro Tours down and two to go, I'd already found enough Pro Points to keep playing professionally for another year, with my new sights on Platinum and Worlds for the third year in a row. His goals were a little different, given he still needed to find a qualification for Kyoto in July. We set our sights on #GPNJ, but we already know how that worked out.
For the first time, our careers are aligned with the same goals, aspirations, and endeavors. I don't know what the final chapter of our Magic story will look like, but I now know for certain the book's not finished. For right now, that's enough for me.
Looking back, there was a clear moment in our time together that I will cherish forever. We were fortunate enough to record a piece for Wizards in Rome with Antoine and Olivier Ruel called “Brothers in Arms." At the time, we dreamed of being the next brotherly sensations on the Pro Tour. It may have taken us nearly eight years, but we may have finally accomplished this goal.
Enough sappy talk about how much I love my brother. Some of you have tournaments to win! Ondrej Strasky and Petr Sochurek reached out to me before #GPBCN on what version of Four-Color Saheeli they should play. In the end, they changed two cards from the decklist I suggested, which I've come to believe is correct. Even though the world is informed, I still believe it to be the perfect non-Traverse the Ulvenwald list of the deck going forward.
With the numbers of B/G Constrictor going down, along with the fact that it's already such a good matchup, I've reduced the number of Baral's Expertise and Tamiyo, Field Researcher to almost zero. One copy of the powerful planeswalker is fine, given how good it can be against Mardu Vehicles, but the slots a card like Baral's Expertise would take up are better utilized for more popular matchups like the mirror and Mardu.
One Tireless Tracker in the maindeck over the fourth Whirler Virtuoso may seem strange at first, but it makes sense once you think about it. Mardu Ballista has taken over as the most popular variant of Mardu Vehicles, which comes with a higher number of Archangel Avacyns. This may seem like a small change, but it does lower the value of clogging up the battlefield from our side. Given the risk of dismantling big battlefield stalls that Archangel Avacyn threatens, Whirler Virtuoso becomes a card we can realistically flood on. Diversifying our threats becomes a necessity after sideboarding, and the extra slot that the fourth Whirler Virtuoso takes up helps significantly with that.
The Mirror, on the Play
The Mirror, on the Draw
It took Brian Braun-Duin and me a long time to figure out that Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a weak card on the draw in the mirror. That's because it isn't that intuitive when approaching the matchup through theory.
After all, planeswalkers are great at dealing with their clones, especially backed by Oath of Chandra. That being said, they're really difficult to protect on the draw as well. That fact becomes exacerbated when drawn in multiples. I won't say this little tidbit of information will all of a sudden make you a favorite on the draw, but it did increase our win percentage when testing the matchup on the kitchen table.
It's difficult to know exactly how your opponent is going to sideboard with Mardu. I'm under the impression that the transformational sideboard into a planeswalker control deck is a thing of the past against Four-Color Saheeli, but some may still do this. Even so, I wouldn't suggest correcting too much in fear of this. They rarely will do this on the play, making it something that will only happen once a match, and only some of the time. You may get “got” by the sideboard plan every once and awhile, but I believe your win percentage will be lower if you always expect this to happen.
I'm okay with only bringing in one Natural State on the play and leaving all the Felidar Guardians in the deck as a hedge against a transformational sideboard, but I would not go much further than that.
You might not approve of this sideboarding, but it's the best I've got, given the decklist. In all honesty, I don't even think it's that bad. They have Walking Ballista and a surplus of large threats we won't be able to fend off without Baral's Expertise in our deck.
One thing they don't have is a surplus of removal to hold up against us. Dispel is a perfect solution for the one removal spell they will try to use when we combo them, and something they won't be expecting. You have to treat the matchup like you are a combo deck, and cheap counters tend to excel in these kind of scenarios.
I'll admit I haven't fully mastered this matchup, but do respect my buddy BBD's plan in this matchup. In all honesty, it's the only matchup he can beat with Four-Color Saheeli!
Happy hunting! May you find a Magic sibling out there somewhere!