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Mythic Championship IV: A Postmodern Tournament Report

The past week in Barcelona has been a memorable one. I’ve played 15 Pro Tours/Mythic Championships over the years (my first was Pro Tour Honolulu with Guildpact) and each one was a significant learning experience as a Magician. MCIV was no exception.

The last one I played was a few years ago in Kyoto and since then my life has changed in almost every way. I’ve gone through most of the biggest life-changing events a person can go through: Marriage, moving, losing a job, starting a new job, and the death of a loved one. In a two-year span where everything in my life underwent massive change, the one constant has been playing and writing about Magic.

When I unexpectedly qualified for the Mythic Challenge at Grand Prix Tampa Bay, I wasn’t sure I would attend the event. It was a massive commitment of time, energy, and money to go to Spain at a time when all those resources have been heavily taxed (immigrating to a new country isn’t an easy or cheap process!). It was ultimately my wife who talked me into going.

“I know you will regret it if you don’t go,” she said. She was right, as always! Life is too short to not take advantage of the opportunities and experiences in front of us.

My Experience at Mythic Championship IV

Disclaimer: I’m Not a Modern Fan

I love Eternal, Pauper, Limited, and Community Formats (Battle Box!) and when given so many options that I prefer I typically choose to avoid playing Modern whenever possible. It’s nothing against Modern, it’s just not what I enjoy. I find the decks and the games are a little too broken and the interactions a little too scripted and forced for my taste.

Modern, to me, is kind of like chocolate cake. If, after my meal a piece of chocolate cake were to suddenly appear… I wouldn’t turn it down; but if there are five desert choices on the menu I’m 0% to order chocolate cake. I don’t think somebody else is wrong for first-picking chocolate cake. It’s all a matter of taste. I think there are lots of positive things about Modern, but they don’t sync up with the aspects that interest me the most.

It’s also important to establish my preference for other formats because today’s article is an account of a Modern Mythic Championship from the perspective of a player who doesn’t specifically like or play much Modern these days. So, if you disagree with what I have to say about the format, you’re more than entitled to say: You don’t even play this format! What do you know?”

And, I’ll say, “I accept that, but can we both agree Modern Horizons is one of the best draft formats in years?”

And you’ll agree and we can fist bump and accept that while we have different opinions about some aspects of Constructed Magic we still probably have a lot in common and can still be friends.

It Reminded Me of my First Mythic Championship

If I were to compare my experience at MCIV to another I’ve played, it actually had a lot in common with my first one way back in 2006. In both cases, I wasn’t grinding for an invite and randomly spiked an event I was playing in for funsies with zero expectations or hopes. Iin both cases I qualified for a format I didn’t play or even like! Back then I was all about the Type 1 (now Vintage) and now I’m all about that Pauper. In both cases, I showed up with a deck that played to my strengths and was within my range to play well, but turned out to be a poor choice because of how the metagame shaped up.

I had relatively low expectations for success going in but was thrilled to participate in a special event.

The similarities were uncanny as my journey came full-circle and I was once again a niche format specialist competing in an unfamiliar competitive format. The key difference is experience. I’m now a seasoned tournament veteran in my mid-thirties with a lifetime of experience, nonetheless coming back for another one after years away created a connection between 2019 DeMars and the 23-year-old kid that was dazzled by it on the first go around all those years ago.

I don’t know what the future or fate of paper Magic tournaments will be, but I hope they both outlive us all. They are such an exciting and thrilling experience for players of all ages and I hope that legacy goes on for future generations to enjoy.

Mistakes Were Made, and Reasonable Expectations Are Important

Modern has changed a lot since the last time I played in Tampa Bay. A few months ago I felt like my deck was unstoppable and a few sets later it felt weak compared to the other decks in the format. What changed?

Narset, Parter of VeilsCarrion FeederHogaak, Arisen NecropolisTeferi, Time Raveler

A lot, actually.

I underestimated how much things had changed in such a short period of time. I correctly hedged my build of Phoenix against U/W Control and Hogaak, but grossly underestimated how their metagame representation would vary from the overall metagame. Based on the data I was able to get from metagame websites I assumed these two decks would represent about 20% of the field, when in fact they combined to form well over 30% of the field! It also didn’t help that not only were these two decks a huge portion of the overall metagame but also had among the highest conversion rates to day two in the tournament!

The natural predators of my deck were not only the best decks but also the most played decks. Oops.

Not only were these decks everywhere, but I didn’t get lucky to dodge them. In fact, I was a magnet for attracting bad matchups at an unreasonable clip! I played against Hogaak five times and U/W twice. I tested against Hogaak once I got to Spain and the matchup felt close. Unfortunately, I lost four of the five die rolls and started the majority of my matches on the draw when being on the play significantly influences the outcome. There is a huge difference between Thing in the Ice on the play and on the draw!

Despite that, I managed to go 2-3 against Hogaak. It’s also worth noting that I punted the last match I played against Hogaak by conceding when I still had outs, and actually would have drawn one. It was the last round I played, the outcome of the match was irrelevant, and I was mentally and physically exhausted and defeated after an 0-4-1 skid after a 6-3 start and wasn’t thinking clearly at that point.

I ended up 0-1-1 against U/W Control, which is better than I could have expected considering how bad the matchup felt. It also felt good that the tech I invented for the tournament, Young Pyromancer, stole me a game and might have been able to win me the match given more time. I played it on turn two on the play, Force of Negationed my opponent’s Celestial Purge, and was off to the races. Just like I drew it up. It’s always a badge of honor when your idea comes to life in a tournament and helps win a game.

Young Pyromancer

My final record was 6-8-1 (3-3 in Draft and 3-5-1 in Modern). There were at least two games where I didn’t play optimally and it cost me. Obviously, the Phoenix game when it didn’t matter, but I also made some mistakes in Draft against Luis Salvatto.

He straight-up outplayed me in a complicated Limited game. I’m not going to get too down on myself for getting outplayed by one of the best players in the world, but it is certainly a match I’ll carry with me as a cautionary tale for what happens when one makes a play without taking the time to think it through all the way.

My Biggest Mistakes Came Before the Tournament

I spent most of my Magic time after Grand Prix Tampa Bay working on Pauper for the Premier League. I didn’t see the point in investing my time testing a format that was 100% going to see a major banning before the Mythic Challenge, especially when I could use that time to work on prep for the Pauper League. As a player who cared so deeply and put so much blood, sweat, and tears into qualifying, it sounds blasphemous to say it out loud, but I prioritized the Premier League over the Mythic Championship this time around in more ways than one.

With the Pro Player Club dissolved and the future up in the air, it’s unclear what the Mythic Championship even means or represents now. On the other hand, Pauper is my favorite format and the Premier League represents the opportunity to work on, play, and showcase the format I’m most passionate about and truly love playing.

I think if I had spent more time on Modern and specifically playing on MTGO, I would have been part of the Hogaak “in-crowd.” I relied heavily on datamines to project the metagame (which hadn’t adjusted to reflect Hogaak’s dominance) and weekly content to inform my understanding of Modern trends. Since the majority of the high-profile content creators were planning to play Hogaak at the MC, it wasn’t widely written about in advance of the event.

The narrative didn’t start to break until after I had already left for Spain and so I wasn’t able to get the cards to take with me. I didn’t want to buy an entire Modern deck from the vendors, but if I had brought the cards I would have strongly considered an audible. I was able to hedge a little by making my Phoenix build better against Hogaak, which wasn’t nearly as strong an option as just playing Hogaak.

Mistake #1 was not testing on Magic Online and therefore not knowing about Hogaak before I left for Spain. To be fair, I don’t own Modern cards on MTGO because I don’t play Modern for fun… If the MC had been Standard, you can bet I would have been on Arena playing a million games. So, in this case it was a little bit of bad luck that the MC I qualified for was Modern.

Mistake #2 was assuming I could handle doing Pauper Super League at 3:00 AM the night before the MC. I had a plan. Go to bed at 8 PM, sleep until 2 AM, play my matches, go back to sleep, and play the MC. The fatal flaw of this genius idea was I underestimated how significantly jetlag would mess with my circadian rhythms…

I took a sleep aid at 7 PM and went to bed on time but ended up laying in a dark room desperately praying for sleep until it was time to play Pauper. I played my pod (I went 1-2 but was a hair away from defeating CVM to be 2-1) and afterward my mind refused to power down before it was time to go to the MC. So, I ended up playing day one without sleeping a wink.

Somehow, through the copious use of coffee and frequent hydration, I willed myself to a 5-3 record after day one. When I finally fell asleep, I had been awake for 38 consecutive hours. My sleep cycles had been terrible ever since I arrived in Spain, but it finally caught up to me on Saturday afternoon. When I messed up against Salvatto, I realized the plays were bad moments after I made them–it was like watching a zombified version of myself playing poorly.

To be fair, it’s possible there’s no guarantee I’m able to sleep even if I didn’t play the Pauper league. They gave me the option to opt out and I declined. I wanted to play and I had a blast battling Mono-Black Control against Emma, CVM, and Adam and getting messages from my friends back in Michigan who were watching the program.

Modern After the Mythic Championship

Let’s start by saying I loved the draft format. A+. Horizons is one of my favorite draft formats ever.

I’m biased against Modern, and the MC didn’t change what has been a consistent preference for other formats. If I had gone on a run and won, I still wouldn’t be a Modern fan. If you don’t believe me, my Top 4 at GP Tampa didn’t change my opinion either. I literally didn’t play a single game of Modern after my Top 4 loss until after the Bridge from Below ban. So, take my opinions and impressions with a grain of salt.

I strongly disliked the fact that the DCI implemented a nonsense ban that didn’t fix the actual known problem and the entire tournament experience revolved around when and how quickly a person understood the Hogaak joke. I got killed or virtual killed (had to chump with Thing in the Ice) four times on turn 3. It’s also possible that the DCI’s ban on Bridge actually made the deck better, since the way the deck adapted actually made it better less reliant upon the graveyard and thus better against graveyard hate.

For instance, take this game I lost:

Don’t let only one copy of Hogaak in the Top 8 trick you into thinking it was the entire story of the tournament:

  • 21.5% of Constructed Decks.
  • 28% of Constructed decks with 6+ match wins.
  • 35% of Constructed decks with 7+ match wins.
  • 45% of Constructed decks with 8 match wins.

These results are unreal. Even moreso when one considers that Leyline of the Void was the most-played card in the event. People knew, came prepared to fight it, and couldn’t stop it.

If only there had been some way to prevent this! If only there were some way to know!

The week before the B&R announcement my editor asked me for an article on my take about what the DCI should ban from the Hogaak deck:

I suggested and argued for:

Faithless LootingHogaak, Arisen NecropolisAncient Stirrings

The two most-played cards in the event (after Leyline) were Faithless Looting and Hogaak. Hardened Scales and Tron battled it out in the finals.

I don’t even play the format and it was pretty obvious to me what the problems were. To be fair, the things I view as “the problems” are the reasons I don’t play or enjoy Modern in the first place. I don’t think I could have hit the nail any more square on the head if I had used the Hammer of Bogardan with a scope attached to it.

I stand by those opinions, but I understand that massively overhauling the format would be highly controversial. With that said, I do believe and expect something should be done about the Hogaak deck because it is unreasonably broken, because Hogaak is simply an unreasonable card. Whether or not the DCI decides to address Faithless Looting or Ancient Stirrings… who knows? It’s not my format and I’ve gotten along just fine without Modern in my life for a while now, but I would be excited to brew new decks and explore the format if these oppressive cards were removed.

Open Decklists – Good or Bad Idea?

I strongly enjoyed the open decklists element of the event and hope to see it implemented for all Constructed formats in all Grand Prix and MCQ-level events. All players had a copy of their decklist with them and each before exchanged their list with the opponent for a one-minute review period. The list included the number of each card in the main deck (along with quantities), and the names of all the cards registered in the sideboard (without quantities).

Modern is so broken right now that many matchups only have a handful of cards that impact the game in a meaningful way. If you don’t mulligan for those specific cards, you might not be able to interact at all! For those who have never played this way, I’ll summarize what it was like (it was my first time playing with this rule as well):

I liked knowing the deck my opponent was playing because it allowed me to keep hands that were reasonable in each game. There’s nothing worse than keeping a hand full of removal that would be great against an aggro deck only to have the opponent lead on Hallowed Fountain, tapped. The rule eliminates having to keep hands that are risky depending upon whether your opponent is on a certain type of deck. I played against Hogaak 5 times and I knew that I needed a hand with a Surgical, Thing in the Ice, or a broken Phoenix draw in order to keep.

I also like this twist because it basically invalidates players from peeking at their opponent’s deck while shuffling, which is a cheat that is difficult to protect against. It’s difficult to detect and even harder to prove and so it happens quite a bit at IRL tournaments.

I’d also suggest that I’d prefer the sideboard cards were not listed. I felt it gave the broken decks an unfair advantage against reactive decks and took a lot of gamesmanship out of playing. For instance, each of the five Hogaak lists I saw had the same five cards. I gained nothing. On the other hand, they got to see whether I had Leylines (and thus needed to board in Nature’s Claim) or whether I was on Ravenous Trap.

I also thought it degraded the value of innovating new tech or playing with unexpected cards since the opponent knows to expect them. For instance, I worked my butt off testing against U/W and came up with Young Pyromancer as the best sideboard card, but they got to see I had it and adjust their sideboard plans accordingly rather than being surprised.

I’m on board that it makes sense for players to make game 1 “keep” or “mulligan” decisions based on some information. On the other hand, giving an opponent near-perfect information about how I’m likely to sideboard really dumbs down some of the most skill-intensive and important decisions. All things considered, it’s a relatively small nitpick about a rules change that I found to be an overwhelming net positive for gameplay. I’d like to see this implemented across the board.

Overall, MCIV was an exciting experience. I may have spread myself a little bit thin with the sleep and paid the price for it, but my wife was right that it was an adventure worth taking. I got to spend some time with people I haven’t gotten to see in too long. I stayed in a house with an unbelievable group of players from Michigan and Minnesota.

It was a week of doing high-level Magic stuff with other high-level players. It was a week of eating amazing Spanish food and amazing weather. It was a week of seeing friendly faces dearly missed. It was a week of pure Magic and not even Hogaak, Narset, or CVM’s topdecked Molten Rain to keep me off turn five Gary (after I Duressed one away) could ever convince me otherwise!

Since, this turned out to be a sort of a weird tournament report and I’m feeling the Magic nostalgia I’m going to drop the obligatory “Slops and Props” on like we used to do in the olden days:

Props

  • Andrew Elenbogen. Thanks for letting me crash with you for the week. Even though I don’t think we’ve ever shared a single opinion in common about anything ever, I respect the heck out of you and you’re the current best player in Michigan (even though Raja is the superior drafter… Your words, not mine!).
  • Ni Pham. Congrats on playing in your first MC! Every dining establishment you picked was fantastic, you’ve clearly got great taste which begs the question: “Why Andrew?” JK, :p
  • Max McVety. For running Sangria and Japanese Meat splits with me all week and for having the exact same tournament as me for the first 10 rounds! Mucho gracias for letting me use your laptop to PPL and for the MTGO refresher course.
  • Greg Orange. Thanks for repeatedly demolishing me with U/W and helping me learn the matchup. It was very niiiiice of you.
  • Jackson Hicks. “Tell ‘em the kid has arrived.” Congrats on getting over the slump. IMHO, the most talented MTG mind of the upcoming generation of players.
  • Raja Suleman. Glad we’re friends now and was great hanging with you! Beginning of an MTG bromance? #RIW4life.
  • Ian Jensen. Thank you for rescuing me from the abyss of no cell service at Barcelona Airport. My life is in your debt.
  • Matthew Johnson. Always good hanging with you.
  • Samuel Ihlenfeldt. I’m going to check out some of that Minnesota Hip Hop all the kids in Denmark are listening to. It was my pleasure to lose the team draft on your team.
  • Ari Lax. You birded my practice draft and the plan came together.. 4 Winding Way, 2 Influence, 19 Lands and all first picks. Thanks for sharing some of that Ari luck with me!
  • Corey Burkhart. Thanks for forgetting to collect your draft deck from me. I’m keeping it. Always a delight to see you.
  • Logan Boyd. For continuing the streak that every Australian Magic player I’ve ever met is a fantastic human being. Enjoyed chatting with you in between rounds. It helped me stay awake!
  • Emma, CVM, and Yardstick. Enjoyed Pauping with you three Thursday night! Congrats to Adam on 3-0 and breaking the format. I have zero turnaround to work on something new since I’m on Thursday, so I’m playing your list!
  • Kyle Boggemes and Zach Allen. For being my lifeline to what’s going on in Competitive Modern. I leaned on you guys hard for information, insight, and advice. Thanks.
  • Jono Wilkerson. Loaned me a Pauper deck on MTGO for PPL and did the groundwork for the Mono-Black Control list. Sorry we didn’t get that third match. What a dagger!
  • Rob Pisano. Sorry, I didn’t recognize you at first and had a conversation with you like you were a random person I didn’t know. In my defense, it’s been a long time and you got significantly more attractive since the last time I saw you. Always a pleasure hanging out and drafting with you, my friend. 🙂
  • Pam Willoughby and RIW Hobbies. It’s an honor to represent your store and to know you. The jersey was awesome, I wore it with maximum RIW / Michigan Pride.
  • “The Thing that Comes Out of the Ice” – AKA, what I call “The Awoken Horror.” We gave it our best shot but ran a little cold.
  • Open Decklists. For making it so I don’t have to shuffle my deck before Game 1 like it’s the plans for the Death Star and my opponent is a potential Bothan Spy.

Slops

  • Playing Hogaak 4 times on Day 1 and losing all the die rolls. Welcome to the Mythic Championship.
  • Archmage’s Charm. “But that’s supposed to be my Giver of Runes!”
  • The July B&R Announcement. I look forward to a Lightning Axe ban coming soon. (Ian, I stole your joke).
  • Jetlagged insomnia. Welcome to an International tournament.
  • The AC at the venue. Am I sweating so much because I haven’t slept in 30 hours or because it’s hot in here because I’m too delirious to discern the difference.
  • Molten Rain. “Some stay dry and MBC feels the pain.”

If you’re going to play Modern bring some Leylines! Cheers.

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