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Recurring Nightmares – One for All

“Brad won his match. I lost. It’s on you.”

As I look at my hand of three basic lands, and my board with a pair of 0-power walls and 1/1 fliers, I inwardly sigh. I know my opponent has a deck full of much more powerful cards, and I think back to seven long hours before, when our team began down the very long road to this point. We made some mistakes, that’s for sure—and now I’m reaping the rewards. My opponent taps six mana and casts [card]Aurelia, the Warleader[/card]. Our tournament ends.

I’m overcome with relief.

That about sums up my GP Providence.

I spent a lot of time losing this Saturday. After seven rounds of play, my record was 1-6. My team’s record was much better than mine, but not good enough for us to find our way into Day Two. I felt like the responsibility for this result lay on my shoulders—though my teammates were quick to share the burden.

“We chose you to be on the team. It’s just as much our fault as yours.”

Thanks for the support, guys.

When you’re doing poorly in an event, it’s easy to become frustrated. We’ve all been there, and the stress of the event can wear on you, and suck the fun out of the hobby you’re paying to play. When you’re in a team event, it’s easy to fall into an even greater sense of despair at your results—but there’s other, better ways of handling it. I was drifting back and forth between misery and joviality all day.

On the one hand, the great part about team events is having your friends there to commiserate with you and take the edge off the sting of losing (even when it happens again, and again, and again…). They can carry you through the defeats, and help you along your way to recovering, giving you time to break out of the slump and back into the winner’s circle. When you’re winning, they’re your greatest cheerleaders. They really do want you to win, and are rooting for you at every turn.

On the other hand, you can drag them down into defeat as you continually lose, to the point where it’s unrealistic to expect them to continue to maintain an undefeated record again and again. And you feel awful, because you’ve now ruined the shot of victory for not only yourself, but two of your friends as well.

Jon had a relaxing, stress-free event because he won a reasonable amount of matches along the way. I had a stressful event because I didn’t. And it’s never fun to let your team down.

It’s not that we (I) played particularly badly, nor did we open a mediocre pool. Things seemed to go well at the onset, and I had high hopes. We’d done sufficient testing, and had a good sense of how we expected the format to play out. In general, our expectations were accurate, and I think we were well prepared overall. Here were our thoughts:

1) There is going to be an obvious red aggressive deck in the pool, whether it be Boros, Gruul, or Rakdos. Largely, the decision between guilds will be dictated by the rares and uncommons we open.

2) There will be a deck that lends itself to a slower, more midrange strategy. In all likelihood, this will be a base green deck.

3) There will be a deck that uses the remenants of the rest of the pool to play whatever is left. This can still be a very good deck.

4) The aggro deck in (1) should avoid splashing at nearly any cost, because three-color aggro is a trap, and an easy one to fall into.

5) Jon Corpora was our middle seat. Expecting most other teams to put the aggro deck in the middle seat (the games with the aggro deck will be fast, giving the middle player more time to assist with other games), we wanted Jon to have the midrange deck, which should have a good matchup with aggro.

6) Brad Forrest was our C seat. He’s comfortable playing whatever role.

7) I was the A seat. I was most excited about playing the deck from (3), which generally left Brad the aggressive deck.

In all of the practice sessions, our Sealed pools created a good red deck, a good green deck, and a Gate deck that relied on the fact that you’re averaging about 7-9 Guildgates per Sealed pool and about 2-3 Gatekeepers (sometimes many more) per pool. Combining this fixing and road blocking, you become capable of playing all the bomb rares the other decks can’t. This, paired with all the removal you can get your hands on, makes for a spicy control brew, and it’s the deck I want to be playing in this Sealed format.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get the pool for that deck in the main event. In all likelihood, we should have built it anyway.

Step one went well. Our Boros deck (in the hands of Brad), was great. With an overall record of 5-2 in the seven rounds we played, Brad did demonstrably better than the rest of the team. In fact, I believe we made a mistake with his build only in making it too good, at the expense of the other decks. He had too many of our best spells, and we could have done better to split them off into the other, worse, decks.

Step two went less well. Jon’s midrange deck, a Selesnya brew featuring [card]Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice[/card], [card]Archon of the Triumvirate[/card], and [card]Beck // Call[/card], had a ton of raw power, but had little in the way of real creature removal or interaction. Essentially it was a Men + Tricks deck, which would align well against the expected aggressive decks in the middle seat. Unfortunately, Jon ended up playing only a few aggro opponents on the day, and was often playing against the control deck (teams that put the most complicated deck in the hands of their best player in the middle seat), or against the midrange mirror (teams following the same logic as we were, or no logical seating strategy at all).

The third step was a disaster. Instead of sticking to the plan of the Gate deck, we looked at our pool that included only a single Gatekeeper (the blue one), and abandoned the strategy. We should not have done this. We instead saw the Dimir guild as a strong choice, with a ton of removal, a bunch of fliers, some walls to clog the ground, and an aggressive mill strategy featuring three [card]Paranoid Delusions[/card], three [card]Pilfered Plans[/card], a [card]Doorkeeper[/card], two [card]Balustrade Spy[/card]s, and a [card]Crosstown Courier[/card].

On paper, the deck looked like it should work. It seemed like the ideal mill deck, short only the bomb (in the form of a [card]Mind Grind[/card], a [card]Consuming Aberration[/card], or a [card]Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker[/card]). In reality, the deck was trying to do too many things at once, and the dedicated mill cards were incredibly underpowered. I was concerned that cards like [card]Paranoid Delusions[/card] would be bricks every time I drew them, wishing they would impact the board, and this was exactly what happened throughout the day. Each time I opened with a mill card in hand, I effectively mulliganed, and even trying to board out of the mill plan post-board left me with a mediocre control deck full of underwhelming creatures that couldn’t close out a game for the life of them.

When I look back on the event, with the clarity of hindsight, I recognize a few mistakes. Most of these mistakes are structural, rather than play errors (though I can pinpoint one specific play error that eats me up). Here’s what we did wrong:

Mistake #1 – We didn’t have a good concept of what the Friday afternoon grinder system looked like. The WotC website and the PES website gave very different information, and we never reconciled what we thought the events were versus reality once we arrived. We joined a 16-team, single-elimination grinder for two byes, which was the hardest type of grinder to win. When we win two rounds, and then lose to a team who immediately concedes in the finals, I know we did something wrong. I really wish we had known the 4-team *bye awarding* events were going on. The issue was that the 4-team events weren’t listed on the side events poster until after our 16-team event had begun, and we did not realize they gave out byes. Obviously facing two opponents for byes rather than four is the better strategy.

Mistake #2 – As I said above, we built drastically wrong. My deck (and arguably Jon’s deck, though his was much less a culprit than mine) was very bad, and there was little I could do to reconfigure it during matches. I chose to pilot the deck because I was convinced I’d be able to outplay many of the opponents I faced. This was mostly true—except that my opponents were also equipped with game-ending bombs that I had little shot of actually dealing with. My deck had a plan, but the plan was not a good one.

If, rather than the straight Dimir deck we built, the deck had been Grixis (cut the [card]Punish the Enemy[/card] and one of the [card]Frostburn Weird[/card]s, maybe the [card]Turn // Burn[/card] from Brad’s Boros deck), or if it had been BUG (cut some of the midrange green spells from Jon, adding in the Golgari/Simic removal), or better yet just four- or five-color control with as many Guildgates as the team could spare, I would have had a vastly better deck. We also needed to convince ourselves that the mill plan was not realistic. Which leads us to:

Mistake #3 – We had over 30 minutes on the clock when we were “done” building. We absolutely should have tested a few games prior to registering the deck lists to understand the dynamics of our decks. I think the flaws in the strategy of my deck, at least, would have been readily apparent after even a single game (because they were—and I knew it as soon as I actually played a single game), and we could have dodged a giant bullet had we just gotten a few test games in. I stress that this should have been done before registering, once we had the other two decks more or less locked.

We ended up stranding a few removal spells ([card]Drown in Filth[/card], [card]Krasis Incubation[/card]) in the sideboards, and a ton of Gates, and I feel like that implies we just screwed up deck construction big time. We can’t expect to do that and win matches against decks that will just be miles ahead of ours. Especially in the late rounds, when paired against great players with powerful decks.

Mistake #4 – Feeling like we needed to be conversing decisions at every turn. Jon and I did good work with mulligans, but in-game decisions probably weren’t worth discussing most of the time. It wasn’t about trust so much as trying to be sure we were all on the same page, but I think we (I) should have just let everyone do their thing until someone asked for help. This is inexperience with the format, pure and simple. Essentially, there should have been no discussion of the in-game decision making unless the player in that game specifically asks for help. We’re teammates because we have enough confidence in the abilities of the other players to want them to contribute to our cause. Let them play their game.

Desperate to ensure that my teammates won (because I knew I wasn’t going to be doing much of that myself), I believe I was overzealous in offering advice.

Overall, I think we did okay despite these mistakes, and I’d be excited to play with Jon and Brad in another of these events. I didn’t know Brad going into the weekend, and I was a little cautious about his playskill due to that lack of familiarity. This was totally unnecessary; he’s a great player and was a boon to our team. He also knows how to keep a lid on Jon, and Jon knows how to keep a lid on me. I think next time, Brad gets middle seat, because we probably need his even temperament to balance our volatility.

It’s a bit disappointing to me that teams events are so few and far between. I enjoyed this weekend (despite my frustration within the confines of the event itself), and it was fantastic to have a ready-made group to surround yourself with. It seems unrealistic to expect team events with the same frequency as Standard GPs, but I can’t think of a single reason why Wizards wouldn’t want to push this format as much as they possibly can. When I weigh the enjoyment I got out of the experience of this format versus the enjoyment of a summer Core Set GP, for example, it’s an easy choice. From everything I heard from all types of players this weekend, this seems to be a common opinion.

It also helps to cultivate the team atmosphere for groups of players who can now focus on testing together. You’ve learned a ton about each other and your strengths, weaknesses, and styles over the course of the weekend, and it shouldn’t be difficult to harness that information and make use of it in testing sessions for other formats. I know that personally, I learned a lot from this GP. About the format we played (though we won’t have many more opportunities to apply that knowledge), about myself as a player, and about the ways I interact with others during matches of Magic—on both sides of the table. I think there was more growth for me here than there has been in the last 10 Grand Prix I’ve attended combined. Despite the vexation of a day full of losses, GP Providence was a breath of fresh air into stale lungs—and it reignited a fire and passion for the game that’s been dormant for some time. I’m excited to play Magic right now.

Adam
@AdamNightmare
twitch.tv/adamnightmare

A few weeks ago, I wrote my thoughts on the MtGO Beta. Now that you’ve likely experienced it through the Wide Beta Spotlight, it may be worth taking another look at. None of my opinions have changed, and most of the critiques are still valid. Give it a shot, and see if your experiences have differed from mine.

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