This is part 2 of some of the series of interviews I conducted with a few Mythic Invitational attendees prior to the event. For the interviews with Jean-Emmanuel Depraz and Lucas Esper Berthoud, and the idea behind the interview series, click here!

Let’s dive in, starting with an exclusive, unexpected interviewee—an icon I finally got to interview instead of be interviewed by!

Brian David-Marshall

An image of Brian David-Marshall wearing a headset.

Name: Brian David-Marshall
Age: More than two Oliver Tius old.
Twitter Handle: @top8games

A frequent guest on Marshall Sutcliffe’s Vlog and a co-host for the Top8Magic podcast—the longest-running Magic podcast—with Mike Flores since 1994.

1. For those who may not know you that well, where do you see yourself in the Magic community and how did you start playing Magic?

I have been involved in the community since pretty much the beginning of the East Coast U.S. scene in 1994. I was working for a chain of comic book shops and organizing large events for them when the Magic craze hit New York right around Unlimited. I started playing with my board game group and have never looked back. I started running tournaments that year and opened a pretty famous game store, Neutral Ground, that following spring. I recently retired from doing coverage after 17 years of text, video, and everything in between.

An image of a packed game store with players playing Magic: The Gathering.

2. If you got a new family member, a child or pet, and had to name it after a Magic character, what would it be?

If I ever get a dog it will called Old Ghastbark.

Old Ghastbark

3. How do you think this chance to participate will change your career or situation within Magic? What if you won the entire event?

It would be nice to get a few wins and show everyone that I still have a few games left in me after all these years. If I won? I’d probably host a celebratory New York tournament for all my old and new friends in the game.

4. What platform(s) did you use to prepare for this event? Magic Online? Magic Arena? Paper/in real life? Did you test with any other players? Did anything in particular surprise you about best-of-one? What’s the most common misconception about the format? What’s the major difference between best-of-one and best-of-three regarding card choices in Constructed? Does constructing the main deck become harder in contrast to Standard Constructed with sideboards? Why or why not?

This has been a last-minute event for me and I have been playing catch-up like crazy overnight.

8. Does the opening hand algorithm change the power level of certain decks or types of cards?

There is certainly a pull towards squeezing an extra card in and shaving a land in the aggro decks but I have not tried to get too fancy in the “time” I have had to work with.

9. The Mythic Invitational has quite a unique format, with no other previous tournaments like it. Do you enjoy Duo Standard? Why or why not? If yes, would you like for it to be implemented elsewhere? 

It is an exciting new puzzle to solve and I spent a lot of time talking with Zvi about this before I even knew I was playing. It becomes a weird hybrid of sideboard and metagaming. Until I actually play the format I won’t know how much I like it, but it is very interesting to me in theory. I don’t see why it couldn’t be used in other tournaments, but I would hate to see traditional sideboard-reliant Magic go away completely.

10. What’s your two-deck lineup? If you had to give a short summary of why you chose those two decks, what would be the major reasons why?

With the smallest amount of prep time of anyone in the event I have leaned on two decks I have played and my friends have worked on to make up that gap as much as possible. I have a sweet Gruul deck that has some excellent matchups and an Esper deck that should spackle the holes of the other ones. I have put some faith in Zvi here, who has spent a lot of time on this mental exercise for a piece on his blog. I came close to playing two different Gruul decks, actually.

Bonus Question: Mastermind’s Acquisition in best-of-one. Hate it or love it?!

I love that deck and I love it as a cheat code for BO1. I would have definitely explored it if I had more time.

Andrew Elenbogen

An image of Andrew Elenbogen hoisting a trophy.

Full Name: Andrew Elenbogen
Age: 25
Twitter Handle: @Ajelenbogen
Other Places to Find You: Articles on StarCityGames
Years Playing Magic: 18

1. For those who may not know you that well, where do you see yourself in the Magic community and how did you start playing Magic?

I am the last Pro Tour Champion. Before that, I was a Grand Prix grinder and have been for the last three or so years. I have managed four Grand Prix Top 8s across all three major formats. I also write, but I don’t stream because I feel it does not play to my strengths as a content producer. I am much better at being insightful than upbeat and entertaining. I started playing Magic at recess during chess camp under a gazebo as I had no interest in actually doing physical activity.

2. If you got a new family member, a child or pet, and had to name it after a Magic character, what would it be?

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. It is among my favorite cards and I like giving pets unusual names.

(Author’s Note: rolls right off the tongue!)

3. How do you think this chance to participate will change your career or situation within Magic? What if you won the entire event?

I hope it demonstrates that I’m able to compete with the best in the history of the game. If I won it all, that would be a very large upset and I would be ecstatic.

4. What platform(s) did you use to prepare for this event? Magic Online? Magic Arena? Paper/in real life? Did you test with any other players?

I prepared pretty much exclusively on Magic Arena. I prepared with John Rolf and Zachary Kiihne, and used a mix of one-on-one challenges and the normal BO1 ranked queue. I also had help from my perennial teammates Max McVety and Tyler Hill. They provided additional, strong playtest opponents and wise counsel.

5. Did anything in particular surprise you about best-of-one? What’s the most common misconception about the format?

The most common misconception is that Mono-Red Aggro is the best deck in the format. I think Mono-Red is fine, but nothing special with a number of bad matchups, hand algorithm or no hand algorithm.

6. What’s the major difference between best-of-one and best-of-three regarding card choices in Constructed?

I think the biggest difference is simply the metagame. Specifically, the lack of Nexus or Sultai, and the popularity of Mono-Red and Esper require re-evaluating everything else in the format. I do not think most individual cards change in power level by a lot—the shift in decks is more significant.

7. Does constructing the main deck become harder in contrast to Standard Constructed with sideboards? Why or why not?

I do not think so. For the most part, if a card is correct to main deck in BO3, then that card is still correct to main deck in BO1. The metagame is very different in BO1, and different metagames necessitate different choices. But if this metagame existed in BO3, then a similar set of choices would be correct. The reason it is wrong to main deck Lava Coil  is because Esper is very popular. But if Esper were this popular in BO3, then it would be correct for players to move almost all of their spot removal into their sideboards.

Lava Coil

8. Does the opening hand algorithm change the power level of certain decks or type of cards?

Its primary effect is to benefit mono-colored decks at the expense of 2- and 3-color decks. Multicolored decks do not benefit as much from always starting with the right mix of lands and spells. I also generally think that cards that shine when flooding get worse as you have a better mix of lands and spells most of the time.

9. The Mythic Invitational has quite a unique format, with no other previous tournaments like it. Do you enjoy Duo Standard? Why or why not? If yes, would you like for it to be implemented elsewhere? 

No, I do not. I think the vast majority of the time the Nash equilibrium strategy for both players in game 3 will be to randomly select a deck, with the optimal probability of selecting of each deck varying based on the opposing lineup. That basically means that if both players have strong lineups with no common bad matchup, then how the matchup is for game 3 is totally random. Randomness is not always bad, but Magic has enough to be harmed by this change.

10. What’s your two-deck lineup? If you had to give a short summary of why you chose those two decks, what would be the major reasons why?

Gruul Warriors and Esper Control. I think Gruul Warriors is the best deck in BO1 and it is in my range. It is one of the only decks that has a favorable matchup against both Mono-Red and Esper Control. Once you have one deck locked in, your goal is to pick a second deck that does not share a bad matchup with your first. Since if your two decks share a bad matchup, then your opponent can simply always submit that deck for game 3.

Bonus Question: Mastermind’s Acquisition in best-of-one. Hate it or love it?!

Diabolic Tutor is a card that no one would ever consider playing in normal Standard. Mastermind’s Acquisition is obviously better since you have no risk of drawing your bullets at the wrong time. I’m not sure it makes it sufficiently better to be worth playing, but I do like that it makes it more of a consideration. On the whole, I think I prefer that, even if it’s against the spirit of the format or whatever. Love it.

Javier Dominguez

An image of Javier Dominguez.

Name: Javier Dominguez
Age: 32
Twitch and Twitter Handle: JavierDmagic
Years Playing Magic: 16

1. For those who may not know you that well, where do you see yourself in the Magic community and how did you start playing Magic?

I love playing Magic and since they invited me to the MPL I’m also a professional Magic player. It’s the best job ever! I started playing Magic when my cousin taught me the game.

2. If you got a new family member, a child or pet, and had to name it after a Magic character, what would it be?

Chandra!

Hmm… you wouldn’t be biased would you…?

3. How do you think this chance to participate will change your career or situation within Magic? What if you won the entire event?

I have no idea. I’m honored to be here, but I don’t really know how much impact the event will have. Hopefully a big one though! I think winning the whole thing would be super cool!

4. What platform(s) did you use to prepare for this event? Magic Online? Magic Arena? Paper/in real life? Did you test with any other players?

I just played a lot of Magic Arena with Beatriz Grancha, Andrea Mengucci, Luis Salvatto, Marcio Carvalho, and other friends.

5. Did anything in particular surprise you about best-of-one? What’s the most common misconception about the format?

I expected midrange/control decks to be just super bad, but turns out they can be good.

6. What’s the major difference between best-of-one and best-of-three regarding card choices in Constructed?

I think in BO1 avoiding having dead cards in your deck is very important, whereas in BO3 you can use the sideboard to replace bad cards.

7. Does constructing the main deck become harder in contrast to Standard Constructed with sideboards? Why or why not?

I think constructing decks with a sideboard is harder. You need to make sure the 75 fit together when you change your deck against different decks. In BO1, you just need to focus on making the best 60 cards.

8. Does the opening hand algorithm change the power level of certain decks or type of cards?

I think the opening hand algorithm favors mono-colored, aggressive decks.

9. The Mythic Invitational has quite a unique format, with no other previous tournaments like it. Do you enjoy Duo Standard? Why or why not? If yes, would you like for it to be implemented elsewhere? 

I like the two-deck format more than playing with only deck, but it makes you think more about what could happen in terms of the metagame. I would also prefer even more decks! Like they did in the Salvatto-Manfield playoff.

10. What’s your two-deck lineup? If you had to give a short summary of why you chose those two decks, what would be the major reasons why?

Esper/White. I just tried to choose the best two decks that didn’t fall into the same macro-archetype (aggro, control, midrange).

Bonus Question: Mastermind’s Acquisition in best-of-one. Hate it or love it?!

I’m a Mastermind’s Acquisition fan 😀

Amy Demicco

An image of Amy dressed in cosplay.

Name: Amy Demicco
Age: 28
Twitter Handle: https://twitter.com/coL_Amazonian
Twitch Channel Web Pagetwitch.tv/Amazonian
Years Playing Magic: 10 (since 2009)

1. For those who may not know you that well, where do you see yourself in the Magic community and how did you start playing Magic?

I am a full-time Magic streamer—I’ve been streaming Magic since the first day MTGA could be shown on stream. I occasionally would do Magic-related streams (usually card sorting) before that point, but I started streaming MTGA exclusively during closed beta. I started playing Magic in my freshman year of college when my friend Anders taught me and a few others in our dorm how to play. I am also known for making dresses out of Magic cards, as I’ve been crafting them to wear at PAX East since 2011.

2. If you got a new family member, a child or pet, and had to name it after a Magic character, what would it be?

I would definitely consider naming a cat or dog Chandra. It’s a very fiery name for a spirited animal. She’s also one of my favorite planeswalkers.

3. How do you think this chance to participate will change your career or situation within Magic? What if you won the entire event?

I went into the Invitational thinking that the exposure from the event would be a great boost to my stream viewership, and I was right! In the days since the Invitational, lots of people have tuned in. If I had won the event, I can guarantee that a ton of people would have come to see who took down so many pros.

4. What platform(s) did you use to prepare for this event? Magic Online? Magic Arena? Paper/in real life? Did you test with any other players?

I did all of my testing in the best-of-one queue in MTGA. During my stream, I would duel in the Mythic-ranked queue. I took notes on each deck I played, the matchups, and how well each deck did. I tweaked decks to adjust for shifts I sensed in deck lists. I did no testing with people I knew, but I matched up against a lot of the MPL players in the queue. On the deadline for deck submission, I weighted each deck’s performance using a weighted sum model that was tuned to the meta I expected from the other players.

What I got right: About 50% of decks were Esper Control.

What I got wrong: I expected Temur Reclamation to make up closer to 10% of the format, and I expected fewer players to use RDW.

5. Did anything in particular surprise you about best-of-one? What’s the most common misconception about the format?

I almost entirely play best-of-one, so the meta was exactly what I was used to. A lot of people seem to think that there is no place for midrange in the format, but one of the decks I tested (a G/W Good Stuff deck), ended up with an approximate 50% win rate against every single deck-type faced. I only had 150 games worth of data for the deck, but it performed very well! There is definitely more of a “rock-paper-scissors” vibe to best-of-one because of the lack of sideboarding, but it still takes a good deck, a good player, and good draws.

6. What’s the major difference between best-of-one and best-of-three regarding card choices in Constructed?

Best-of-one means there is no chance to adjust to face deck for your opponents’ build. I found that 1-ofs like Shalai or Immortal Sun can come in clutch in random draws, and that sometimes it’s best to trust your deck to give you what you need instead of building for consistency.

7. Does constructing the main deck become harder in contrast to Standard Constructed with sideboards? Why or why not?

It’s harder to predict victory, and the main deck needs to be tuned for the expected meta much more finely than it would be in best-of-three.

8. Does the opening hand algorithm change the power level of certain decks or type of cards?

I’ve heard some people try to abuse this for low-mana decks, but I haven’t personally noticed it.

9. The Mythic Invitational has quite a unique format, with no other previous tournaments like it. Do you enjoy Duo Standard? Why or why not? If yes, would you like for it to be implemented elsewhere? 

I was really hoping people would take advantage of this format to showcase new or unusual decks. That didn’t really happen, but I sure made use of the format to make two similar, showy decks that would be fun to watch and play. I liked the amount of chaos that the format brought to the event. Combined with the double-elimination style, it was wild!

I think that I would prefer a draft/ban format where four decks are chosen, one is banned by your opponent, and then the games are randomly assigned.

10. What’s your two-deck lineup? If you had to give a short summary of why you chose those two decks, what would be the major reasons why?

My final two decks were a White Weenie deck called “Benalia Hammer” and a Selesnya tokens deck called “Go Wide or Go Home.” Both decks were data backed to perform well in the expected meta and performed well in my testing. Also, they were fun decks that did not do anything to stop my opponents from playing cards or set up interesting playing fields. I am not a fan of control for show-style tournaments. Nobody wants to watch two Teferis tuck each other for an hour straight.

I also made sure to build decks that had the potential for clutch come-backs and punchy finishers. The Mythic Invitational was an event, not just a tournament! The last major consideration for my decks was that I could pilot them under pressure. I suffer from an anxiety disorder, which can hamper my decision making when I’m under a lot of stress, especially on a large public stage like this one. I wanted to choose decks that minimized my decision making so I could focus on the choices that mattered at the time of the game.

Bonus Question: Mastermind’s Acquisition in best-of-one. Hate it or love it?!

Mastermind’s Acquisition is a sideboard for people who wish the format was best-of-three. It’s great at finding deck-specific answers, but it feels weird that people have access to sideboards at all in the format.

Conclusion

With six interviews in the books, I’d like to blend my own ideas together with the answers from my interviewees and analyze them. First off, there’s no misconception about how large and important the event is for each of its players, especially winning it. For some, winning would be big and a chance to prove themselves, while it would help others get the exposure they are looking for.

When there’s 130,000 people watching the English stream for the highest prize pool in an Magic event ever, being a part of a big step for Magic is a big deal. But what I believe was slightly awkward for me was the discrepancy between having an enormous prize pool and pros invited, while it being an Invitational event for streamers and other personalities to promote Arena and wild Twitch moments. To promote an awesome event as well as its client, you can show the best pros in the business duking it out at their highest Spike performance level and level of expertise for a grand prize. That can both create a wow-factor in the way that I, as a young player, might want to reach that peak, idolize the player, and anything done at that excellent of a level can be amazing for anyone. Even though I don’t play basketball or watch it regularly, I can watch a Lebron James compilation video because that level of skill transcends the need for a deep understanding of the game. While it doesn’t compare perfectly to Magic, as high-level play isn’t as crystal clear, you can somewhat grasp it if you’re already a gamer and especially if you’ve played other online card games. .

Another way to maximize the event is to make the game seem sweet with a lot of cool factors and splashy plays going on, where you make the players try to accomplish that feeling through the rules of the event. Amy, for example, made a good point in that she was hoping for more “showy-decks” and took into account the fact that it’s a promotional Invitational event. But trying to give yourself the best chance to win also makes sense, when the event has the largest prize pool ever in Magic. For future events, I hope that there’s a clearer vision of what they hope to accomplish with the event, and plan it accordingly.

Regarding the best-of-one format, there were a lot of different opinions about how the format worked, how the algorithm and playing without a sideboard affected different card choices, and which archetype gained the most. The consensus was that the algorithm benefited proactive mono-colored decks the most, which makes sense. The shuffler will choose between two hands with the best spell-and-land ratio, and give you that as your opening hand. That means, however, that it doesn’t take into account whether you have the right colored mana for the spells in your hand. Maybe your hand has a great curve and a good amount of lands, but all your spells are blue with only a combination of Godless Shrine and Isolated Chapel in your hand. With mono-colored decks, that’s never a problem. I actually believe this can be a positive thing that makes mono-colored decks stronger, because it makes it a lot easier to get into the game and win matches at early stages, since not only is it easier to play mono-colored decks in general, but you also don’t have to think about the mana base and land sequencing. These decks are also often much cheaper.

The other consensus was that playing “dead cards” in your deck becomes worse, because you don’t have a chance to sideboard them out for better ones. This means that Lava Coil gets worse and Lightning Strike better. At least it can always go to the face.

But one thing I think is interesting and spot on is something Jean-Emmanuel said, which is that linear decks have an advantage, but linear decks don’t have to be aggro decks, they just aren’t flexible. What he means is that you can’t wait for everything to line up perfectly, because when people’s draws are generally better than average and there are more aggressive strategies (right now at least), you have less time to sculpt your hand to then answer everything accordingly. This means that if you’re reactive at first, you need a way to take over the game fast and Teferi is a perfect example of doing that. Instead of trying to line up every answer perfectly to net advantage, answer their cards the best you can, then play something that gets you enough of an advantage that it matters less how perfectly your answers are. Your deck needs to be more focused.

At first, I thought that Mastermind’s Acquisition was a relic of past game design, where they printed cards without best-of-one Magic in mind. Having cards like that isn’t exactly the most elegant game design. But when I saw the recently spoiled Karn, the Great Creator, I started to believe otherwise. And then I thought about it and realized that it’s brilliant, and there are a few reason why.

First off, it lets players like myself and other Spikes have their multitude of choices and try to outsmart their opponent by tinkering a great 75-card deck while still playing best-of-one. It will take time and dedication to get extra win percentage out of it, but the presence of more choices is what some of us love with Magic, even if it may make the barrier for entry higher and take more time. This lets us do that while other people don’t have to. You don’t need to run cards like Mastermind’s Acquisition or play a tier 1 deck and you especially don’t have to use your precious wildcards and time to create a sideboard.

The second reason I can think of is that it can work as a balance factor. It works very similar to a “merchant” card, something Eternal introduced, an online card game created by Direwolf. It’s rule set works similarly to Magic. Eternal previously had sideboards for tournaments, but the ladder system played without them. Now they’ve removed sideboards altogether for merchants that get cards out of your “market” (sideboard pretty much). They are creatures with reasonable stats and when they enter the battlefield, you discard a card to retrieve a card from your market that you’ve build beforehand. This helps balance the metagame and find better cards for the matchup you’re facing, which is similar to Karn, the Great Creator and Mastermind’s Acquisition. Maybe it’s time to put some tutors in our Sultai deck?

What makes merchants even more brilliant in Eternal is that they are reasonably-sized creatures for their cost and you discard a card to retrieve a card from the market. This means that you don’t lose tempo to cast the card, because it impacts the board when you play it and instead lets you discard another card to retrieve a card, which lets you actually play a card that can be dead in certain matchups, like Lava Coil. I’m not sure changing Magic so dramatically to implement markets would be the best idea, but it’s food for thought!

Last but not least, if you’re adopting a pet and you’re not sure about what to name it, a fiery planeswalker lady seems to be where it’s at!