”I ran very well in the Swiss, but I sure seem to run bad in Top 8s. Still, I can’t complain very much—it was a great tournament. Congrats to Seth and I’m now hoping Sam Pardee takes it all!”
A lot of people asked me what went through my mind as I mulliganed to 5 for the third time in a row in my quarterfinals match. This was it—I was planning my after the match tweet. Was this 140 characters? Did it convey my frustration of not getting to play much Magic in the elimination rounds while also conveying my gratitude that I got there at all? I wanted to vent a little, but I didn’t want to seem too bitter since it had been a good tournament and I’d certainly gotten lucky prior to that match. Perhaps there was a better way of phrasing it?
In the end, as you know (or, I guess, if you didn’t, you do now. /spoilers), this tweet was never sent. Somehow I found myself the winner of that third game, and then the fourth and the fifth after that, and then three more, and then three more. I won the Pro Tour and I became Player of the Year, which is something I had no idea was even possible before the tournament began.
This is how I got there.
Ever since they announced the Pro Tour in Japan, I was unreasonably excited about it. When I started playing Magic professionally, Japanese PTs were a regular occurrence, but we hadn’t had one in a very long time, and I had already given up hope that there would ever be another. Japan is unlike any other country I’ve been to in many ways, and I really enjoy the culture, the people, the food—I was thrilled to have the chance to come back.
What I wasn’t excited about were the logistics. First, there’s the flight—Porto Alegre and Japan are on opposite sides of the world, meaning that you’ll be hard pressed to find a trip on Earth that takes longer than the one I had to take. With two long layovers (one in Sao Paulo and one in Los Angeles), it amounted to a little bit more than 40 hours of actual time (plus a 12-hour timezone difference). That part, however, couldn’t be helped.
The second problem was the visa. Brazilians need to apply for a visa every time they want to go to Japan, and the Japanese consulate is notoriously strict. They only open from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. You can’t request a visa for a trip that’s more than 3 months away. The documents have to be stacked on top of each other in the right order. You have to have a hotel booked already. It costs R$97, you have to pay in cash, and you need to have exact change. They don’t tell you if you got your visa or not—you have to return in person to attempt to pick it up. It’s more bureaucratic than even the U.S. visa process.
One time I got to the consulate right after the guy who won the PTQ left, and, after handing the person in charge all my documents (which was not a small pile of documents), the following exchange happened:
“Ok, you have everything, but where is your DCI card?”
“Uh, my what?”
“Your DCI card. You’re playing a Magic tournament, right? The guy before you was too and he had a DCI card. Why don’t you have one?”
“We don’t really use it. I don’t know where it is. I can give you my DCI number if you want”.
“No, we need the card. How can you prove you’re going to play this tournament if you don’t have it?”
“I have a letter from the company inviting me and I can show you the list of the participants online. The DCI card isn’t really n—”
“Sorry, I can’t give you the visa if you don’t have the DCI card. Come back with it later.”
So I had to go back home and look for my decade-old DCI card. Luckily I found it, and then I was given the visa.
This time, I was super mega prepared. They tried to send me back but I already had the extra thing they needed ready with me, and after a week, I was in possession of my newest Japanese visa.
The third problem was lodging. With the addition of the set on Magic Online, we weren’t looking to meet for as long as we usually do, but we still wanted to show up early to play Constructed, play Grand Prix Kyoto and get used to the time zone. Normally, we rent houses, but it seemed impossible to find a house that fit all of us comfortably in beds our sizes and that also had a playing area. For as great as the Japanese are on the inside, they’re very small on the outside, and some of us were very large. Given the language barrier, it was also hard to find out if a place was ideal or not.
Our second option is always hotels and a conference room (which I usually prefer to houses anyway), but this proved to be prohibitively expensive. We contacted a lot of hotels and came up with quotes such as “We have a conference room, it costs $400… for every two hours.” So, yeah, that was out.
Luckily for us, Shuhei found a gem of a hotel that had a big breakfast area with tables and that would let us use them any time we wanted for free. We didn’t know exactly how it would work, and there was definitely a chance it wouldn’t work at all, but booking it was looking like our best option by far, so we did.
It turned out to be amazing. The breakfast room was perfect for our needs, and, save for breakfast hours, it was mostly empty. The location was great, as we could walk to a bunch of restaurants and had four 7-Eleven equivalents on our block.
Most of the time, we arrive two weeks in advance to test for and play in the local Grand Prix. This time, we were going to have to make do with one week. Because of this, all of our Limited testing was going to be done on MTGO. I was skeptical at first, worried that the MTGO metagame would have a way of making us reach the wrong conclusions, but in practice this did not happen. We set up a forum to talk exclusively about Limited and posted hundreds of deck lists and discussions, which I think more than made up for the fact that we weren’t meeting in person for that part of the testing. As for myself, I did about 25 Drafts, which is not an outrageously high number or anything but still more than I did before.
Early on, the first thing we established was that control/ramp was now a viable archetype. In Amonkhet, I thought aggressive decks were simply better than non-aggressive decks—exert was simply too powerful, and I favored red and white. I’d built decks with Bounty of the Luxa and many splashes, but they were almost always bad.
In my first P1p1 article, which I did before Hour of Devastation was even released, I had a pack with Burning-Fist Minotaur and Nicol Bolas. I took the Minotaur. In Amonkhet Draft, I’m relatively certain this pick would have been correct, and at that point I hadn’t adjusted to the new set yet. In Hour of Devastation, it was wrong.
There are 3 big factors in Hour of Devastation Limited that make the slower decks viable:
- Fewer Trials/Cartouches. The fast, Cartouche-focused W/R decks were simply too hard to beat.
- Better mana fixing and acceleration. Oasis Ritualist is a powerful card, and Manalith and Beneath the Sands are OK.
- Cycling lands. Originally, I thought cycling lands would be better in aggro decks (since they let you run 17 lands without flooding as much), but they turned out to be very good in the slower decks as well. It used to be that a ramp deck would want 16-17 lands and then 2-4 accelerants/fixers, which would bring the deck to effectively 20 mana sources. It would then flood a lot. The cycling lands mitigate this—you could run the acceleration without risking too much flooding. They were also great for the U/B-based cycling decks, since you wouldn’t end up with a deck that cantripped itself into flooding nearly as often.
That said, I still favored the aggro decks—U/R in particular is my pick for best deck in the format, because the best U/R deck is unbeatable but the bad U/R decks can still win. It was good to know that I could draft control/ramp, though.
Constructed was a different matter. Some people played some Constructed before we got to Kyoto, but most people decided to wait until we met to start. Personally, I was eager to try Champion of Wits in various emerge builds—it seemed like the perfect complement to either a Prized Amalgam/Elder Deep-Fiend shell or a delirium/Deep-Fiend shell, both of which I almost played in the two previous Pro Tours. Past that, I was also interested in U/R decks, which got the biggest upgrade from the new set in the form of Hour of Devastation, Abrade, and Supreme Will. I had this great idea that if I played the blue mill Desert in it, I’d win all mirrors game 1 by just milling them.
As soon as we got to Kyoto, we were hit by a long message from Ondrej (who was showing up much later), saying that he had tested the Mono-Red deck a little and been quite impressed by it. He quickly identified that Hazoret was a very good card and we’d want more than other people were playing (likely 4), and that cards like Cartouche of Zeal and Trial of Zeal were bad. Looking at the list, the deck really seemed very good to me—it was proactive, fast, powerful, and had way more flood-insurance than those decks usually do, via Deserts, Hazoret, and eternalize. The Desert component in particular gave it an entirely new angle of attack that most people were simply unequipped to handle.
Most of our testing was done against the trio of Mono-Red, U/W Monument, and U/R Control. We correctly identified Mono-Red as the deck to beat, but failed miserably at identifying that Zombies was a strong contender. For some reason, we always tend to dismiss Zombies, when it’s just a very good deck. That was our mistake last PT and also our mistake this PT. Hopefully it won’t be our mistake in the next PT!
Testing was very interesting, not so much because of Magic but because we were in Japan and Japan is a fascinating place. They have toilet seats that sing and talk to you, yet it’s impossible to find a knife in any restaurant. There are vending machines for everything, anywhere you go, but you have to carry your bottle for an hour because there’s no trash can anywhere. It’s a mix of futuristic and feudal, coexisting in the same space.
On top of that, people are extremely nice. Every time I’ve been to Japan I felt that people would go to such great lengths to make me feel welcome, both the Magic players and just the people on the streets. It’s really an amazing thing, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Then there’s the food! At home, the basis of my food is chicken and rice—I eat chicken virtually every day. Rice is very easy to find in Japan, but chicken, not so much. Most places that have chicken parts that we in the West don’t consider extremely, uh, edible. Take this place we went to:
Chicken gizzard, chicken neck, chicken knee, chicken skin. Not pictured: chicken tail. I didn’t even know chickens had tails! I thought it was just a feather. There’s also this fried chicken + ice cream combination, for anyone who’s interested:
Instead of chicken, the basis of their food is fish and pork. I don’t like pork very much, but I really enjoy fish. Sushi is, in fact, my favorite food!
Luckily for us, we had Shuhei in our group. He was extremely helpful, in no small part because he took us to sushi places. He would often just take pictures of us as we ate when we weren’t looking and post them in social media. Like this one where I look 50 pounds heavier:
If it was up to me, we’d eat sushi every meal for our entire trip. The problem was that for as much as I liked sushi, Siggy hated it. And it wasn’t just that he disliked raw fish—it was more like, “I won’t eat anything that has been in the same vicinity as anything from the ocean.” Siggy simply refused to eat any food from a restaurant that also offered seafood. He would go to a place, order pork fried rice, have one bite, say “eew, tastes fishy,” and then just stop eating. It was very amusing actually, other than the fact that it probably stopped me from going to sushi once or twice. Still, in the end, we went to sushi plenty of times, and I think everyone except for me was already tired of it.
After testing and looking at what was happening on Magic Online, it became clear to us that Red was metagame-warping. No matter how good the control decks got, they just couldn’t beat Red. The combination of speed plus threats that were hard to answer, plus lands that killed you, was just too tough to overcome. The midrange decks, such as B/G, could beat Red, but had a hard time against the control decks.
After Pro Tour Amonkhet, I posted a video laying out the missteps in our preparation, and the most important one was that we just tried too hard to come up with something new. Unfortunately, that’s just not what Magic is about these days—decks often come pre-built, and information spreads too quickly. This time, we adjusted to the new paradigm. Once it became obvious that we were not going to break the format, we focused on perfecting the decks we knew were good so that we’d have a good list. Eventually, we narrowed it down to Mono-Red and B/G.
Then we took a break for Grand Prix Kyoto. I didn’t need any points for Platinum or Worlds, but I had an open slot and I wanted to extend my lead for Brazilian captain since Carlos was right behind me. It’s crazy to me how far Brazil has progressed as a country (and Latin America as a continent, for that matter). It used to be that you needed 30 points to get a Worlds slot, but this year if you had 52 points you weren’t even in the top 2. Lucas won a PT and finished 4th in the country. The 5th player in Latin America had 47 points, and the 5th player in Europe had 48. Europe has like 15 GPs per year, and Latin America has 2!
GP Kyoto was a blast. I opened what was easily one of the top 5% pools in the room—I had Glorybringer, Locust God, Sand Strangler, 2 Trial of Zeals with a Cartouche, Torment of Hailfire, Hour of Glory, and an assortment of good cards. I was definitely playing red, and my choice was whether I should play B/R/u or U/R/b.
B/R/u had overall a more aggressive curve, but slightly worse mana since I didn’t want to play Manalith in it. I would be splashing for Locust God only, and I’d make good use of all my Torment cards (I had all 3). Coupled with the 2 Trial of Zeals and 2 Firebrand Archers, I had a lot of incidental damage in my deck.
U/R/b was splashing more cards (black Cartouche and Hour of Glory) and it was more defensive, with Walls and Galestrikes. The mana would be a bit better because of Manalith, and it was a much better deck for the Locust God since it could cast it more reliably, but the aggressive cards got a bit worse.
In the end, I opted for B/R/u because I thought the cards just went better with each other. In retrospect, I don’t know whether that was right or not, but I wish I had played an extra blue source for the God.
My deck performed OK. I had a game in which I played 2 Firebrand Archers, 2 Trial of Zeals to the face, Cartouche, and 2 more Trials for a full 22 damage without attacking. I didn’t have easy pairings, playing against EFro, Mike Sigrist, and Jon Finkel in consecutive rounds, and I ended up 7-2. I sided into blue sometimes when counterspells were good, and I actually took out my Locust God twice, which most people I talked to seemed to think was crazy. My rationale was that I was taking a huge risk with a card I wouldn’t be able to cast some of the time in the hopes that it’d win me the game single-handedly when I did cast it, and if I found out that it wouldn’t win me the game single-handedly in a matchup, then it wasn’t worth playing.
For example, when I played against Finkel, in game 1 he played 2 Puncturing Blows, a Lay Claim and a Commit // Memory, all of which answer the God. He was playing a slow deck, and I just wanted to get under him when I was on the play, so I sided out Locust God for an on-color 2-drop. Was that right? I’m not sure.
The Drafts were weird, as all the cards were in Japanese. I knew basically all of them by the picture at this point, but it’s still awkward when you aren’t sure if a fringe creature is a Zombie, for example. One Brazilian player was splashing white in his deck off an Evolving Wilds, only to find out after he had registered his deck that the Evolving Wilds in question was actually a Sunscorched Desert!
My first deck was the rare U/G Aggro combination. I had effective creatures and some tricks—nothing special. I went 2-1. My second deck was U/B Control. Again nothing special about it, and I again went 2-1. The x-4 record gave me 2 points.
Once we got back from the GP, we found out about this weird God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck that had won the PTQ. We had thought about building decks with that card, but it had never seemed worth it. A lot of the time you’d get your engine going and still lose because taking all that time to set up put you too far behind. It turned out the card we were missing was Angel of Invention, which, as a 6/6 flying, vigilance, haste, lifelinker that came with two extra blockers, could actually get you back in the game by itself.
I looked at the deck and I fell in love with it. I didn’t know if it was good, but it was a work of art— every piece just fit so beautifully. We rushed to build multiple copies of the deck to figure out if it was actually good and if we could make it better.
Our verdict was that yes, it was good, and it smashed most midrange decks, but it had some weaknesses. First, it wasn’t actually great versus red, especially if they played main-deck Abrade and Scavenger Grounds, which we were. Second, it was weak to Dispossess, which we expected from all black decks. Third, it was bad against U/R Control.
We tweaked it a little bit, eventually adding Ballistas, which were amazing, but in the end decided it wasn’t better than the decks we already had, and too dangerous to take into an unknown metagame.
As I agonized between B/G and Mono-Red, Joel decided he’d had enough of Siggy and decided to booby trap the floor. You see, our floor had this weird outlet thing that popped up out of nowhere in the middle of the way, and Joel decided to add a giant adapter plus plug to it.
Everyone bumped into it once or twice throughout testing, but nothing bad happened until Siggy, who was wearing flip flops, kicked it like he meant it.
As soon as it happened, we all turned and it was clear that it was more serious than just bumping your toe into something. Siggy cut his toe deeply and was bleeding all over the floor.
At this point, everyone turned into “emergency” mode and sprang into action. Sarah ran to the reception to inform them of what had happened and to ask for help. Joel ran to the bathroom to get toilet paper to compress it. As for me, I did the only thing I could do—I quickly grabbed my cell phone and started taking photos. I’m glad I was able to keep a clear head so we could immortalize the moment—it’s very important to remain calm in situations like this. I would show you the pictures, but they’re a bit gross for this PG-13 website. If you want a visual of what happened, though, just imagine Siggy lying in a pool of blood and that should be close enough.
Luckily for us, we had Shuhei there. When we realized Siggy might actually need stitches, Shuhei took him to an emergency care and they dealt with everything.
Eventually all was well, and I got back to thinking about Mono-Red versus B/G. This was the information I was working with:
- Mono-Red was, intrinsically, a better and more powerful deck. Absent any information, I should play Mono-Red.
- Mono-Red was the most popular deck on MTGO. This would have 3 main consequences:
- People would tune their decks to beat Red. Instead of playing 2 Grasps, for example, they’d play 3 or 4. They’d play Kozilek’s Return instead of Sweltering Suns. They’d play main-deck Kalitas. Not radical changes, but small changes that would make them slightly better against us.
- People would give up on playing decks that had a horrible matchup versus Red.
- People would be more prone to playing decks that beat Red.
I didn’t think the first consequence was a problem, because there was nothing that people could do that would make them slaughter me. The second and third, however, were potentially problematic. I liked Mono-Red because it got free wins versus decks like U/R Control, but what if no one played them? It was a natural development. People would try their decks on MTGO, they would face Mono-Red half the matches, and any deck that lost to Red would appear unplayable, whereas any deck that beat Red would appear great.
- There were certain decks that “lost to red, but beat everything else,” and this was potentially a risk people would be willing to accept. There was no deck that “lost to B/G, but beat everything else.”
- Not all red versions were the same, and people could prepare against the wrong version of red. If they practiced against the “fast” versions or the burn-heavy versions, then their plans might not be good against it.
- Our red list was significantly favored in the mirror because we maxed out on Hazorets, didn’t play cards like Cartouche of Zeal, and had a good sideboard plan.
- Our B/G deck was also favored versus Mono-Red, but not much after board if people had our sideboard plan.
- Our B/G deck was heavily unfavored versus control game 1, but actually slightly favored games 2 and 3. But the matchup was still unfavorable overall, and the games were extremely grindy, often coming down to exhausting all the resources in their deck, which meant there was a very real risk of going to time and not being able to win game 3 or sometimes even game 2.
In the end, the main questions were basically, “Is Red enough better than B/G that it’s worth everyone gunning for us? How far will people adapt? Will they still play decks like U/R, even if they can’t beat Red?”
After talking to most of my team and thinking more about it, I decided the benefits of Mono-Red were just too big. Red was a deck that had some 45% matchups if people were prepared for the right versions of it, but that would also have 70% matchups if people were willing to lose to it. B/G was a deck that would have 55% matchups, or 30% matchups. Most of the people thought the same way, and also chose Red, but some stuck to B/G, which I also thought was a fine choice.
Then there were some people who, having played their first game with Zombies two days before the tournament, decided that it was broken and they were going to play it. Petr Sochůrek was one of them.
During the first PT, everyone played Mardu, and Petr played Jeskai Saheeli. Mardu was the best deck in the tournament, and Jeskai Saheeli didn’t win a match.
After that tournament, Petr told me, “I was so stupid, I should just play what you play. Next tournament I’m just going to play what you play.”
At the second PT, we played Marvel. Petr played Mardu. Marvel was the best deck in the tournament, and Mardu didn’t win a match.
After that tournament, Petr told me, “Wow, I was so stupid again. Next time I’m really going to play what you play.”
For the third PT, everyone played Mono-Red, and Petr played Zombies. Mono-Red was the best deck in the tournament, but Zombies wasn’t bad either! Hey, that’s improvement.
The day before the event, we gathered in a room to discuss the last details of the list and sideboard plans. The main choice we had to make for the main deck was whether we’d play 4 Hazoret, 0 Chandra, 23 lands, and 2 cheap cards like Consuming Fervor, or 3 Hazoret, 2 Chandra, and 24 lands. 4 Hazoret would make us better for the mirror, whereas 2 Chandra would make us better against the decks that theoretically beat Red, such as B/G and Zombies. Going to 24 lands was also a plus, and we felt like we could afford to do that with five 4-drops. In the end, 24/3/2 won out because we would end up saving sideboard slots by playing main-deck Chandra, and we could then use those slots to add more cards for the mirror (Pias), which would make up for not having a 4th Hazoret.
I already wrote an article on the card choices and how to play the deck, so if you’re interested in playing the deck, check that out.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, 1st Place at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation
Day 1 Draft
My first Draft started reasonably well. I kept my colors open in the beginning, which is how I like to draft, and eventually I was passed an Hour of Eternity, which is a pretty good payoff for the slow decks. When I got passed a second Hour of Eternity, I knew it’d be the core of my deck. I took some cyclers and Strategic Plannings, and ended up with a U/G/r deck that was perhaps more sweet than good (but certainly not bad, either):
I won my first two, mostly uneventful rounds. In round 3 I had a feature match against Thomas Hendriks, playing a U/R deck. In game 1 we reach the midgame, and my hand is Naga Oracle and Hour of Eternity. I tap 4 mana and mean to play the Oracle, but accidentally put the Hour of Eternity on the table. I get to play the Oracle instead, but now he knows I have Hour of Eternity in my hand, and just passes every turn with counterspell mana open. Since he knows I have it and is never going to tap out, I just fire it off, and he counters it. Luckily I topdeck my second Hour, and casting it for 3 creatures seals the game.
Game 2 was pretty sweet, as it required casting the back half of Struggle // Survive to stop a potential Countervailing Winds (which he had) on my Haze of Pollen, which allowed me to survive for one more turn to attack back for lethal.
Day 1 Constructed
My first round of Constructed was a wake-up call in two ways. Over the course of the match, my opponent played Magma Spray, Chandra’s Defeat, Radiant Flames, Woodland Wanderer, and Arborback Stomper. I thought people would be ready for Red decks, but this just seemed so far beyond what I imagined—perhaps we had just vastly underestimated people’s desire to not lose to Mono-Red.
But you know what else happened? I won! Despite him playing all those cards, I won. In a way, it was a very good thing, because it got it all out of the way. Sure, people might be over-prepared for us, but that didn’t mean they were going to beat us—we still had a fighting chance. I felt like I faced the worst possible scenario in round 1 and, having vanquished that, I was ready to beat everything else.
My following rounds went more according to plan, though. I played against a Temur Monsters deck, then Mono-Red, then Zombies, then Pummeler. One of my games against Zombies was particularly great—I flooded horribly but my opponent drew all removal spells, so I killed him with 5 Ramunap Ruins activations right before he killed me.
I ended the day at 8-0, the first time I’d ever done so. My 8-0 buddy was Seth Manfield, and that meant we’d play the first round on Day 2. This was especially important not only for our results, but also because Genesis was the team to beat for the team competition, and that would be almost impossible to do if Seth Top 8’d, so I really had to beat him for us to have any shot.
Day 2 Draft
My Day 2 Draft was… weird. It was recorded and commentated, so you can watch it on the WotC website here. I started with a good card in a bad color (Torment of Venom), and then ended pack 1 a bit all over the place with some blue, some red, and 2 Oasis Ritualists. My deck could still potentially end up very good, but I would need a lot of playables, as I had no color and no strategy. I don’t think I drafted optimally, but I’m not sure what I should have done instead.
By pack 2, I’d finally solidified myself into what I believe is the best archetype, U/R Spells.
Pack 3 started all right. My first pick of Thresher Lizard was uninspired, but I actually really liked picking Tah-Crop Skirmishers later on, as my deck really wanted 2-drops. I had 2 Riddleforms and 3 Crash Throughs, so it was valuable to be able to go turn-2 Riddleform, turn-3 Crash Through and a 2-drop.
In the end, my deck ended up great. Marshall and Luis didn’t seem to think it was that good, but I was super happy with it and thought there was a good chance I’d at least 2-1:
My first match was against Seth Manfield, as expected, and I narrowly won game 1. I think I actually played that match very well, and if I had done anything slightly different from what I did, I probably would have lost. Game 2 was a bit easier—he just flooded out.
I also won my following match against a G/W deck to put myself at 10-0. In all of PT history, no one has ever started 10-0 and missed Top 8, so things were boding well for me.
In round 11, I was playing not only for 11-0 but also for Draft Master. If I won my match and Martin lost his, I’d take it. It was a bit surreal to me that I could be Draft Master—of all the titles that can qualify you for Worlds, I thought this was the one I was the least likely to get. It’s not that I consider myself a bad Limited player, but I’ve just always been better in Constructed. My win percentage in Constructed is one of the best in the world, and my win percentage in Limited is about average for a pro.
In the end, I won my match, but Martin also won his, so I finished the race in 2nd place. It didn’t really matter in the end as we were both already qualified for Worlds, but it would have been cool to get it nonetheless.
At 11-0, I was paired against my teammate Sam Pardee. I don’t think I played very well, though ultimately it wouldn’t have mattered, and I lost to go to 11-1.
In round 12 I played against Zombies, and I won to put myself at 12-1. At this point I was likely to make Top 8, though not a lock, as I had heard that it was possible that no 12-4s would make it.
In round 13, I was paired against Sam Black. I lost game 1, and then my sideboard cards wrecked him in game 2, so much so that he decided to de-sideboard almost completely for game 3. In his words, “my sideboard plan can’t beat yours, so I have to try to just kill you.” I stalled for a bit on 2 Ramunap Ruins, so his plan of just killing me worked pretty well.
Round 14, I played against Seth Manfield. His draws were awkward and I killed him with a combination of Pia plus Aethersphere Harvester, locking me for Top 8.
In round 15, I had a choice between playing for it or taking a draw. If Sam Black and Sam Pardee ID’d, then I would be 1st with an ID, but Sam Black had to play to try to get 5th with a loss (he needed the extra points for Platinum). Sam Pardee decided to ID, which meant that:
- If I played and won, I’d be 1st no matter what.
- If I ID’d, I’d be 1st if Sam Black lost and 2nd if Sam Black won.
- If I played and lost, I’d be 2nd if Sam Black lost and 3rd if Sam Black won.
A draw seemed a bit better to me, so that’s what I did. Sam Black lost, which meant I was 1st anyway, and Sam Pardee 2nd.
At this point, we were dead for the Team Series—even if I won, we’d finish 4th. It was disappointing, since I thought our roster was very good and we had 3 Top 8s and a win throughout the season. I had high hopes, but overall it bodes well for the Team Series that we didn’t make the finals.
When I first looked at the Team Series, I thought that it would be all about spiking a couple of tournaments—that everything would even out and whoever had one great finish would pull ahead. The fact that we spiked 3 tournaments and still didn’t get there means it’s actually more about doing consistently well across the board, which I believe makes for a better system. It didn’t work out well for us, as we weren’t in the Top 2 when all was said and done, but we didn’t really deserve to be. Genesis and Musashi both outperformed us throughout the season, and in the end I’m glad that the slot couldn’t just be stolen with a spike.
Since I was 1st in the Swiss, I’d be playing 8th, which meant I was going to play Seth for the third time in the tournament. I didn’t want to do a lot of testing since I was tired and the Top 8 was all Mono-Red mirrors anyway, but about half an hour before going to bed I talked to Ben Stark about sideboard plans. We concluded that Seth’s list was different than most, and would actually have the ability to go bigger than us. Therefore, our plan was to go much smaller. It’s normal to take out 1-drops in the Mono-Red mirror, but Seth had no cards that punish them (Savage Alliance, Dual Shot, Blazing Volley). He also had no cards I really needed to kill (Hanweir Garrison, Aethersphere Harvester), and would likely be taking out 1-drops of his own for more expensive cards, so we formulated a plan that consisted of taking out all our removal instead of taking out 1-drops and Ahn-Crop Crashers.
We didn’t know that this plan would work, but I needed to sleep and had no time to figure that out. Ben said he’d try to find someone to play and would message me his findings in the morning.
I woke up to learn that Ben hadn’t found anyone to play with, so I was going in blind with the plan. Well, it seemed good in theory, at least—I just had to hope it’d work.
My quarterfinals match was very exciting. I mulliganed to 5 in the first two games, but they were actually competitive because of Seth’s draws. Game 2, in particular, I would have won if I’d topdecked one of 10-ish cards (Crasher, Hazoret, Sunscorched Desert).
I look at my hand game 3:
Okay, that’s not good. Next hand:
Not good either. 5 card hand:
I guess this would have to do.
At this point, I think there’s no way I’m going to win. It’s possible to win on 5 cards in the mirror, but it usually involves Hazoret, and I had neither Hazoret nor lands to cast it if I ever drew it. I spaced out from the match, and started thinking about social media, what I’d tweet, what I’d post on Facebook, and how I would talk to my mom and my girlfriend. I was happy to get there, but disappointed that it would, again, end like this—this would be the third Top 8 in a row where I just mulliganed myself into oblivion.
I looked at the top card for my scry:
Well, at least there’s that.
The game progressed for a little while, with me just going through the motions, when suddenly I realized that I could actually win it. I came back to life, and started thinking long and hard about how I was going to win this game.
The key moment in the game for me was when I played Glorybringer and had to choose what to do with it. Exerting it was the “safe play”—it would extend the game a little, and I could topdeck my way into a win or Seth could brick. Not exerting it would finish the game in two turns—either I’d kill Seth, or I’d lose.
That was a hard decision for me. I didn’t want the game to end. I didn’t want to just lose. If I exerted it, then we’d play a little more and I would probably lose, but it wouldn’t feel like my fault. I had made the safe play, it hadn’t worked out, and the cards hadn’t broken my way. If I chose to not exert and then immediately died, it would very much feel like my fault. I chose to make the play that immediately put me dead. It seems like this should be a non-factor, but the psychological implications therewere quite strong, and you think about all those things as you’re playing the match (or at least I thought of all those things).
As this happened, I was reminded, of all things, of a volleyball match—a final match between Brazil and I believe Argentina. For those who aren’t aware, in volleyball, you can serve in two ways: You can hit the ball with everything you’ve got, which risks it just going out or hitting the net, but complicates their pass if it works out, or you can just passively throw the ball to their court and leave the responsibility to them. In the finals in question, the game was in a 14-14 tiebreaker, meaning that whoever scored the next point would win.
The Brazilian player concentrated for a moment, and then jumped and hit the ball as hard as possible. The other team couldn’t defend very well and had a weak attack, and Brazil managed to score the point and win the match. After the game, he was interviewed on TV, and the reporter asked him about why he hadn’t just made the safe play of sending the ball to their side of the court—why did he risk everything by having a strong serve and potentially just hitting the net.
The Brazilian player smiled and said that in moments like this, you can’t be afraid to take responsibility—you have to take ownership of the situation. He knew that if he served strongly and missed, it would be his sole responsibility. He would forever be haunted by it, and the country would hate him. It would be his loss. If he had just passed the ball, then the game would continue and who knows what would have happened, but responsibility would at least certainly be shared. But he also knew that serving strongly was the best thing to do. Even though that posed the greatest risks, it was the play that was most likely to win the match. And to him, winning the game was the most important thing. So he did it.
And so I did it. I attacked with my Glorybringer, and I did not exert it, leaving myself dead to a number of things and risking looking pretty foolish. Seth didn’t have what he needed to kill me, though, and when I drew another good card, I managed to win the game.
I then won the next game, and the next. I honestly didn’t believe it was happening—I was so sure I was going to be eliminated. When I talked to BDM, I was still a bit in shock.
My semifinals match was somehow even more exciting. I won the first two games, and at that point, I thought I was basically a lock since I considered my sideboard plan better and I had to win one of three. Yam used the same sideboard strategy that I had used against Seth, but the key difference here is that I, unlike Seth, actually had ways to punish aggro draws—Pia and Harvester are very hard to beat if you’re just trying to play 2/1s, and I also had Savage Alliance and Sand Strangler. In theory, what worked against Seth should not have worked against me.
Except it did. Due to some awkward draws, I found myself with my back against the wall—it seemed I was just fated to have a never-ending emotional rollercoaster.
Game 5 didn’t look so bad. I felt like I had the advantage early on, and eventually got to a spot where I felt that, if things stayed the same, I would win. Except they didn’t stay the same. My opponent drew a card and the crowd erupted. He was so excited too. At this point, I knew I was dead. Except he attacked with Hazoret. I calmly told him he couldn’t do that, and his world fell apart.
Given the situation, it was pretty easy to piece together what he had. I was at 11 and he had 5 lands, so there weren’t a lot of combinations that killed me. I was able to maneuver my way around them, and eventually won the match.
I felt bad for him. I really did. Obviously, I’d still rather it happened this way than not at all, as it meant I won the match, but I would have preferred for him to have just drawn a Mountain there. We’ve all made mistakes in Magic, but few will ever prove to be as costly as Yam Wing Chun’s, and he will have to live with it for a long time. But, from what I’ve seen, he’s taking it as well as he possibly could and treating it as a learning experience, which is the best thing he can do. I am sure he will be able to bounce back from this and we’ll see him again in the Top 8 in no time.
The finals wasn’t nearly as exciting as the previous two matches, but how could it be? The games were mostly standard, and whoever was on the play won (though I think those games would have gone the same way regardless). The only potential for upset was the Chandra game, where I might have lost had Sam drawn a third land.
Overall, I do not think I played well in the finals, and I think I got a bit lucky to win—contrary to both the quarters and the semis, where I was very happy with my play overall. Still, I’ll take what I can get.
So, I won the PT! Some people criticized me for not looking more excited and actually de-sideboarding right as I won, but I needed some time to process what had just happened. On top of that, my friend had just lost the PT finals, and I didn’t want to make a fuss in front of him. I’m not saying that you can’t celebrate or that it’s not OK to show emotions—just that, in this particular occasion, I didn’t feel like going overboard.
I can promise you, though, that even though I might not have looked as excited or happy as some people wanted me to, I was very excited and happy. Look at this picture!
With my win, I also became the Player of the Year, which wasn’t even close to being on my radar before the tournament. You don’t get anything for being PotY other than a plaque, but it’s still a great feeling because it means that of all the Magic players on the planet, I was the one who did the best!
A lot of the time, when I tell people I travel for Magic, they ask me what my rank is. This happens with friends, family, acquaintances, and even immigration agents at airports. My answer is always something like, “7th, 15th, around 10th.” I often get “Oh, 7th in Brazil? That’s pretty good.” Now, for the first time in my life, I get to say “1st.” I can’t wait for them to ask, “Oh, 1st in Brazil?”
No, not first in Brazil.
First. In. The. World.
It’s certainly not going to last forever, but I know I’ll enjoy saying it for as long as I can.
-PV (1ST RANKED PLAYER IN THE WORLD)