When last I left you, we were just done with the individual rounds of the Magic World Championship. Next came Team Sealed and—if we got through that—Standard, Block, and Modern. Our pod contained the USA (1st), Estonia (2nd), Brazil (3rd), and Greece (4th). That meant we would likely need a 2-1 record in the next three rounds, though that wouldn’t be enough if both the US and Estonia also 2-1ed.
We had no clue about Team Sealed. I had never done it in my entire life, and neither had any of the people I routinely talk with. I sent messages to people that I knew had played it at a high level before asking for general tips, and was rewarded with a lot of useful advice. Still, it seemed like we had to just wait and see—the American team wanted to practice Team Sealed once, but we didn’t have Modern or Block decks, and those seemed more pressing concerns.
Our Standard deck choosing process was very straightforward—Juliano wanted to play Zombies. Since I thought all the decks were equally good and he was the only person to actually manifest interest in playing anything, no one opposed him. Neither me or Leonardo had a big preference for either of the two remaining formats, but it seemed he knew a lot more about Block than about Modern, so he got that one. We had two possible decks for Block: Jund or the Angel/Aristocrat deck (if that deck has a name, I don’t know it). We settled for Jund because it was easier to build a good list and to play with, and we knew it wouldn’t be a big mistake—at worst, everyone would be playing it (which ended up happening).
With Modern, we actually had options. I again had no preference, and everyone seemed to have an opinion when it came to the format. Each and every deck seemed completely polarizing, in the sense that a person either hated it or thought it was the best deck in the format. In the end, it was Willy who helped me understand the format the most, by breaking it into the fair and unfair decks and listing what deck beat and lost to each. I talked a little with Luis and with Josh, who was testing Modern for the Players Championship, and we settled on a RUW list that splashed for Tribal Flames in the main and Lingering Souls in the board—not much different than the one we actually played in the tournament two weeks later.
We arrived the following morning, and the Team Sealed portion started. It was sort of chaotic, but very interesting. Our plan, by a Kai Budde suggestion, was to divide the archetypes up front, so that each person would immediately look for the cards that fit it—not to build that deck necessarily, but to sort things out in a way that we could all judge them. Juliano took the red and green cards, Leonardo the black cards, and I the blue and white, because those seemed to be the most likely decks in M13 Sealed.
As soon as I laid the UW cards down, I knew we had a problem. White was particularly shallow (the three best cards being Odric, Serra Angel and Crusader of Odric), and did not go well with blue at all. In fact, blue did not go very well with blue. It was very split between aggressive and controllish cards. There were, for example, 3 Essence Scatters, 2 Archaeomancers that would have no other targets in a UW deck, and a Sphinx of Uthuun, but there were also 2 Welkin Terns, 2 Switcheroos, and a Watercourser that didn’t fit the strategy very much. I left that for a moment and looked at the other colors…
Red and black were by far our best colors, and any of them would have gone well almost by itself. Black had 2 Murder, 2 Essence Drains, [card liliana of the dark realms]Liliana[/card], and 2 Liliana’s Shades for a heavy black deck. Red had 2 [card searing spear]Spears[/card], 2 Turn to Slags, Krenko, Mob Boss, [card chandra, the firebrand]Chandra[/card], and a multitude of solid creatures. Green was very shallow and, other than two Prey Upons, a Silklash Spider, and some Elves, did not actually have anything going for it. We also had two Staff of Nin (!), which could end up in any deck.
After some deliberation, we arrived at two conclusions:
1) Red and black were our best colors and they both did the same thing—pairing them would make no sense.
2) White was only good with red. Our white was mediocre at best, and its few good cards would not be at their fullest potential in a control deck. Red had a lot of creatures and token makers, which made every white card a lot better.
Once we established a RW deck, we were left with two viable alternatives: we would split black or we would split blue (green did not have enough good cards to be split). Splitting black seemed bad, since the good cards required a commitment; and blue made the most sense anyway, since the cards were for two different archetypes. In the end, after some permutations, we decided for a UB control build and a UG “big stuff” build—more aggressive, but with mana acceleration and high end.
That also meant we split our removal the most, since the UG deck got 3 Essence Scatters, 2 Prey Upons, and 2 Switcheroos; while the UB deck got 2 Murders, 2 Drains, Public Execution, and 2 Archaeomancers (the WR deck had the red removal spells plus two Verdicts in the board). We decided that the control deck would get both Staff of Nin, even though the UG deck had ramp, because the UG already had enough things to do in the late game (it had the Sphinx, among other big dudes), and because the UB deck seemed kinda soft to Knight of Glory. Playing both Staves would give it two more answers (to go along Crippling Fear and Fog Bank). It also made sure we would actually get to kill an opponent, if slowly.
In the end, I was not unhappy with our decks. Our WR build seemed excellent, the UB build seemed like it could beat most normal decks pretty easily, and the UG deck was not one I’d be happy with in a normal draft, but it also could definitely win. We ended up playing 11 of our 12 rares, which was great, but we had absolutely none of the power uncommons in the format. After some discussion on whether the red deck should sideboard the second Chandra’s Fury or whether that would be better off as a sideboarded splash in the UG deck which had a Farseek (we opted for the WR deck), we filled our decklists and had to decide who would play each deck.
At that point, I asked a passing judge what made a person A, B or C seats; he said he didn’t know. We were in a hurry, because there wasn’t much time left, and Juliano and Leonardo offered the explanation that maybe it was based on your Day 1 record, which would be consistent with Juliano being A, me being B, and Leonardo being C. We couldn’t figure out if that was actually the case, but we assumed that it’d either be that or random. Juliano took the WR deck (if he’s going to play against the player with the best record, that’s probably control—if it’s random, it’s random), and I wanted to take the UG deck, because I thought it was the actual hardest to play, but ended up picking UB.
In round 1, we got paired against the U.S., and upon getting paired against Kibler I asked again what made a person A, B or C, to learn from them that the captain, for some reason, is always B, and the other two slots decided by record. That didn’t make much sense to me, because the captain did not always make the cut to Day 2. If he hadn’t, then it turned out it would actually go by record all the way. The Americans were expecting the B player to play the control deck, so they had put a mill archetype in that seat.
My match was very anti-climatic. Game one I mulliganed to five and stumbled on lands, and I think I was going to win anyway if he hadn’t drawn the fourth Mind Sculpt. I moved to sideboard and forced myself to remove a bunch of excellent cards, like the 2 Staff of Nim, for cards like Harbor Serpents and Negate. Game two I was stuck on five Islands for an absurd amount of time, but he couldn’t actually punish me for that—at some point he played a [card nefarox, overlord of grixis]Nefarox[/card], and I finally drew a Swamp to kill it with Public Execution. He reanimated it back, and I had to use my own Rise from the Grave to get a Liliana’s Shade I had previously discarded to hand size, so that I could find a second Swamp, and then Murder it. Despite all my mana problems, I seemed to actually be advantaged, until he drew an Archaeomancer for a Mind Sculpt and killed me.
Juliano was playing what seemed like an even match against a mono-green deck, and Leonardo was playing against UW—which seemed a great matchup, considering he had Naturalize and 2 Switcheroos, and his opponent 3 Pacifisms for removal. In the end he stumbled on colored mana in two of the three games, and we ended up losing. At this point, we were effectively removed from the competition, though we did not know that yet.
That match was extremely frustrating to lose, and it made me very bitter, because I knew we had lost it on pairings. I don’t think I would really lose to either of the other two decks, and I don’t think Kibler would have beaten any of the other two—he could maybe beat Leonardo, but he certainly wouldn’t have beaten Juliano. I think that, had we known that pairings would have worked like this, we would not have assigned the decks as we did, and, had they not known, they wouldn’t have done it either (since the mill deck is not very good against a random opponent). To me, it felt like the only reason we lost was that they had the information and we did not, and I couldn’t comprehend why we didn’t have the information. Surely, if there was a pattern that was not obvious, they would have announced it. At least the judges would know it—but they didn’t. On top of that, even with pairings like this, I think we had to get pretty unlucky to lose in the actual games, which made it all the more infuriating.
Round 2 we got paired against Greece. My teammates had pretty good draws and we were up 2-0 before I was able to finish my match against another UB player, though we actually played game three just to see what would have happened, and I lost to a flier with Ring of Evos-Isle.
The U.S., unfortunately, lost to Estonia—had they won, then our fate would have been exclusively in our hands. As it was, we needed Greece to beat the U.S. and Brazil to beat Estonia, and only then we’d be in. We talked to the guys from Greece, and they assured us that they would not scoop to the U.S., even though they could no longer make it.
A little before the match with Estonia, one of the guys told me I should try to get a scoop from them—they were, after all, already in. I considered it, but it didn’t feel right to ask for a concession after I had just asked Greece not to give one. Wwe argued for a bit, but I was adamant that I would not ask, since that would be way too much hypocrisy. I was later told that if Estonia had scooped to us, then Greece would have scooped to the U.S., which is a decision I can totally respect, so I was glad that we ended up not asking.
My round three opponent was playing a BW exalted deck, which didn’t seem like it’d be too big a problem for me to handle. He won game one and I won game two, and by then everyone else was already finished and the match result hinged on my game three. He started with Chronomaton and Knight of Infamy, and on turn three he passed with three open mana, which gave me the opportunity to kill both his guys with Cower in Fear at the end of my own turn. If you aren’t doing anything, you should always pump your Chronomaton to a 2/2 on your own turn, it’s not like the opponent is going to play a 1/1 haste that you’re going to block. I stumbled on lands a bit, though, and in the end I could not race his own Staff of Nin, and died with mine still in my hand. As I found out later, however, the U.S. had beaten Greece, which meant we would not have gotten in even with a win, and I was playing for effectively nothing.
So we lost in the Top 32—3 Pro Points, but no money. It was upsetting, because I really wanted to play more teams, but I was glad we at least got the chance to do it. The tournament was a blast to play in, though I do have some thoughts on things that worked and didn’t. First, what worked:
• The tournament itself. A standalone team championship is much, much better than the old team tournament that was always overshadowed by the main event. Regardless of any problems the event had, it felt awesome to play for my country, it felt awesome to play with teammates, and I really hope I can repeat it next year.
• The structure. When I first heard of the structure, I thought it wasn’t fair, because doing very well on Day 1 didn’t give you enough of an advantage—you could go 21-0, then have a bad Sealed and go 1-2 and bam, you were gone. It turned out tiebreakers mattered a lot more than it seemed like they would, and rightfully so. When you only have four teams in a pod, ties are so common that winning the ties feels like enough of an incentive to do well on Day 1.
• The fourth member. Again, when I heard of that, I thought it was annoying, because someone would go all the way to represent their country and then, well, they would get cut before they ever got to play in the team portion. I can’t really speak for the fourth guy, since I was not him, but from what I gathered from Luis, he always felt like he was still part of the team, and I’m sure I’d have felt that way too.
• Collusions. The way the tournament is structured, it’s pretty obvious that many matches are going to matter a lot to one person and not at all to the other—in our small pool of three rounds and four teams, we had two instances of teams who were playing for nothing against teams who were playing for everything. Miraculously, there were not many concessions or IDs. In fact, I don’t know of a single one, though I’m sure they happened a lot in the later rounds of the individual portion. If the tournament is to be held again, though, I’m not sure it’ll be the same, and that aspect still somewhat worries me.
• The Pro Player. Here, I am obviously biased, but I really like the fact that the biggest Pro gets to play for sure. There were many years in which I did very well at Worlds, and my record did not count in any way for Brazil, which has always felt weird. I was probably the best player in the country, yet I was not representing it in any capacity. It’s good to know that the guy with the best results will now always be there, and I’m sure that enhances the experience for the other team members too.
Now, what did not work:
• The WMCQs. In big countries, such as U.S., Brazil, China, Russia, it’s not very easy to travel to one corner of it to another. The WMCQs are sweet, but they are not enough of an incentive to attempt a trip. For Nationals, you had four slots, but for this tournament you only have one, and paying $300 to fly to a tournament in which you only get something if you get 1st is a losing proposition, which made attendance a lot lower than it could have been. A lot of people have talked to Wizards about this, and they will try to fix it. They said Nationals is not coming back, but there will be a lot more incentives for a person to actually go to a WMCQ next year.
• Day 1. This is a team tournament, that’s the entire point. Yet, half the field did not ever get to experience playing in a team, because they were out before the team rounds. We have many individual tournaments, this should be exclusively teams, there should be no individual part of it.
• Block and Modern. Simply put, no one cared about those formats. They were already established formats—Block especially—and the fact that only 16 of the teams would even get to play it meant that no one tried very hard. Uruguay, for example, never assumed it would reach the Top 16, so they didn’t even have a Modern deck with them. This is basically the same as Day 3 of Worlds, a forgotten format that no one tests for—except that for Worlds you knew you were playing it for sure, and with this tournament you might not even get to do that. If this tournament happens the same way again, you can fully expect 16 Jund decks.
There has also been a debate on Twitter about whether the U.S. should get more than one team, because it has infinitely more players than any other country. At first, I was a proponent of that—it only seemed fair. Later on, though, I was made to see reason. The U.S. should not get more than one team because it already gets that in every other tournament. True, the U.S. is the biggest market, with the most number of players and pro players, but every other tournament reflects that. They get a lot of PTQs, a lot of GPs, the PTs—every single organized play aspect benefits the United States. Much of this tournament is about the small countries, and it should remain this way.
Well, that’s about it for today. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you again this week!