The weekend of Mythic Championship Richmond felt like one of the most intense–and will certainly go down as one of the most memorable–ones of my life. After a week holed up in a remote cabin to practice, I took the 90-minute drive to Richmond. On the schedule was the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the second-to-last Mythic Championship of the year, and a Grand Prix.
The stakes were high for my teammates and me. Some, like Andrew Cuneo, were battling for a spot in the Magic Pro League for next season. Others, like Andrea Mengucci and me, were trying to qualify for the exclusive 2019 World Championship. For all of us, this was the last of the old-style Pro Tours, which we’d spent years of our lives trying to win.
So at stake we had: the Mythic Championship, the Grand Prix, prize money, the World Championship, the composition of MPL and Rivals next year, enduring Magic glory, the Hall of Fame, my new position as a member of Team CFB, my legacy, my life, my career, my biological clock–was there any more shit we could pile on top of the outcome of this weekend? The pressure was on.
Hall of Fame Ceremony
For the most part, it was the good kind of pressure, and I was greatly looking forward to the Hall of Fame ceremony. In addition to all the MTG people whom I know and love, I had my parents driving to Richmond for the event. Though they hadn’t always agreed with my choices, they’d wholeheartedly supported my life with Magic since day one. Andy Boswell, the best friend a guy could ask for, was making the trip. And my supportive girlfriend, Lisa, would also be there, who over the years has never complained about anything from all-night Magic Online sessions to impromptu trips to Bangkok. (That, by the way, is not a metaphor. That was three weeks ago).
The ceremony felt like a success, and you can watch a bit of it here. “Cocktail Hour” is definitely not my thing, and I was bubbling over with anxiety. But everyone was very nice, and I enjoyed introducing my loved ones to the folks who’ve been such important influences on my career. I thought I was prepared to give my acceptance speech, but nothing really prepares you for being there, looking out over a crowd of your heroes, colleagues, and rivals. And spilling your guts.
But I got through it. The emotions were slow to dissipate, and I didn’t sleep much that night. With little time to decompress, I woke up to play the Mythic Championship.
I felt well-prepared for the draft portion. I had endeavored to balance my training by playing under as many different conditions as possible: Some drafts on MTG Arena; some on Magic Online, two different Eldraine Limited Grand Prix, and seven drafts with elite teammates in the testing house. When I was first learning the format, I preferred slower decks in the Sultai colors. But after seeing white and red aggro decks overperform in our house drafts, I was open to anything.
Sadly, the draft was not kind to me. I spent a few early picks on black cards, but was forced out, and ended up damage controlling with a painfully average W/R beatdown deck.
The best drafts are the ones where you first-pick a great card, that color winds up being open, and you never have to make any tough decisions. But an important tournament skill is knowing how to scrap out some wins when the draft goes badly. I almost managed to squeeze out a second win, but in the end it was a rocky 1-2 start to my Mythic Championship. And despite my best efforts, I never managed to Righteousness+Fling anybody!
For Constructed, I was playing stock Sultai. We’d tried every variety of U/G/x Food decks, but Sultai appealed to me the most. In particular, Noxious Grasp seemed like the card that best allowed you to break serve, opening the door to win matches when you lost the die roll.
Reid Duke, Mythic Championship VI
4 Breeding Pool 1 Fabled Passage 8 Forest (347) 1 Island (335) 4 Overgrown Tomb 2 Swamp (339) 4 Watery Grave 4 Gilded Goose 4 Paradise Druid 4 Wicked Wolf 4 Hydroid Krasis 4 Nissa, Who Shakes the World 4 Oko, Thief of Crowns 2 Vraska, Golgari Queen 2 Casualties of War 4 Noxious Grasp 4 Once Upon a Time Sideboard 4 Veil of Summer 1 Aether Gust 2 Duress 2 Disdainful Stroke 1 Negate 2 Massacre Girl 1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General 2 Thrashing Brontodon
Nonetheless, the Food mirror has a way of making you feel stupid. The games can be intricate and challenging. But there are also games where you lose the die roll or miss a land drop and get stomped by an opposing nut draw. There are games where you fight to an even position, but then draw a few lands on the key turns and lose. And of course, there are games where the sideboard cards just don’t line up in your favor–when you’re walking into opposing Disdainful Strokes while your own narrow answer cards rot in your hand.
Over the course of the day, a few too many of these things failed to break my way. I went 2-2 in mirrors, plus lost a nail-biter against Golgari Adventure to finish the day 3-5, a win short of qualifying for day two.
I might have made it sound like I was fated to miss in this event; that things were out of my control. I’m not sure if that was the case. Given the circumstances, I found it hard to concentrate and focus on my games. On my Hall of Fame induction weekend, I couldn’t muster the same cutthroat mindset that’s helped me succeed at the Pro Tour level in the past. Instead, it felt like my most important job was to look the part, and to be a gracious winner. (Or in this case, a gracious loser).
The Grand Prix, which started on Saturday, would be the perfect chance to rebound. A small field where I had three byes would give me the highest possible chance of success. I changed two cards from my Mythic Championship deck and sleeved up for battle.
Despite maindecking two Casualties of War, I never cast one in all five rounds of the MC. But it always felt like it would have been my best card. I guess resolving game-winning six-drops correlates a bit with making day two. Go figure.
Casualties of War is a great card in the mirror match, particularly in game one when the threat of Veil of Summer is minimal. It’s one of very few cards that can get you back into the game after falling behind a Nissa, Who Shakes the World. It’s also a perfect foil to the Witch’s Oven, Trail of Crumb decks that are growing in popularity.
William Jensen encouraged me to play a 2-2-2 split of Duress, Negate, and Disdainful Stroke to ensure a good matchup against go-bigger decks like Jeskai Fires and Temur Reclamation. As usual, my friend’s advice proved invaluable, with two wins over Jeskai Fires being a crucial part of my GP success.
My mission statement for the event was “keep it simple.” I knew that I was playing with the absolute best cards in the format, and I wouldn’t need much more than that to have a good chance of success. I did minimal sideboarding, particularly in mirror matches. While Veil of Summer, Disdainful Stroke, Aether Gust and the like can have their moments, they can also be awkward to line up properly. I’ve always preferred raw power over the finesse approach, and I wanted my deck to be filled with proactive cards that I could jam early for easy wins, or topdeck late to give me more firepower.
My baseline sideboarding for Sultai mirrors was something like:
I would keep Vraska when on the play. I would dial the number of Casualties based on how many Veil of Summer I expected my opponents to have. I would bring in a small number of my own Veils against opposing Casualties. And I sprinkled in some Massacre Girls against the more aggressive Brazen Borrower builds. But for the most part, things didn’t change much between game one and game two.
Things progressed smoothly, with Oko and Nissa scoring wins, and Casualties of War getting me out of some sticky situations. However, the field was stacked with Mythic Championship-caliber players, and it soon became clear that a handful of elite players with the innovative “Cat Food” deck (which had performed well on Day One of the MC) were rising to the top. My first loss came against Luca Magni with just this deck. I later clinched Top 8 with a win against Corey Burkhart.
The playoff rounds broke such that all three of my opponents were playing Cat Food. In the quarterfinals I avenged my loss to Luca, and in the semis I defeated Zachary Kiihne.
I think the Cat Food deck is quite good, but also benefited from the element of surprise last weekend. If Cat Food faces Sultai and both players run out their cards as normal, the Cat deck will sweep the board with Massacre Girl, and then win the long game with Trail of Crumbs.
Minimizing the damage from Massacre Girl is crucial, and my strategy involved focusing on land drops (looking for three or four lands in my opening hand, choosing lands off Once Upon a Time), and leaning less on Paradise Druid. You can leave yourself in a better position post-Massacre by declining to animate a land with Nissa. (You have the option to plus her loyalty and choose not to animate), and by leaving spare Food in play so that Oko can make hasty attackers. Alternatively, you can try to keep one-toughness creatures off the battlefield in order to make it harder for the opponent to set up a board wipe.
On top of all of that, Casualties of War can steal wins. The stock Cat Food lists only have access to two Veil of Summer in the sideboard. In the future, Cat people should make room for a third if they expect to face Casualties.
By the end of the tournament, I started liking my matchup against Cat Food.
I found myself in the finals against Abe Corrigan, in a matchup that I’d just won three times in a row. We split games one and two in a game where Abe flooded badly, and a game where I failed to hit land drops. In game three, I had a pretty strong draw on the play, but Abe laid siege to my life total with two Cauldron Familiars, Witch’s Oven, and Oko, and did a great job making my double-Wicked Wolf draw ineffective. On a crucial and complex turn, I overlooked a Cauldron Familiar returning from the graveyard as an extra blocker, and I lost a game that I feel I could’ve won with tighter play. Abe got the better of me and ended up as a deserving champion.
I’d like to say that I played Hall of Fame Magic last weekend, but the reality was that my lack of concentration persisted throughout the Grand Prix. Second place is a great finish, and I certainly did a few things right in order to make it that far, including developing a strategy against Cat Food that I think worked pretty well. But in large part, the biggest change felt like the die rolls, missed land drops, and topdeck battles that had gone against me in the MC instead started to go my way over the course of the GP. It wasn’t my proudest weekend of Magic gameplay, and it culminated with a sloppy error costing me the finals.
The Dust Settles
There’s always some amount of sting when you lose the finals, particularly when you know you could’ve had more control over the outcome. Additionally, as a member of the MPL, Grand Prix don’t impact my ranking or future qualifications. So one important result of the weekend was falling in the standings enough that I’m no longer on track for an at-large slot at the World Championship.
On the other hand, back at the Mythic Championship, teammate Andrew Cuneo had made a Top 8 run, highlighted by an undefeated record in draft and an innovative take on Selesnya Adventure. Andrew has always been one of the most important figures behind the scenes when we prepare for tournaments. He’s the guy solving draft formats and coming up with new technology for our Constructed decks. But because he has a smaller presence in social media and content creation, he doesn’t always get his fair share of the glory for these things. I’m incredibly happy for him. The finish also puts him in prime position to lock up a slot in next year’s Magic Pro League.
This was an incredible weekend. All the experiences and emotions–both the good and the bad–I wouldn’t trade them for anything. That said, I’m looking forward to refocusing on competition, and setting my sights on the future. Just because I was inducted into the Hall of Fame doesn’t mean I have to go quietly into the sunset. I want to be the best I can be for Mythic Championship VII, and take that last-minute slot for the 2019 World Championship.