I’ve just returned from Nice, France where I played in both the World Championships and the World Magic Cup. The World Championship is a very special tournament and as a professional player, a chance to win $50,000 is one that doesn’t come along very often—an opportunity to play against the best players in the world and prove yourself at the highest level. I was honored to be invited and giddy with anticipation. This is the big show. I live for this.
I spent two weeks in Sugar Loaf, New York with Reid Duke and William Jensen testing our decks and preparing for the various draft formats. The event kicked off with Vintage Masters, where I felt I had the biggest edge. I had done over a hundred drafts, and my strongest preference was for either Storm or Blue/Green Madness. I felt that Frantic Search was the best common in the format since it played so well in both of those decks.
The seatings were drawn, and Huey was passing to me—a disaster. His strategy mirrored mine exactly so I knew he was going to draft blue and his second color was almost assuredly going to be black or green. My level of experience drafting non-blue decks was high but my confidence with them was not.
I began the draft with a Battle Screech, a fine place to be, but my second pick Benevolent Bodyguard was not quite as exciting. I picked him for multiple reasons: first, I like to have as many cheap white creatures as I can get my hands on in a Battle Screech deck and he plays very well in the green/white Auras deck which I felt was a viable option given my seat at the table.
Third-pick I took Lightning Rift and I didn’t look back back. I ended up with a bevvy of great cards for the archetype and I finished 2-1 in my pod.
Round four meant the start of Modern and the Peach Garden Oath settled on a storm deck featuring Treasure Cruise. I sat down for my round but had to wait to begin since my opponent, Stanislav Cifka, had spilled apple juice all over his Modern deck and damaged all the cards. He went to his hotel room and replaced most of the cards but to keep the tournament moving he was allowed to proxy some of the cards he couldn’t replace.
I won the match pretty easily 2-0 with good draws, and it was almost poetic that game 1 turn 1 I took 2 damage from a Forest with “Forked Bolt” written on it with sharpie marker.
I got absolutely mangled by Kentaro Yamamoto who was playing RUG Delver—that guy is good.
Round six I faced Paulo and the games were largely noncompetitive. Both games played out in the exact same manner —he Gitaxian Probed me and saw a hand that couldn’t quite win the game on the following turn which gave him the confidence to tap out for Jeskai Ascendacy. Then I just drew whatever cards I needed to win off the top and won the game on turn three. Both games he was on the play and went Probe into Ascendancy and I won the game on the third turn. That’s why you play Storm, right?
In the final round of the day I was paired against Shahar Shenhar playing Burn, I lost 2-1 and the games were also pretty uninteresting. He played Eidolon of the Great Revel in two of the games and I beat it once while losing the other game.
4-3 after the first day wasn’t where I wanted to be, but at the highest level of competition, coming out with a positive record is acceptable. I was pumped for Khans of Tarkir draft since it was probably the format I prepared for second most. I drafted a mediocre looking Abzan deck, with the highlights being Siege Rhino and Ivorytusk Fortress. I had average draws in the first two rounds, and in a flash, I was 0-2.
In the final round I was paired against Josh Utter-Leyton and had great draws, and I won pretty quickly. In the end I felt like there was very little I could do. I made one or two mistakes in the drafting portion, but none of the cards I would have had instead could have changed the result of any games and ultimately the draft played itself.
In the first round of Standard I played against Willy Edel, and I strongly suspected that he was on the Sidisi Whip deck he had been championing for the past few weeks. I was on Black/Green Constellation, which is a deck I chose in part because of a favorable matchup against other Whip decks.
This match also started with a delay since Willy had loaned three copies of Thoughtseize to a friend and hadn’t gotten them back before play started. He spoke to Scott Larabee and the solution was that he would be allowed to use proxies. I was shown three unplayable draft commons with sharpie marker scrawled on them and told they were all the same card and that if it were drawn or cast it would be revealed to me what that card was. I won
the match 2-1 after three interesting games.
I was really unhappy that in two of my matches I was forced to play against proxies. I understand it’s a priority to keep the tournament moving in a brisk manner and that accidents do happen, but in any other form of sanctioned play, both the people I was paired against just couldn’t present a legal deck in a reasonable time frame. I’m not saying I wanted them to get a penalty, I’m happy to play the matches to a fair and natural conclusion, but ultimately it soured my experience that I was playing in a tournament that decided the World Champion and people couldn’t just have all the real cards for their deck.
This situation was made even more complicated given the plight of Lars Dam who intended to play Jeskai Ascendancy combo in Modern but couldn’t acquire physical copies of Fatestitcher. He drove around to card stores in France trying to get them, and staff and players alike sent out the bat signal via Twitter to get them—they failed, and Lars’ plan was to just register the cards and hope he found them in time. By round 11 he didn’t have the cards so he just swapped out Fatestitcher for Pact of Negation and Slaughter Pact, also adding a Sigarda, Host of Herons to his sideboard. Why was it appropriate for others to use proxy cards but he could not?
There’s a lot of money on the line, this tournament is a big deal, so I wish it had been run with more professionalism. My Standard rounds closed out with a win against Raphael Levy and two losses against Sam Black and Lars Dam. I only went 2-2 with the Black/Green Constellation deck but it felt
extremely powerful and well positioned. I was thrilled with my deck choice.
My final record was 7-7, which is unimpressive but fine. I played the Players Championship two years ago and my record was 6-6. I was hoping to improve on my previous finish, but it does show that the two times I got matched up with the best of the best I was able to hold my own and put up a fight. Nobody got a free win when they got paired against me, they had to earn it. I was proud of that. I’m also confident that as long as I play to the best of my ability and continue to be qualified for this event one year, I’ll break through. I know I can win it. With the exception of a few snags here and there the tournament was truly awesome and congratulations to the champion Shahar Shenhar.
Next up was the World Magic Cup, and as the captain of Team USA I had a lot on my plate. I did very little prep for the Team Sealed portion as I have played it plenty of times in the past and have a strong grasp on what to do in that arena.
Unified Standard was a bit more complicated. The rules for deck construction are such that you need to build three Standard decks with no more than 4 copies of a single card between all 3 decks. Basically, you build from a single playset of Standard. We chose to play Blue/White Heroic, Jeskai Tokens, and Black/Green Constellation.
I was happy to play Black/Green Constellation again, with the results of Worlds and two Sidisi Whip decks in the Top 4, I expected most teams to play a Courser/Caryatid deck and I expected that deck to also have Sidisi. We settled on Blue/White Heroic pretty early on in testing and that deck also had a
favorable matchup against Whip decks, we had some trouble cooking up a third deck but I imagine almost every team had this issue as well. We picked Yuuya Watanabe’s Jeskai Tokens deck because it looked exciting and new and I also felt it was a proven list. There was overlap between Jeskai Tokens and Blue/White Heroic, but we cut some corners and made it work. Each sideboard had 2 Glare of Heresy and 2 Erase so we maxed out on our 4-ofs there.
My teammates were Neal Oliver, Andrew Baekstrom, and Isaac Sears. These guys were totally awesome all weekend. The tourmament started with Team Sealed where we built one deck with Duneblast, Siege Rhino, Abzan Ascendancy, and Rakshasa Deathdealer alongside two decks that were barely functional.
We went 2-1 and I considered this a big win—our pool was fine but clearly not great, and having a winning record when you only have one good deck is great. We ran above expectation here for sure. We went 2-2 in Standard unfortunately, but we had one truly exciting moment that, had it been filmed, would have rivaled the Bonfire gif.
Andrew was in match three, game three, and he controls only a ⅔ Favored Hoplite with five lands and no cards in hand. Our opponent is Mardu and just used Elspeth -3 to kill our giant hero, he also controls an untapped Goblin Rabblemaster and has one card in hand: Crackling Doom, but he’s tapped out. We’re dead to rights, but our opponent is at 4 life. We draw for out turn and it’s Stratus Walk. We only play one copy of this card. I look at Andrew and say “please just cast that card and get lucky!” I rub my hands together, Andrew casts it and draws Defiant Strike for lethal. Just your typical instance of freakluck for us to hit our backdoor win off the top. Possible combinations of wins here are Stratus Walk + any heroic enabler, Ordeal of Thassa into Gods Willing, or Defiant Strike into Gods Willing.
Given the structure of the World Magic Cup we were in 26th place and 4th seed in our pod which meant we needed a 3-0 to guarantee we would advance or a 2-1 and good breakers. We cracked our pool for Team Sealed and the first thing we saw was two copies of Duneblast—it was right then I knew that it was going to be a good day.
My deck was pretty crummy for a deck that played 4 Savage Punch alongside Icy Blast and Crater’s Claws while Neal’s deck was absurdly strong with Jeskai Ascendancy and heaps of spells. We started off 2-0 in a manner that was hugely advantageous for us, in the final round we got paired
against another 2-0 team which meant even with a loss the other two teams were 0-2 and couldn’t catch us, they were already mathematically eliminated and tiebreakers would not be a factor, so we advanced. We lost, badly.
In our final pod we ran the table and went 3-0. We controlled our own destiny and the only way to guarantee advancement was to win out and we did just that. This was extra satisfying as Team USA was at the bottom of the standings all weekend and we went on a run at the end to earn our spot in the Top 8. At one point our record was 6-4 in matches played while other teams with a record of 8-1-1 did not advance—that’s the beauty of pod play and although it’s a unique way to run an event it worked to our advantage this time.
I have to admit when the event started I felt like the whole thing was a bit silly. Some of the countries were dressed up in full costumes and each match we had these tiny plastic flags we were urged to carry around—like you’d see on the 4th of July.
The longer the event went on the greater my appreciation for it grew. Everyone was proud to win for their country and the better we did the more positive energy I felt from fans and friends on Twitter. People whom I never spoke to at all and would never root for me normally in an individual event were going wild. Everyone was loving it. They wanted me to win and they wanted the United States to win. That was extremely cool. I also noticed better displays of sportsmanship than I’ve seen in any other tournament. Everyone shook hands, wished them luck, and said good games. Regardless of any mana-screw or lucky topdecks, everyone won and lost as a team and treated each other with respect and class.
We won our first round of the Top 8 and eventually lost to Greece. I was extremely proud of my teammates all weekend. Collectively we earned $4,000, 6 Pro Points, and all qualified for the Pro Tour. We represented our country well and we were a team that nobody wanted to play against. This tournament was incredible and I hope to be the captain again someday.
Overall I was happy with my results during Worlds Week and I think both tournaments were the pinnacle of Magic competition. I’m currently sitting on 38 Pro Points which is pretty amazing. As long as I earn one additional Pro Point beyond the minimum given out at the Pro Tours I’ll have
locked Platinum and keeping the dream of professional Magic alive. Don’t let that deceive you though, I still intend to play every tournament with the intention of winning and I won’t slack off now because I’m in a good position. I plan to do everything in my power to try to win Player of the Year again. I’m only one Pro Tour deep and it’s already been one heck of a season so far, I look forward to the rest of it.
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