Today I’ll talk a little bit about the year of 2010. Some of the things will be general, but the focus of the article is going to be everyone’s favorite subject – me – not only because I’m a narcissist but because I don’t feel like I have the authority to speak for anyone else’s point of view. I’ll try to cover the major changes, tournaments and results, what they meant to me and what I learned from them, as well as the bans we’ve had.
The beginning – Channelfireball, San Diego and Playtesting
The Magic year started at GP Oakland, which was overshadowed by the Pro Tour that was happening soon after. In that tournament I played Thopter/Depths or whatever you want to call it, which was one of the best decks to play, but I did not play very well and did not day 2. Regardless, I did not learn much from the event – “play better and you will win more” is a lesson I already knew. Matt Nass gave hope to all the little kids by winning the tournament with Elves (eew).
The big change GP Oakland brought to me was not specifically related to the tournament, but the fact that, during that weekend, I became a writer for Channelfireball. It already kind of felt like I was part of the team, since I was friends and tested with most of the people in there, but it was good to make it official and no longer have to decide between one thing or the other.
PT San Diego was a whole different matter, and it was my first meaningful experience with a big testing group. We all met in California and tested and tested and played Werewolf and tested, and in the end we all played Naya (eew #2). There were three major lessons I took from that tournament:
The first was that, no matter how much you want to make something work, if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t and you can’t will a deck into winning games. We really, really wanted to play a blue deck for that tournament, and Luis kept testing every imaginable build, but it just couldn’t compete with the card advantage from Bloodbraid Elf and Blightning, and in the end we were forced to abandon it. I’m very proud of us – a lot of the time people get blinded by their preconceptions and by what they want to be true *cough* wizard’s first rule *cough* and, this time, though we really wanted it to be true, we were able to identify that it was not.
The second was that there are many kinds of playtesting, and the good one is really much better than the bad one. We all chose to play Naya on the basis that it just slaughtered Jund, and it did – in our testing. The problem was that our Jund lists were simply not good enough – they were what I thought was good (since I was the person who wanted to play Jund so I was the one who worked on it). I was mistaken, and as a result the whole testing got skewed (though I don’t think they blame me at all, since the deck did pretty well as a whole – the only person blaming me is myself). My Jund list, for example, never really left 25 lands, and I lost a lot of games because I couldn’t play my spells – adding one or two lands was the obvious follow up, but I never did it, instead declaring that “Naya beat Jund”. At the Pro Tour, people were playing 27 lands, they were casting their spells and they were beating me.
We also did not play sideboarded games of the matchup, and Jund improved a lot more than Naya did. Overall, if I had done proper testing, I would have played Jund. We still did pretty well as a group, with Luis going 16-0 (Part 1, Part 2) before losing to eventual winner in the semis and Tom Ross getting 9th, but my finish was a disappointing top 100, since I didn’t do particularly well in Standard or in Draft.
The last lesson I learned was that I don’t like it when every single person in the world has our decklist. At some point during the Pro Tour I played against a person whom I felt had not contributed at all to the deckbuilding, in the 75 card mirror. That person beat me, which left me kind of angry about the whole situation because, if I had my way, then the person would not be involved in it (not that I don’t like the person, I do, I just felt there was no reason he should have the decklist, though). When we were testing in San Jose, another pro tour player was there and saw what we were playing, and I believe talked to someone who was involved about the deck. Then, that same evening, the person decided to play a tournament on Magic-League, won it and got the list published, two days before the Pro Tour, complete with our “techy” sideboard.
After that tournament, I became way more secretive of what I was doing in terms of decks, and though I get made fun of for it, I really don’t think I am unjustified in this behavior – there are a lot of people I like, pretty much half the Pro Tour, but I don’t want all of them beating me and my friends with the work that we all did, I’m sorry. Things like someone randomly coming and posting our deck online are easily avoidable if everyone just learns to say “no” sometimes.
After that I went to GP Madrid, which was Legacy. Everyone expected it to be huge, but probably not as huge as it ended up being. I decided to play Counterbalance, as I always do (I’ve played 6 Legacy events lifetime – I played Flash combo, Cephalid, then Counterbalance 4 times. I have this rule that I will either play a deck that kills turn 2 or one that stops them from killing me turn 2, and this generally results in Counterbalance, since I despise Merfolk), and I did relatively decent, like I always do in Legacy. It could be argued that I did more than decent, since I finished I believe 22nd, which was in the top 1% of the tournament, but the prize payout was still the same as if I had finished 22nd in a 100 person Grand Prix, which kinda sucks.
The whole tournament structure kind of irked me, too – I understand that the logistics for such a big tournament are incredibly complicated, but we simply can’t have a tournament ending at midnight and next day starting at 8 AM – if you add the time to eat, get to your hotel (and there were no hotels in reasonable walk distance, so we had to get a train or a cab), get to sleep, shower, eat again and get to the event with some time to spare (because they tell you it’s going to start at 8 sharp), you’re looking at 5-6 hours of sleep max, between two days of doing one of the most complicated things you could possibly be doing. How are you supposed to do well in this game if you can’t get any sleep? It angered me even more so because when I got there at 8 the doors weren’t even open.
There was a big break before the next tournament – GP Houston. I was not going to go, but then I found a ticket that got there the Saturday of the tournament, and decided that I wanted to. I had tested very little and was set on playing UG Scapeshift, because it simply seemed good. Luis liked that too, and I asked him to register me and submit my decklist, after talking to the Head Judge and explaining the situation.
Once I got to the event, I found out that everyone had registered a different deck, and I was the only person playing Scapeshift, which left me a little bit scared – basically they had had two more days of playtesting than I had, and had all decided that the deck wasn’t good enough. Then I top 8ed, which made me feel really good about myself and my choices – another lesson I learned was that I am a good person to trust when it comes to what is good and what isn’t.
The Highlight – San Juan
Before Pro Tour San Juan, we decided to meet again – this time we were going to pool the money from the hotels and rent a house instead. Before San Juan, though, there was GP Washington DC. Again, no one paid particular care to DC, since the Pro Tour was the following week, and I don’t really know what possessed me to play Mono Red.
In truth, I don’t think it was that bad of a choice – it had a good match against Naya and Mythic, and could handle its own against Jund, and those were supposedly the 3 most popular decks. It had a pretty bad match against UW, and it ended up being way more popular than I expected. My sideboard was probably not the best, either. In the end, I beat Jund and Polymorph and then lost to Mythic, UW and Jund. I kind of regret my choice, because of my result, but I think it was something I had to do – I wanted to play mono Red, and if I hadn’t I’d spend eternity wondering what could have been. And, you know, sometimes you just have to let the child burn himself, so that he actually learns not to do it. Brad ended up winning the GP (sack).
The house was a pleasant experience for me, but the logistics of it were very complicated (though, thankfully, I was not being the adult of the trip – I almost never am). I’ve also spent more hours lost in traffic in those days in San Juan than in the rest of the year combined. Our playtesting was good, and I was able to learn an entire Limited format from scratch, thanks mostly to Ben, Luis and Gabe. I considered playing Mono Red again, but then Luis held both a [card]Goblin Guide[/card] and a Jace in each hand and asked which one I’d rather cast, and that did it for me. We had a deck that I liked but was not overly excited about, and then the night before we added Cobras and Ruinblasters to the main and suddenly it became the best deck ever, and left me completely thrilled.
San Juan started a disappointment – 0-2. After a certain round me and Luis decided to split a percentage of our finish, but he argued that he was disadvantaged there, because I had lost round 1 and therefore could not win the Pro Tour, while he still could. In the end, though, justice prevailed, and the most skilled, charismatic, handsome, awesome, honest player won it all. The biggest lesson I got from San Juan was to never give up – you can always win the tournament (well, not always, there is a certain point from which you can’t win the tournament, but, as long as you’re in contention for Top 8, you can always win the tournament. Yeah, basically, as long as you can still win, you can still win – you’re welcome for this piece of sage advice).
Before that tournament, whenever I found myself with a horrible record, I used to think of Julien Nuijten – Julien was playing Dutch Nationals 2004 and had a record of 2-3. He then won every single match up to the semi finals, made the national team, qualified for worlds, and won worlds that year! After this Pro Tour, I no longer have to think of Julien – I can think of myself. I suppose you can also think of Guillaume now, who was I believe also 2-3 and then didn’t lose a single match to become World Champion and tie the Player of the Year race. In any case, with that win, I took the lead in the POY and, again, as a group we did spectacularly well, with Brad, Josh and me all in the Top 8, and we had an incredible Draft record in the weekend.
Then came the other Legacy GP – Columbus. I again played Counterbalance and again finished decently. It is interesting to note that, in all my tournaments playing Counterbalance, I’ve never lost a single match to Merfolk. This tournament was a very hit or miss one – either I played very well, or I played terribly. There were three big stories from that, none of which concerned me – the first was that Caleb changed the face of Legacy forever (or until last week), when he introduced the world to Vengevine/Survival/Rootwalla combination. The second was that Craig Wescoe declared himself the Paladin of All that is Right and decided to get Drew DQed (though there are those who would argue that Drew got himself DQed, and others who would argue that Ingrid got Drew DQed), which resulted in Brad Nelson making Top 8 (Sack). The third was that Saito read Jace, the Mind Sculptor. More on that later. With his win, Saito passed me on the POY Race. Also interesting to note that a Legacy event has yet to be won by a dedicated Legacy player.
The disappointment – Amsterdam, Nationals and the Limited season
The next tournament would be Gothenburg, which was the first of a one month trip (Sweden, Amsterdam, Portland and Nationals). I had a somewhat bad sealed in Gothenburg, which is a wonder because I always open good pools, and I think I misbuilt it by not including a big guy to kill my opponent’s with. I had four Stormfront Pegasus in my deck, but every time my opponents would play something like a Cloud Elemental or a Giant Spider, and I would have no way to break through and actually get them from 6 life to 0 – if I learned anything from this tournament, it was that trying to kill your opponent with small guys almost never works in sealed, and you pretty much always need to go big. There was a game in which I took my opponent from 20 life to 8 all from Scroll Thief with Whispersilk Cloak, and throughout most of that I had a Crystal Ball going too, but there was just nothing in my deck that I could draw to actually close the game. There was a sweet point during a match in which I went through my entire deck with Crystal Ball, and I had to remember when I was going to draw the Whispersilk Cloak that I had put on the bottom many turns before without using the Ball that turn, because I needed all my mana to play it, equip it and pump Water Servant. I finished terribly anyway and did not day 2.
Amsterdam was a big disappointment, because I felt that we had a good deck, but draft was my downfall (I went 1-2 and didn’t day 2). My biggest problem with Amsterdam was that, again, I thought there were too many people involved – we had gotten a couple apartments, and when I got there from Sweden there were people I actually didn’t know watching our games. We also finished well as a group, though – we rock, resurgence of American magic, etc. With this tournament, Brad passed me in the POY (sack). I really liked the party that we had afterwards – the Brownie with Strawberry was excellent (I had like 10; if they ran out of them before you got any, I’m probably to blame), and if anything it just gives the Pro Tour a different feeling. A Pro Tour is bigger than a FNM not only in the number of people playing and in the prize – it is just a higher profile event, and things like those make you feel like you are part of something, well, bigger and different, and they give you something to talk about when you get back to your local friends.
Then came Portland, and I was graced with the best sealed deck in the history of Magic, swiftly cruising my way to 10-0. After winning my first two matches I felt pretty comfortable at 12-0. Three matches later, I sat at 12-3, and I had to hope not only to win my last match but also that some kid lost – just like I learned this year that you can always win the tournament, I also learned that, until you’ve actually won, you can always lose. Thankfully both of those happened, and I squeaked in as 8th place, before losing to Juza in the quarters. This tournament was kind of a reviving breath for Martin, who then just never stopped losing.
Brazilian nationals was next, and I decided I was just going to play Jund, because it seemed like the better deck, though there was a chance Mythic held that title, and I could justify playing either. It was also a big disappointment; Brazilian nationals is always a disappointment when I don’t do well, because it is much easier than every other tournament that I play, not only because the people aren’t as good as Pro Tour Players (and in no Nationals they are – long gone are the times where US Nationals was considered harder than the Pro Tour) but also because there are ten or twenty times less people than in your average GP, and all you need to Top 8 is a 9-3 record. It was also disappointing because it means a lot to me – playing Teams is the most fun you can have in Magic, and representing your country is awesome.
Then came a streak of Limited tournaments in which I didn’t do particularly well. Sydney was by far the highlight of this period, not because of my results but because of the trip itself – going to Australia was on my 2010 to do list, and I’m glad I got to do it. At that point I felt pretty “down” Magic-wise, though it is hard to get sympathy from anyone, because at any glimpse of complaining they yell “YOU WON A PRO TOUR THIS YEAR YOU CAN’T COMPLAIN”, as if winning the Pro Tour means you have to be happy with whatever happens to you after that. I expect that if Lightning strikes my house I will have no complaining rights, because I won a Pro Tour.
My last tournament before Worlds was GP Nashville; I had a very good pool, but only managed to squeak in at 7-2 (and then 8-2). I then promptly went 0-3 drop in the draft portion, marking what I believe is the first time I’ve ever day 2ed a GP but not cashed.
The end – Saito, Worlds and 2011
A little bit before Worlds, Saito got disqualified. I’ve never talked about the subject before, but this seems like a fitting article to mention it, if only because there is nowhere else. For starters, I watched the Columbus match with Jace. My honest opinion is that Saito took a lot longer than he needed, for time purposes, but he didn’t take longer than he could have. Basically, he took 30 seconds per turn (though I might be wrong – I did not look at a watch, it is only how much time it felt, though time perception is very misleading) – which is not an absurd amount of time – but he could have taken 2 minutes and done the exact same thing, and he knew it. One could argue that this is stalling, but is it?
Look at the scenario from Saito’s point of view. They had little to no time left in the clock, and he was in a winning position – all that was left was the time between him and killing his opponent. As a result, he played much faster than he normally would – he drew, barely looked at his card, sent his guys in and passed, because he wanted time to kill his opponent. That is completely fine.
Then, at some point, his opponent drew Pernicious Deed. Now, Saito could not possibly win – his focus changes completely from having to win quickly to not losing in the 5 minutes they had. Is Saito forced to play at the faster-than-usual pace he was playing before? In my opinion, no – he is not required to play faster than usual, without even looking at his card, so that his opponent is allowed to win. What he did was simply going back to a normal pace of play, which contrasted with his previous, quicker pace of play to look too much like Stalling. The moment time is called, he knows he can’t win and he knows he can’t lose – therefore, he has no reason to play anymore. He no longer needs to look at his card, to figure out a way not to lose or a way to win – his card is completely irrelevant since the game is over. Therefore, all that is required of him is saying “Go” three times, which is why he played faster once time was over.
That said, I do think he took a little longer than he could, and if I was the judge, I would have told him to play faster, though I don’t think it was as absurd as everyone makes it out to be. I also know that the game would not have finished even if he had played a lot faster – his opponent had not even ultimated Jace yet, and he had like 6 cards in his hand, so they needed at least another 7 turns each before the game would end (not that this changes anything on whether there was stalling or not).
This event spiraled into something that is, in my opinion, out of control. The moment someone becomes a “cheater” in people’s eyes, then suddenly everything that person does or has ever done is cheating. For example, I have a friend who has played against Marcio Carvalho, who is thought of as a cheater by a lot of people. He was talking about how he had asked Marcio how many cards he had, and the reply had been “five”. Then he asked “five?” and Marcio said “oh, sorry, four”. Then this friend explained that he knew that Marcio had purposely lied to him, to figure out if he was paying attention to the game and his cards to see if he could cheat him in the future. If this particular exchange had happened to anyone else, it would have been seen as the small mistake that it very likely was, but since the person already thought he was a cheater, he concocted this explanation that fit the idea that he already had.
For this reason, I became very wary when Saito was disqualified – I didn’t know whether he really had done what they said he had, or whether his “fame” had caught up to him. Hearsay is a very dangerous business, and, whether you like it or not, Americans are ridiculously suspicious of everyone – I have been multiple times the target of that suspicion, from Brazilians when I started doing well in a national level and from Americans once I started doing well internationally, so I can sympathize some with those people. In fact, I was told that, at this year’s nationals, Mike Flores was going around telling people how I was a cheater.
Then his suspension was announced, and I had mixed feelings about it. The bad was that 18 months seems waaay too much, even if he did everything he was accused of – people do a lot of things that are way worse and don’t get banned for nearly as long, so it is clear that they wanted to use him as an example, which is also dangerous. On the other hand, it is relieving, because I believe they would never ban him for as long as they did if they were not absolutely sure of what he did – no one bans someone for one and a half years because he “could possibly be stalling”.
After that came Worlds, which I’ve already written about in a lot of detail, so I won’t repeat myself. Kibler, Nassif and Bram were inducted to the Hall of Fame – Nassif was a given; Kibler I had been on the fence about, and he was my fifth vote for this year – after that he Top 8ed Amsterdam, so I’m glad I voted for him. I didn’t vote for Bram, but I understand that not everyone has the same view as for what the Hall of Fame should be about, and, even if he doesn’t fit in my definition of it, he definitely fits in some people’s, so congratulations to the three of them.
And so, the year ended. If I had to choose one thing that marked the year for me, it has to be my PT win. Next to that, it would be Channelfireball, which was as close a family as I’ve had this year (and I probably spent more time with them than with any member of my family other than my mother). I do believe Channelfireball was important not only for me, but for the entire Magic community – the Videos were a big step for the people who want to get better, changing the way we look at a magic website, and are slowly being adopted by everyone. We also reintroduced the idea of a dominating team, which hasn’t happened for years, and I’m very glad to be part of it.
Other important changes were the fact that, for once, Japan did not dominate Magic. They used to be the best deckbuilders and have the best results, and for four years they’ve had about 190 gravy trainers, but this year that didn’t happen. When talking to Kazuya, he mentioned how he thought the Japanese never had good decks anymore, and it certainly does feel like we are always ahead of them, “we” being the entire non-Japanese community (not that there is a war between those, but naturally, because of cultural and language barriers, the Japanese have kept to themselves regarding decks, whereas the rest of the world mixes and matches as we see fit).
Another big change was the “private” tournaments, started by Starcitygames – they showed us (and Wizards) that there is enough demand for this kind of tournament, and depending on what happens, it might make living off Magic a little easier.
As far as Paulo goes, this year brought two other big changes – first, there was the Pro Tour I won. Winning a Pro Tour is a mark in my life, it is so much bigger than anything I have ever done. For years I felt like I was good enough, and I couldn’t understand why I never actually won anything, always falling short – this year I showed myself that I could actually win things, no doubt partially because of a change of mindset – where before I would be delighted with Top 8 alone, nowadays I do not feel like the tournament is over and my goal accomplished once I get to the final stage (though it still leaves me delighted even if I lose, not gonna lie).
The second was the POY Race – though I’ve been part of it in the past (I finished 3rd too in 2006, for example), this was actually the first time I was actually in it, and it was something that I looked for as I played tournaments. I got a taste of it, but, now, for me, it is something that will come when it comes – I’m still not going to go to every single GP in pursuit of it, but it showed me that it is something that might come naturally.
This year was also different than every other year in a way that I was a full time student as well as a full time player. I started a new major in college in the beginning of the year, and I was able to navigate my way through both activities without any major problems, getting both good grades in all my subjects and excellent results in Magic, even if I had to skip a whole lot of classes and if I could not test as much as I wanted to. So, for those people who say that for you to play Magic competitively you have to give up on everything else, that is simply not true – with enough dedication, you can do more than that.
As for my 2011 wishlist, what I would really like to see is Team Events. Team events are awesome in every way, they’re awesome for everyone, and I really wish they would experiment with some again (NOT 2HG though). I would also love to see an increment in the GPs payout, at least the pro points – 2000 is a lot of people, and it is hard to justify traveling for a GP nowadays. A fourth bye would go a long way, too, but that might be a little more problematic.
As far as more particular things go, what I would really like to do is to win Team Worlds. Of course I’ll take things such as “winning individual worlds” and “being player of the year”, which bring a lot more money, but money aside, nothing would make me happier than being on my National team and winning the whole thing. If I am allowed more wishes, I would like to win a GP too, which I’ve never have.
Well, I’m done. I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s worth of articles – I felt like I had some really good ones, and some that were not so good, but, considering how hard it is to write something every week, I feel like I did a decent job. Videos are a different matter altogether – though I think I’ve gotten much better at them comparing to when I started, I still have a long way to go. Happy holidays, and see you next year