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From Underdog to Regular Dog: My World Championship Report

Less than 5 months ago, I sat down for a Draft. I was 10-2 at Grand Prix Barcelona. I needed a perfect 3-0 in this Draft to make the Top 8. It would be my first Limited Grand Prix Top 8 and would lock me for Gold status. Gold had been a goal of mine for a few years in a row, and if I missed again this year I would be heartbroken.

It would not be an easy Draft. My Draft featured such luminaries in the game as Brad Nelson, Alexander Hayne, and Michael Sigrist. It was two of the best players in the game—and also Brad Nelson. At the time Brad wasn’t exactly a Limited phenom, but since that point he has dominated two Pro Tours in a row in Limited and actually was the 8th-best Limited player on the Pro Tour last year. He used to be a half Nelson, but he’s quickly approaching the full Nelson.

So like I was saying, it was two of the best players in the game, and an easy win against Brad Nelson should I be lucky enough to get that pairing.

It was the week before the Pro Tour and I was testing with Team Face to Face Games for the event. Going into the Grand Prix, some players on the team, whose names I will omit to protect the guilty, drafted the 14 members of our Pro Tour team for the Grand Prix. I was pick 14 of 14.

I was an underdog. But I like being the underdog. Being the underdog means that nobody expects you to succeed. It means that people underestimate you. If you fail, it’s the expected result, but when you succeed? That’s a triumph. “The underdog rises victorious over the favorite in stunning upset!” It’s a great story. At Worlds, I was the underdog, and I cherished that role.

I first-picked Topplegeist in that Draft. Certainly a non-traditional pick, but I knew what kind of deck I liked to draft in that format. I picked up two more Topplegeists in that pack. I had 3 Topplegeists in my deck, and 3 enemy Geists were toppled in that Draft. I went 3-0, I locked Gold, I made Top 8.

I thought that was going to be my crowning achievement of the year. Reaching Gold. Achieving goals. Reassessing for the next year.

If you told me that 5 months from that point, I would be the Magic World Champion, I would have believed you, but only because you seemed like a credible time traveler. It would have been a surprise to me, both that I could qualify for and win Worlds, and also that time travel exists.

“Hold on a second. It sounded like you said Magic World Championship?” You heard correctly. I won the Magic World Championship last week! Yeah, that’s right. I’m just as shocked as you are. Let that soak in. I am the Magic World Champion of the world.

How the [bleeeeeeeeeeep] did that happen? Who let this happen?

Your guess is as good as mine. Here’s what I can remember.

The Ban, The Race, And The Scott Lipp Chant

I’ve written plenty about the GP race already so I’ll keep this part short, or at least I’ll try. A prolific Magic: The Gathering player was banned at GP Manchester, opening up the race for Grand Prix Master. The same weekend he got banned, I skipped one of the closest Grand Prix of the year for me, Grand Prix Minneapolis. My girlfriend had just broken up with me, in some part due to the strains that traveling nonstop to play a card game can put on a relationship. In classic form, immediately after losing my girlfriend partially from playing too much Magic, I then skipped the next Grand Prix, because I didn’t feel like playing Magic.

Obviously, that was the weekend Fab Five got banned, and I was suddenly on a short list of players in reach of winning the race for Grand Prix Master. And I had just missed out on a few precious Pro Points by staying home. For what it’s worth, I don’t regret my choice. When you don’t feel like playing Magic, just don’t.

I didn’t skip class again. I hit up every GP the rest of the year; and from GP Barcelona on, I crushed it. I was making great deck choices, I was playing well, I was running hot in all the right spots. The stars were aligning, creating what appeared to be a sizable dipper in the night sky. I put down my stargazing telescope and said “wow” to no one in particular about the magnificence of our universe. Also, I was doing well in Magic tournaments, an event completely unrelated to the alignment of stars and beauty of space.

At Grand Prix Sydney, I locked up the GP Master slot and a Worlds qualification. This was thanks in part to Scott Lipp, who defeated Seth Manfield in the semifinals, preventing the catastrophic scenario where Seth got 1st place, tying me for GP Master, winning on tiebreakers, and then consuming the slot.

When Scott beat Seth, Steve Rubin, Mike Sigrist, and I were watching. We started celebrating and began chanting “Scott F***ing Lipp. Scott F***ing Lipp. Scott F***ing Lipp.” Scott Lipp’s win got me into Worlds.

But then teammate Alexander Hayne missed out on Worlds by tiebreaker. If Seth had won the Grand Prix, Alexander Hayne would have been in Worlds instead of me. At that point, another chant was started, one that altered the order of the words slightly.

Personally, I’m a Scott Lipp fan. No reason, really.

Post-Apocalyptic Worlds Testing, Dave’s Diner, and Honey Bucketing

matresses

Worlds testing is a weird animal. First of all, there are only 24 competitors so you don’t want to test with too big of a team or you end up representing too much of the field. However, you still want to team up with enough invested players that you end up with good preparation and good decks. We had four players on our team this time, and I think that’s the most I could want, and it’s certainly possible that four is still too many people.

This go around, I wanted to make sure I was teamed up with good friend and local Roanoke Metropolitan area Magic player Bradley J. Nelson. That meant that I was also locked into teaming with two of the scummiest people I have ever had the displeasure of interacting with, Martin Muller and Joel Larsson, two of Brad’s Eureka teammates.

All right, I guess they weren’t that bad. Actually, they were pretty great, but I would never actually tell them that. Martin wasn’t able to show up immediately, but Joel, Brad, and I showed up a week in advance, with Martin to later join us.

Originally, we booked a hotel for two nights near the Seattle/Tacoma Airport. The area we booked the hotel in was literally a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and our hotel was an actual mattress graveyard. The picture above is me posing next to what you see when you walked out of our hotel room.

Welcome to Worlds!

We ate two meals in this region. One was at a random run-down-looking casino, and the other at the critically acclaimed Dave’s Diner, which had been recommended to us by the hotel shuttle driver, who also went out of his way to drive us there. The casino food was about what we expected. Dave’s Diner, however, didn’t quite hit the spot. For one, it was orders of magnitude worse than the random casino food, which, let’s be clear, wasn’t exactly great. I could have cooked a better meal than what I got out of the famed Dave’s Diner, and I’m not exactly Chef BoyarBBD.

Joel declared, in no small terms, that it was simply the worst food he had ever eaten and he was incredulous that such an establishment remained in business. He equated it to airplane food, which I think is just offensive to airlines everywhere out there, who actually serve reasonable food these days. Seattle is a beautiful city with great food, and here we were in a concrete wasteland with no visible signs of human life walking back from Dave’s Diner, after eating a worse-than-microwave meal, tails tucked between our legs.

It was at that moment I pointed out to Joel and Brad that we should have skipped Dave’s Diner and instead eaten at the Honey Bucket. “What is the Honey Bucket?” They asked me, naively. They should have known better.

I started laughing as I just pointed ahead. We were walking up on a construction site, and there were a handful of portable potties sitting outside of it. Honey Bucket is apparently a company that builds portable potties, as these three were emblazoned with a giant Honey Bucket logo on the side. Honey Bucket sounded like the name of a restaurant, and from what I can guess, would be about the same quality as Dave’s Diner, as that food was just crap.

Neither of them appreciated my Honey Bucket joke. They are both scum.

Buckley’s Pub, Downtown Seattle, and Actual Magic Testing

After a few quick days, we were out of the SeaTac wasteland and we had upgraded to downtown Seattle, where we stayed in a great hotel with a sweet view and awesome surrounding food options. This was like heaven compared to what we came from. A block away from our hotel was a place called Buckley’s Pub, which ended up being the highlight of our stay. We ate there basically every single day for a week straight because the food was so good. They were even on Food Network at one point for their riblets, which we tried as soon as we learned about this. They were as good as advertised, and we ordered them every single day after we tried them the first time.

We were supposed to test more Standard and Limited than Modern for a few reasons. Limited had the highest percentage share of the tournament. There were 6 rounds of Draft to 4 for Standard and 4 for Modern. With a Standard Top 4 adding on more value to Standard, that meant Modern was the odd format out. Also, Modern is kind of too large to adequately test for and a higher variance format anyway, and there were a bunch of Modern GPs the week before Worlds, so waiting to see the results of those events is just a good idea anyway.

In reality, a lot of our testing was just Joel battling in Leagues with various 4-color Eldritch Evolution Modern decks on Magic Online despite our best efforts to get him off of it, while Brad and I kind of just durdled around drafting or playing Bant Company vs. Bant Humans pseudo-mirrors.

Thankfully, Martin Muller showed up a few days later, and kicked our butts into shape, forcing us into real, useful, testing.

I was planning on playing a Temurge deck in Standard. I had been testing the deck, winning a lot with it, and communicating with Michael Majors, resident Temurge expert. The problem with Temurge was that despite a solid Bant Company matchup it couldn’t beat Bant Humans (or Bant Hummus, as I like to call it). In fact, not a whole lot was beating Bant Humans, which we all believed to just simply be the best deck in the format. We all played it.

We hoped people would just not really test much against Bant Humans or draw false equivalencies between Bant Humans and Bant Company, which shared many cards, but actually played out very differently, with very different matchups in the field. Whether or not that happened, I don’t know, but I went 14-2 in games with Bant Humans at Worlds, so I guess the decision worked out.

In Modern, both Joel Larsson and Martin Muller were big on Living End. They had played the deck a number of times in the past, including at a past Worlds, and felt like it was well-positioned for this tournament, as it has a good Bant Eldrazi matchup. Brad Nelson tried the deck out, kept drawing all 3 copies of Living End in the first 15 cards, would get tilted, and then snap-concede when he could still probably win the game by just suspending them.

What can I say? Brad is a pretty lucky guy. The deck is literally called Living End, and he draws the namesake card multiple times per game. Then, to top it off, he has the gall to complain about his good fortune. There’s something wrong with that boy.

I tested a bunch with Living End, and actually was considering playing it. I came to a crisis situation on Monday night. It was the last day for me to put in an order for cards that Brad’s girlfriend was going to pick up and bring to the tournament for us. I had to pull the trigger and buy the entire Living End deck if I wanted to play it, and if not, then I had to figure out what I was going to do instead.

That decision was actually so stressful for me that I had a brutal stress-induced headache the entire next day. For someone who just wanted to have fun, enjoy the experience, and not worry too much about the results, I was kind of failing in my goals. I was putting everything I had into Worlds, a dangerous game to play.

I ended up deciding to not play Living End. Living End was maybe well-positioned for the field we expected, but the problem is that it simply is not a powerful deck in Modern. Living End has put up almost no good results in Modern for a very long time, and that made me extremely nervous. There is a reason why it doesn’t put up results, and I don’t think playing a known deck that rarely puts up results was where I wanted to be at Worlds.

I decided to rely on a solid backup plan: Bant Eldrazi. I knew people would expect me to play the deck, but preparing for Bant and beating Bant are two separate things.

I put a lot of value into playing good decks, regardless of specific metagaming, especially in a wide open and wild-west format like Modern. Both of my decks in this tournament were proactive, resilient, and powerful. They punished bad keeps or bad draws, and both were decks that could offer up nut draws that were nigh-unbeatable.

I didn’t lose a match in Constructed at Worlds. My stress-induced Monday night decision ended up being correct.

I shared only one card between my two decks. Yavimaya Coast. Bant in all formats. Bring the pain.

A Brief Lesson: Open Your Books to Chapter 4…

There was a lot of confusion this weekend regarding my name and how to say it. People were making fun of the commentators for pronouncing my name “Brown Do In.” Turns out, that is actually the correct pronunciation, and thanks to Todd Anderson’s Twitter campaign, coverage began pronouncing my name correctly for the first time since I have been playing Magic. I got a kick out of people laughing at coverage for pronouncing my name right, as though these people were somehow experts themselves in how to say my last name properly.

If you’re gonna take a swing at coverage for how they pronounce something, the least you can do is be correct. Braun is German for Brown, and is pronounced similarly. I don’t mind when people pronounce it “brawn do in” personally, as I’ve heard that my entire life, but technically, that’s the wrong way to say it.

Game Karma

Brad, Joel, Martin, and I credit card gamed for every meal in Seattle. Everyone throws their credit card into the mix and a “winner” is randomly chosen to pay for the meal. This may sound like a degenerate thing to do, but in actuality it’s pretty neutral overall. Over a long period of time, it balances out to paying about the same amount you would have paid for food anyway.

There was a lot of discussion about game karma. Basically, if you have to pay for a lot more meals than average, does that increase your likelihood of doing well at the tournament by virtue of having increased karma? Martin Muller stated that when he pays for a lot of meals, he does better in the tournament.

For me, it’s the opposite. I have reverse game karma. The more I pay for meals, the worse I do in the tournament, and vice versa. My two worst Pro Tours were events where I had to pay nearly every credit card game the entire week, and some of my best have been in situations where I basically paid nothing the entire week.

I started out badly in credit card games, jumping out to a pretty big early deficit to Joel and Brad, but once Martin showed up I basically never lost again. Every time I would win a game I would say “that’s +1 Pro Point at Worlds, as each win counts as a Pro Point.”

It worked out perfectly, as I didn’t have to pay for very many meals this trip and I also spiked Worlds. We were theorizing that maybe I should take it to the extreme, you know, do things like push old ladies down in the street, or steal candy from babies, or other really mean things, just to improve my odds at Worlds via the Law of Reverse Game Karma.

I’m not willing to stoop that low yet, but who is to say it can’t get to that level in the future?

The Tournament Itself

Worlds was by far the coolest event I have ever played in. We were playing on a stage in a giant theater, where people could sit in the audience and watch. Worlds was really the Helen Hunt of Magic tournaments. As good as it gets.

I went 3-3 in Limited, going 2-1 (and almost 3-0) with a really odd Sultai concoction in my first draft. It featured such hits as Hamlet Captain and a bunch of cheap Humans along with Lashweed Lurker and the ability to recur it over and over again with 3 Grapple with the Past. I was splashing black for Kindly Stranger, whose delirium I could achieve via Grapple with the Past filling the graveyard. Grapple does everything and is one of green’s best commons. It was certainly a weird deck, but it worked.

My 2nd draft deck was a very consistent G/W deck with 3 pieces of premium removal and good creatures. I went 1-2 with that deck. I thought I had a good deck, but all of my opponents had better decks, and later on, talking with Martin Muller helped me figure out why my deck failed. I had zero rares. Contrast that with Marcio Carvalho, the Limited master who beat me in the first round of that draft, who had 5 rares in his deck. When everyone is drafting and playing at a high level, sometimes raw power is all the difference.

Although I had the nut medium 3-3 record in Draft, I did not lose a single match in Constructed the entire weekend.

It was kind of a weird tournament, in that a lot of things went very right for me, but I also didn’t feel like I was really getting particularly lucky either. I bricked on Collected Company a bunch of times over the weekend, and I’m not talking about only hitting one creature, I’m talking about the full 6-card brick-off. I mulliganed a lot in the event, starting about the same number of games on 6 or 5 cards as 7, although much of that can be attributed to Bant Eldrazi and how often that deck has to ship hands back.

Despite that, I just felt like I had a deck edge in almost every matchup I played, and if I didn’t have the deck edge, I at least had an experience edge. While my opponents were some of the best players in the World, and far more talented at Magic than I am, I don’t think very many had played nearly as many games in whatever matchup we were facing off in as I had.

I also was in a great mental space the entire event. I never felt stressed playing any of my games. I was calm and relaxed in every match I played and didn’t really let anything bother me, from bricking full stop on Collected Company, to keeping 2 lands and never drawing a 3rd—you name it. I actually had a lot of fun playing Magic at Worlds, which is usually not the case in high stakes and high stress events.

Most of the competitors are personal friends of mine, and in a lot of regards it felt like we were just playing some Magic between friends. It was Magic between friends with thousands of dollars on the line, but, you know, still just some Magic. You can be competitive, trying your hardest to win, with a lot on the line, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or keep it light.

I ended the Swiss at 10-3-1, the top seed going into the Top 4.

The Seth Manfield Experience

The night before Top 4, I tested my matchup against Shota Yasooka with Seth Manfield. He beat me, over and over again, play or draw, pre- or post-sideboard. I won less than 20% of the games we played. It did not look good.

I didn’t feel particularly confident about my matchup in Top 4, but regardless, I learned a lot from testing with Seth, including one important rule. Never trust the results when testing with Seth. He’ll beat you every time, in every matchup.

The Top 4

I showed up Sunday morning, ready to battle what would hopefully be two more matches for a chance at being the Magic World Champion. Sitting in the player’s lounge before my Top 4 match was a weird experience. People from the coverage team and even just other players were asking me about how I thought my matchup against Shota was, with Shota sitting in the room alongside me.

I thought the matchup was pretty bad from testing with Seth, but I didn’t want to give off any sign of weakness, so I basically just ignored/dodged those questions. I was riding a high wave of momentum going into the Top 4, and I wanted to give off an aura of confidence going into the match. I didn’t want Shota to know that I thought the matchup was bad. I wanted him to feel disadvantaged.

I wanted to play quickly, aggressively, and confidently against him. I don’t know if any of that kind of stuff matters at all, but I didn’t want to give up any edge, even if it was just a psychological one.

As it turns out, Shota had fairly weak draws, and I was able to very quickly win the match 3-0. Our entire match took less time than game 3 of the finals.

After winning the semifinals, I felt pretty good, as I thought I had a good matchup against both Marcio’s Bant Company list and Oliver Tiu’s Temur deck in the finals.

Playing on Headphones

The Top 4 was played with both players wearing noise cancelling headphones. A lot of people didn’t understand what the point of the headphones were, but it was to drown out the noise from the crowd and from the coverage who were commentating on the match in the same room as the players.

I loved those headphones. A lot. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like, but it was actually just awesome. It felt like I was just sitting there playing Magic Online, in that I was sitting there playing a match of Magic with no noise or distractions. I was completely in my element, and I think the headphones helped to ground me and keep me calm throughout that Top 4.

The Finals

Marcio Carvalho beat Oliver Tiu in the other semifinals, so the finals was between the only two Gold pros in the tournament. I believe it was the most amount of money that has ever been on the line in a single match of Magic in history.

Second place was $40,000. First place was $70,000, Platinum for two full years including appearance fees at Pro Tours and Grand Prix, qualification to next year’s World Championships, and qualification to the MOCS (Magic Online Championship Series). All told, that’s probably somewhere between $120,000-$150,000 in value for first.

Somehow, I was able to distance myself from all that, remain calm, and just focus on the games.

I kept a strong 2-land hand in the first game and bricked on my 3rd land until it was too late for me to come back. I then started game 2 off immediately with a mulligan, and my curve was a 1-drop on turn 2, and 2-drop on turn 3. Not exactly the best.

Thankfully, Marcio had an awkward “Spell Queller only” hand and I was able to slip a Collected Company past his defenses and pull out a win in game 2.

Game 3 lasted one hour and seven minutes, and for about 60 minutes straight the life totals did not change from me at 20 life and Marcio at 18 life.

It has to be one of the wildest games in Magic World Championship finals history. We traded haymakers back and forth for what felt like forever. Throughout the entire game I was playing toward drawing Tragic Arrogance, and with 2 copies in my deck and me drawing 2-3 cards a turn for much of the game, I knew it would happen eventually. However, I didn’t see a Tragic Arrogance until I had about 15 cards left in my deck, eventually drawing it on one of the last possible turns before it would become too late.

I ended up barely squeaking out a win in that game 3, and then was able to take down game 4, thanks to a 16/16 Thalia’s Lieutenant finishing off a game after a Tragic Arrogance.

The end of the game 4 was the only time in the event that I felt truly nervous. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as he started cracking Clues trying to draw into an answer. This was it. If he misses, I win. One Clue down, no answer. Two Clues. Three Clues. Blue’s Clues. He didn’t find an answer and extended the hand.

I couldn’t believe it. I had just become World Champion. I barely qualified for the tournament. Qualifying alone was miraculous enough. I was a Gold pro in a sea of Platinums and Hall-of-Famers. I was picked near the bottom of every fantasy draft I saw. I couldn’t believe it, and to be honest, I still can’t really believe it.

The level of support I got on social media from friends and even people I don’t know was overwhelming. It was the first time my family has ever watched me play Magic, which meant so much to me, even though they didn’t understand the game. It’s impossible to put into words how much it meant to me to see people genuinely happy that I won, and to be honest, it still makes me emotional to think about it. To me, that hit me much harder than winning the World Championship did. To know how much people appreciate all the work I put into Magic and how much they want to see me succeed at this fool’s errand of being a Professional Magic Player makes me smile and maybe even tear up a little bit.

And I get to do it all again next year. I get a chance to play Worlds again. I get a chance to defend my title. I just know that next year, I won’t be the underdog. Next year, I’ll just be a regular dog. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be a hotdog. Never count out the cosplay potential. Wild Card, B****es!

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