I would like to apologize for the long break between this this article and my last. I had to take a small hiatus from writing and doing videos because I had to prepare for the Players Championship and GP Boston. The tournament was incredible and it was the first time I felt appreciated for my accomplishments. Wizards really outdid themselves on this one and I was thoroughly impressed.
It was a spectacle unlike the Pro Tour, with catered food and non-stop interviews. Everyone was treated with respect, and the game play was laid back. Everyone playing knew each other and that made things go really smoothly. On Tuesday there was a meet and greet-type function, with open bar and tons of Wizards big wigs there—it was cool getting to talk to them about the composition of the MTGO Cube and how much we all liked M13 draft. Eventually they held a player meeting and explained the structure of the tournament, my favorite part of which was when they basically said, “Look guys, don’t try to rules cheese each other.” And “Don’t try something slick if you wouldn’t want someone to try that on you.” I mean, this would never work in a real big tournament but for 16 players that was plenty.
Playtesting for this tournament was far different than it was for any other Magic tournament I have ever played in. First of all, it was a little awkward that half the people qualified were members of Team CFB. But because of the top-heavy prize structure, it lit a fire under me. I didn’t want to have 7 other people know what I was playing, and I didn’t want to feel guilty if I changed my decklist to metagame vs. my teammates. On top of that, sharing a list with 50% of the field would make for a lot of monotonous coverage and mirror matches (even though that happened anyway). A diverse field is more fun to play in and watch, and gives me the chance for a competitive advantage to boot. I decided that I wanted to win above all else, even if it meant the possibility of sacrificing some equity in the tournament not playing with the best players in the game. I wanted to prove that I could do it on my own, I wanted all the glory, I wanted all the money! I do not regret this decision at all, even though I didn’t end up doing all that well.
I quickly realized that I couldn’t do this totally alone, so I reached out to Reid Duke. It’s really important to playtest with someone who is equally invested in doing well in the tournament as you are. If I were playtesting with someone who didn’t care as much, they wouldn’t try as hard, it’s pretty simple. On top of that, I thought Reid was a good choice because I knew he would otherwise be working alone and he has had a good amount of experience preparing for tournaments with a small field, having played in the MOCS twice. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, I do not regret this decision.
I flew out to where Reid lives in New York about a week before the tournament, and we got straight to work. He had the entire Modern gauntlet built and ready to go, and we would wake up and play for 8 hours every day, pre- and post-sideboarded games in matchups that we might expect. We played against Birthing Pod, Jund, Splinter Twin, Doran, Tzu Ching Kuo UW control, RUG Delver, RWU Delver, Zoo, and UW Tron. I’m sure there are other decks that I’m forgetting as well.
Going in, I had a preference for Loam and Zoo since they were decks I had playtested on MTGO and they both had strong proactive strategies. I find it pretty funny that the rest of CFB ended up deciding to play Zoo independently of us, and they even had a remarkably similar list. We decided to run Grim Lavamancer over Snapcaster Mage because we expected them to play Birthing Pod, and it made us far less vulnerable to Spell Snare. I stand by this decision going into an “unknown” metagame, but the way the cookie crumbled Snapcaster was a far better choice in the Zoo mirror and we were hurt badly by this decision.
One other interesting factor is that for this tournament, you aren’t preparing for an expected field, you are preparing for players. If you can figure out what a certain player likes or what they might play and can change your deck to beat them that is HUGE. One person is 7-8% of the field, and if they prepare with anyone and convince them to play the same deck, then even better. On top of that, if you know a certain person will play a deck and you underprepare against them and lose, you feel pretty foolish. The Top 4 is best-of-five matches, so you basically just auto-win when you get to play four sideboarded games if you’re well prepared for a matchup. With all the prize at the top this seemed like a smart strategy. Maybe this is just flawed thinking though, since we ended up with 4 Mindbreak Trap in our sideboard that had no uses whatsoever.
My preparation for the Cube was just playing MTGO drafts during Cube week when it was available. Reid kept track, and said he had done something like 50 or 60 Cube drafts when they were live, and honestly I think I did about as many. When it’s just so impractical to try and build the MTGO Cube in real life and get seven other people together who are also good, your only option is to play it online. I think one reason I did poorly during the Cube portion (1-2)—besides bad luck which I believe to be the case for one of my losses (Kibler and his Decree of Pain)—is that the only possible way for me to practice for the Cube portion was on Magic Online, and they held Cube week over a month before the actual tournament. That seemed like pretty poor planning on their end and was possibly costly for me. I hope they fix it for next year and I hope I’m qualified. That aside, I liked Cube a lot and am glad that it was included—it seemed many of the people watching enjoyed it as well.
I think I was hurt the most by my lack of preparation or just general lack of understanding for the M13 draft. Pack one pick one I was faced with a choice of Fog Bank or Knight of Glory. Now I readily admit that Fog Bank is the clear better card here, but I just really dislike blue and Knight of Glory is a great card as well. If it’s a mistake to take Knight of Glory, it can’t be a big mistake given my color preference. What hurt me the most is when I decided taking Knight was fine, because the pack had five playables in it total, and one was Stormtide Leviathan. I thought to myself that if that card could possibly wheel, then I would take Fog Bank, but the pack was so bad that I didn’t think it was realistic.
So I took the Knight, then second pick I took Griffin Protector over Talrand, Sky Summoner. Now this pick is a little more offensive, but I think Talrand is overrated and Griffin Protector is underrated—for me he’s often just a 3/4 flying for four which is great. That said, Talrand is still a better card, but I had already passed a Fog Bank, which was the clear best card in the pack and I would now have to fight for blue which I didn’t want to do.
These two decisions really killed it for me because the Stormtide Leviathan did lap and I ended up passing it anyway, resulting in Yuuya going 3-0 with a blue deck and me going 1-2 with a red/white deck. I saw Yuuya’s deck and discussed it with him—it wasn’t all that hot, and he admitted he didn’t like it either:
On top of that, I ended up drafting red/white, the person to my left was Yuuya in blue/black, and both players to my right were Wrapter in black/green, and Reid in Grixis. If that isn’t a good table spot for a red/white deck then I don’t know what is. I also had Sublime Archangel, Oblivion Ring, and Firewing Phoenix. I think I ended up with a pretty good deck and read the table well, it just didn’t work out:
My end result was 6-6, which at this level of competition is actually pretty good, just not quite good enough. I hated the way they decided the pay structure and tiebreakers. At the player meeting they announced to us that the first tiebreaker would be head to head, e.g. if I beat PV and we had the same record, I would be ranked higher than him. They even told us during round 10 they would still be using this tiebreaker. For some reason they decided that this wouldn’t work and changed it to use the second tiebreaker which was Pro Points at large.
Well, last year, once I hit Platinum, I decided to stop going to tournaments because I had no reason to. If I had known that the tiebreaker system for the Players Championship was going to be something outside the tournament then I would surely have adjusted my behavior. As it stood I was invited based on winning POY and not by Pro Points at large, so just about every person in the tournament was going to have better tiebreakers than me. I finished 6-6 good, for 10th place (dead last of all people with my record), where three people who went 6-6 made the $5,000 prize jump and people with only one win better at 7-5 ended up winning $40,000. Which is not to say I would have made Top 4 at 7-5 anyway, because of my horrendous tiebreakers (Pro Points). I wish they would have made each individual win worth money the same way they made each round worth Pro Points. Things to consider for next year.
In spite of all that, I loved playing in this tournament! I said after the first round that I would snap-take last place in the event if it meant that I could be qualified for next year. They really did treat us like kings and the event was outlandishly cool. I had people I rarely ever talk to watching the stream and rooting me on. I tried my best, gave it my all, and put up a “respectable” finish. I just hope those six Pro Points I earned are enough to help get me back next year. I felt pretty bummed at the end, like it was a wasted opportunity. Especially since I went 2-1 2-1 in the Modern rounds, it felt like if I had only not gotten unlucky in the Cube and prepared more for the M13 maybe things would have been different. Regardless, I had an awesome time staying in town for PAX and got to hang out with a bunch of my friends who were there for the tournament. The return to Ravnica debut party was ridiculous, I was loving it. DJ Worth Wollpert mixing Deadmau5 Ghost n’ Stuff with the Ghostbusters theme song had me laughing. Nerds dancing like there’s no tomorrow—it was all great.
There’s always next year right?
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