I crashed and burned again at the Mythic Championships in London, but I learned a little along the way. That’s what matters, I guess. While I’d prefer a breakout performance where I spike the event not learning much along the way, any time I can learn about myself as a player and find something to improve on I’m happy. It feels like I’ve been losing forever. The last two Mythic Championships, I was out before Swiss ended, sustaining no extra points or cash.
In the old world where I was traveling to GPs, I’d go to more events and win some, lose some, but this feels different. I’ve played two Mythic Championships and the Mythic Invitational now, and having not done well in any of them makes it feel like forever since I’ve had a successful event. This is the world I live in now, and I’m trying not to get down on myself since the length of time has been so long—but it’s only three events, one of which was best-of-one Standard, another Modern. Those formats are high variance by nature, so I just have to get back to it and do the best I can.
What did I learn? I need to reevaluate my deck selection process. I’ve mostly felt helpless in deck selection over the last few major events. Everything has seemed so marginal, and spending a lot of time trying to find the extra 1% with my deck has left me less proficient with my ultimate choice. This time I realized that and locked my deck in early. Really early, even, perhaps overcompensating for what I have felt was a weak point of mine recently. I need to figure out a better balance, and that will be my goal from here on out.
Mythic Championship Prep
After a week or so of testing the London mulligan rule with various decks, I realized it wasn’t breaking Modern. Sort of how the new Neoform Modern deck is exploiting the rule now. Since there was nothing broken and unexpected, I moved on to the decks I knew merely gained a lot from the rule. The two standouts were Dredge and Tron.
I started early with Amulet Titan, a deck that’s been getting a ton of hype due to its success on the SCG Tour. Amulet Titan is both very hard to play with and against, so piloting it perfectly can be rewarding. It didn’t take me long after testing it to move off of it, and I did so confidently. The deck felt clunky, weak to the same hate as Tron, and I don’t think it benefits as much as other decks from the mulligan rule. It’s a deck that does need to make land drops and have some specific cards, so you do need a decent amount of resources for the deck to function. After talking with some other people who played the deck our consensus was: if you’re able to pilot the deck perfectly, it’s at best as good as other Modern decks, but certainly not a cut above. Since every other deck in the format sped up what felt like half a turn, I was off Amulet.
Next I moved to one of the decks that really gained from the mulligan rule, Dredge. While Dredge wants to put a few lands into play to cast Life from the Loam, it can operate on very few resources. A turn-1 Faithless Looting gives the deck an incredible win percentage, and the ability to find a three-card hand consisting of Looting, a land to cast it, and a dredge card can make the deck incredibly explosive. While I did okay in my first League or two, I wasn’t winning much post-board. I was winning game 1 frequently and occasionally squeaking out a post-board game, but the deck did not feel very resilient to the hate. Ravenous Trap in particular is incredibly hard to interact with reliably. Sure, you could bring in Thoughtseize, but in general that’s not great for Dredge. After losing almost all of my post-board games, I was off it. A teammate brought up a great point that the deck has no interaction really—it’s a linear deck trying to do the same thing every time and with no good backup plan, the deck is much more susceptible to open deck lists. An opponent can mull to their Ravenous Trap or Leyline of the Void and seriously cripple you while you don’t really get to do the same. The strength of Dredge is its main deck.
After that I wanted to try Tron. I knew the deck would benefit from the mulligan change. This deck can have its “perfect hand” rolled into four cards. Two Tron lands, a Map, and a Karn. Not only that, this deck actually gains from open deck lists because if you mulligan low and don’t know your matchup, you have a decision on which payoff to keep. Should I keep Wurmcoil? Karn? Ugin? It’s right there in front of you. After I played eight-to-ten Leagues with the deck, winning a fair amount and not really liking much else, I was pretty sold on it. I still had about a week and a half to go, but I had to spend time catching up on Limited since the Limited event was a prerelease, so I chose to lock my deck in early and not worry too much about the noise. Normally I’d focus a lot on trends in the metagame, and if a deck like this was going to be targeted. This time I decided to not care and play it regardless. It was the deck that exploited the rules the most, and I was going to play it.
There were some fair decks I considered. I was winning with Izzet Phoenix, but the format did seem hostile to it. The deck I have the most experience with in Modern that had been doing reasonably well pre-London Mulligan rule was Death’s Shadow. But when Sam Pardee didn’t seem particularly interested in playing that deck after a great performance at a GP, I decided Tron it is.
Leading up to the Mythic Championship, Tron was getting a lot of attention. It wasn’t doing very well on Magic Online, and I figured it was going to be the deck to beat at the event. Yet again I’m playing the most popular deck in the tournament—the one with a big target on its back. I went to bed every night leading up to submission wondering if I should audible to decks like Humans, Izzet Phoenix, or Death’s Shadow. I was having buyer’s remorse on my decision. Needless to say I woke up, did some Drafts with the team, and went to bed with the same thoughts, never convincing myself to change my mind. I was convinced the rules of the tournament benefited Tron the most, and I was going to make people beat me by devoting a lot of attention to my deck. I did not come across any opponents who weren’t prepared for the matchup, and in some cases opponents were over prepared. In turn I suffered a 1-3 record, and was out of the event after a 1-2 in Draft, a format I was fairly confident in, and played some incredibly close games. A draw step different one way or another and the result of any of my matches could have flipped.
Here’s the Tron list I played, the same 75 as Top 4 finisher and a great friend of mine, Alexander Hayne:
5 Forest 1 Ghost Quarter 1 Sanctum of Ugin 4 Urza's Mine 4 Urza's Power Plant 4 Urza's Tower 4 Wurmcoil Engine 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger 2 Walking Ballista 4 Ancient Stirrings 4 Chromatic Sphere 4 Chromatic Star 4 Expedition Map 4 Karn Liberated 4 Oblivion Stone 3 Relic of Progenitus 4 Sylvan Scrying 2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon Sideboard 2 Dismember 2 Ghost Quarter 2 Nature's Claim 2 Spatial Contortion 3 Surgical Extraction 3 Thragtusk 1 Unravel the AEther
One thing we decided to do during testing, I believe brought up by Martin Juza, that felt very smart to me, was not to mess around with any one-ofs in the main deck. Some deck lists had a main-deck Dismember, World Breaker, or main-deck Thragtusk. These cards are fairly low impact cards in game 1 that you’d keep in 7-card hands, and be happy with as bridges to when you got Tron on turn 4 or 5. With the London Mulligan rule in place, we didn’t want to mess around and keep bad or slow hands. If you can’t make Tron on turn 3 fairly reliably just ship the hand. Three cards are worth 7 mana. You don’t need too many cards, especially in game 1 when opponents aren’t as well equipped to interact with you. In post-board games, more resources can be necessary as the game slows down.
You may notice a 2/1 split of Nature’s Claim and Unravel the Aether. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is Chalice of the Void, which your best draws actually don’t care much about since they involve Tron and big payoffs. The other is Welding Jar. Decks like Hardened Scales and Affinity in many cases have Welding Jar to protect Damping Sphere. Having a way to remove a Sphere through a Jar was added utility.
Our 16-card sideboard consisted of a second copy of Unravel, but that ultimately got cut over a third Thragtusk. Thragtusk was too important against control and other fair matchups that interacted with your lands. It’s a bridge to your late game when you couldn’t reliably Tron early.
The only unique idea we had outside of streamlining the deck list as much as possible and having some 2-mana artifact removal was Vesuva. At one point, Paulo said he liked Tron but the mirror was such a crapshoot that he wanted something, anything, that would give us an edge. More Ghost Quarters and Surgicals was one way, but how do you prevent them from doing that to you? Well, you can protect your own graveyard with Relic of Progenitus and your own Surgicals, but if the deed was done you could still muster up Tron by copying their land with a Vesuva. This was extremely narrow and situational even in games where it may work. If they Karn your lands it won’t work. It was mostly useful in games where you could Ghost Quarter and Surgical them, and they did the same to you. In this instance, it was important you targeted a different land than they did. If they were on top of it, they could make sure they hit the same land as you so you couldn’t copy a land because they didn’t have them. Some people on the team decided to play the Vesuva. Most of us played the third Ghost Quarter instead.
Hardened Scales was the next most represented deck on our team. Matt Nass, Sam Pardee, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Wrapter all played the deck, and had a good win rate with it. By the time they decided to play Scales, approximately on the day decks were due, I was too far behind to learn a deck like that in a day and wasn’t overly confident in the choice. Still, if I could play a different deck, that’s likely the deck I would have chosen for the event.
Though I busted out of the event, I was satisfied to see Alexander Hayne Top 4 the event. He’s one of the best players I know. He’s had the longest Top 8 drought, though reliably having a high win percentage at Pro Tours, often ending up with 12-4 and 11-5 records. Seeing him walk up onto the stage for the first time since I began testing with him years ago was something I’ve been eager to see. While he played literally no Modern before the event and just trusted a few of us to help him choose a deck, he worked extremely hard in Limited to get his result. If he’s had a weak point, it’s been Limited in the past, but I don’t think that’s a problem for him anymore.
The London Mulligan
I found the London Mulligan fairly good for Limited, but only by a little. Having fewer resources in a format that’s a lot about interacting and back-and-forth trades, and having the ability to pick a card to put on the bottom doesn’t help Limited as much as it warps Modern. Games in Modern felt scripted. Everyone had or was mulling to a piece of interaction to cast on turn 1 or turn 2, and some kind of turn-3 or -4 kill. The games were mostly the same. I knew what I had to play when. If I didn’t I was dead. It rewarded some decks more than others, like Tron, sure, but it also made all of my games less fun as I followed the script. Do X by turn Y and get Z result. If it’s all or nothing, I prefer the Vancouver Mulligan rule. If we can live in a world with different mulligan rules for different formats, I think Standard and Limited—formats where resources often matter a lot more—would benefit from the London Mulligan rule. I’ve seen varied opinions, mostly those who prefer the rule, but my conclusion is that it makes the game less fun for non-rotating formats.
This event had many good and bad moments surrounding it. I am excited to start the Magic Pro League soon, as announced on stream. I’m going to, from here on out, work on my deck selection process and focus a little more on Standard and Modern in my free time so that I’m on top of all the formats. If there’s any downside to being in the MPL it’s consistently shifting from one format to another. I’ve put myself in a hole to start the year, so it’s time to climb out. Team CFB is still in second place in the Team Series. If we can hold that slot we’ll be able to participate in the team finals, which is something I’ve wanted to do since the creation of the Team Series. Let’s hope I can carry my own weight in Barcelona, and do just that.