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PV’s Playhouse – Year in Review 2013 (Part 2)

Hello!

This is part 2 of my year in review article. You can find part 1 here.

When last I left you, PT San Diego had just ended. My trip, however, had not;

Grand Prix Guadalajara

I stayed in California with the Brazilian players for a while and then flew to Guadalajara for the first GP of the new season. We stayed in the event hotel, which was pretty nice, but I was still somewhat depressed about how the previous season had gone and can’t say I enjoyed it much. To punish myself further, I decided to play Hexproof at the event.

Hexproof turned out to be a good deck—it was actually quite powerful against the consensus best deck in the format, Reanimator, because they were a slow, grindy deck and Hexproof attacked them from an entirely different angle, ignoring all the interaction. [ccProd]Voice of Resurgence[/ccProd] in particular was a great addition to the deck, since it helped both against super fast starts and edict effects (mainly [ccProd]Liliana of the Veil[/ccProd]) which were some of the common ways to lose.

I ended up in the Top 32, and the tournament was won by said Reanimator deck, piloted by Andres Martinez:

[deck]Main Deck
2 Cavern of Souls
3 Forest
2 Godless Shrine
3 Isolated Chapel
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
3 Woodland Cemetery
3 Acidic Slime
3 Angel of Serenity
3 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
1 Deathrite Shaman
2 Fiend Hunter
4 Restoration Angel
2 Sin Collector
3 Thragtusk
4 Grisly Salvage
3 Mulch
1 Sever the Bloodline
4 Unburial Rites
Sideboard
3 Abrupt Decay
1 Deathrite Shaman
2 Garruk Relentless
2 Gaze of Granite
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Sever the Bloodline
1 Sin Collector
3 Voice of Resurgence[/deck]

After that I decided I was going to take a much needed break, so I skipped most of the events until the following Pro Tour. I was quite busy with school, being in the last semester and all that, but most of it was the fact that, without Platinum benefits, it was very hard to justify paying so much money and 30 hours on airplanes to go play a GP. More than that—I just didn’t want to go to those tournaments. Things that before hadn’t bothered me as much, such as seven-hour layovers and two-hour immigration lines in New York, started adding up and becoming reasons for me to skip events.

Grand Prix Houston

In the meantime, GP Houston happened. The event itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy (Shahar won, again) but I’d like to highlight it for giving out the best playmat I’ve ever seen:

tapete  magic  promocional gp houston  edicion limitada_006876

If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for me, I suggest that playmat. I’ll probably never use it even if I eventually get my hands on one, since I don’t actually like playing with playmats, but I just like having them, it’s sort of a collection. My second favorite playmat, if anyone is wondering, is this one:

squirrels-vs-werewolf-gp-lincoln-playmat

Grand Prix Vegas

After that came GP Vegas, an event that was certainly noteworthy—at 4500 players, it was the biggest TCG tournament in history, driven by a combination of Modern Masters and Las Vegas. The tournament must have been a logistical nightmare, and as far as I know most people went for the good times rather than for the tournament itself, since it was almost impossible to actually do well.

The tournament showcased what is, in my opinion, a problem with the new 15-round cap—several people went 12-3 and did not make money, whereas I’ve seen GPs where 12-3 actually Top 8’d. Tournaments these days are just too big for such hard caps to happen—not to take anything away from winner Neal Oliver, who certainly managed quite a feat, but a GP like Vegas simply needs more rounds to make the results anything other than a lottery.

Vegas was of course an exception that won’t easily be matched, but the problem is the same with a tournament that has “only” 2000 people—much of professional Magic is based on diluting the luck aspect over many matches, and when you cannot afford a single loss due to a bad break, things become very hard. I understand that people want tournaments to finish early, but I think there are better solutions than just a hard round cap—not taking registrations on Saturday and actually starting on time is one of them.

The World Championship

The next major tournament was the Players Championship, now thankfully renamed as the World Championship. Despite liking the new name a lot more, I can’t help calling it Players Championship now—go figure.

From a competitive standpoint, the World Championship is probably the most interesting tournament of the year. Featuring many of the best players in the world, the tournament ensures that every match is a big feature worth watching and it’s certainly the pinnacle of competitive play. Playing in the tournament last year was awesome—it was a mix of extremely competitive, given that we were playing for a lot and everyone was very good, and extremely casual, given that we all knew each other and most were good friends. It made me truly feel like an elite player, the top of the top, which at that point last year I really was. Watching from home knowing that, for this year at least, I did not belong in that elite class, was heartbreaking. Still, I can’t feel too bad about it—there was only room for 16 people and there are a lot more than 16 great players in the world, so I was surely not the only one feeling left out.

The tournament was of course still great to watch, and I was very happy that Shahar won, though to be honest there weren’t many people in that tournament whom I wouldn’t be happy for, and the entire Top 4 was fantastic. In the end, Shahar’s UWR deck overcame Reid Duke’s Hexproof deck in the Modern format to take the title. This is what Shahar played:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Arid Mesa
4 Celestial Colonnade
1 Glacial Fortress
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
2 Sulfur Falls
3 Tectonic Edge
2 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
3 Cryptic Command
3 Electrolyze
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Lightning Helix
3 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
2 Shadow of Doubt
2 Spell Snare
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Think Twice
1 Ajani Vengeant
Sideboard
1 Celestial Purge
2 Counterflux
1 Dispel
1 Engineered Explosives
3 Molten Rain
2 Pyroclasm
2 Supreme Verdict
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Vendilion Clique[/deck]

Standard

[deck]Main Deck
3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
2 Moorland Haunt
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Azorius Charm
2 Dissipate
1 Izzet Charm
3 Pillar of Flame
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Supreme Verdict
3 Syncopate
4 Think Twice
1 Turn Burn
2 Warleader’s Helix
Sideboard
2 Celestial Flare
2 Detention Sphere
1 Dispel
2 Izzet Staticaster
3 Negate
1 Ratchet Bomb
3 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Turn Burn[/deck]

The tournament featured an interesting phenomenon in the Modern portion, where the best deck was likely Melira Pod yet nobody played it, with most people opting for UWR, BG, and creature decks. In Standard, a whopping eight people, half the tournament, played UWR; five people played Jund. This was certainly not representative of what Standard looked like at the moment—this was probably a function of people trying to metagame against each other and the fact that most of the players are divided into small sub-groups to test, and will change a bit next year when the tournament has eight more players.

The World Cup

After Worlds came the World Cup. The World Cup was also an awesome event to play last year, since it’s teams (which is always great) and you get to represent your country, which is a huge honor, but from a spectator’s point of view it is kind of lacking. I knew very few people in the event (and I know a lot of Magic players), so once Brazil got knocked out (due to what I considered to be an incorrect ruling, unfortunately) I simply lost interest, because I had no reason to be emotionally invested in it and I didn’t feel like any of the plays would particularly amaze me. I’m sure other people feel the same way, and this is a downside of having a tournament where a lot of the most famous players in the world are barred from participating, though I am not exactly sure how to fix that or make the tournament more appealing to the public. In the end, France prevailed over dark horse Hungary.

The Community Cup

The next event worth talking about was the Community Cup, at the end of August. I’m going to be honest here and say that I don’t fully understand what the Community Cup is trying to do. I get that it’s supposed to be a way to reward community involvement, but it’s not entirely clear what this community even is, where it happens and how you get involved, and the competitors feel hand-picked without any sort of criteria while at the same time pretending that there is one. For as much as they put into it, the coverage could be made a lot more compelling, as the tournament right now is just not as interesting to watch as it could be. I don’t have any pretension of ever attending the Community Cup, since I hardly even play Magic Online, but I still wish it made more sense. In any case, the community team handily defeated the WotC team this year.

Pro Tour Theros

In October, we had PT Theros. During most of our testing I played Esper, and I was comfortable with it—I think I played it very well—but by the end I was convinced that everyone would be gunning for it and that it wasn’t a good choice. We ended up playing Mono-Red Devotion, every single one of us, which marks the first time we were ever unanimous in a deck choice:

[deck]Main Deck
2 Gruul Guildgate
11 Mountain
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple of Abandon
4 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Frostburn Weird
3 Purphoros, God of the Forge
4 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Domri Rade
2 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Xenagos, the Reveler
Sideboard
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Destructive Revelry
2 Ember Swallower
4 Mizzium Mortars
1 Ratchet Bomb
2 Shock[/deck]

I ended up finishing 71st, and I have to say I played the entire tournament very badly. I was not exactly used to playing a deck like the one we played, and I think it really showed, both in testing and in actual playing, though I didn’t exactly play well in Limited either. It turned out Esper was actually a great choice for the tournament, though I don’t think that was very easy to have foreseen and I don’t beat myself up for not choosing to play it. I think that, given the information we had at the time, my choice wasn’t wrong. Given perfect information, however, it certainly wasn’t the best option.

Our deck wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the best. We assumed a field of control and prepared for that, but then everyone was playing [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd] and other flavors of devotion. Ironically enough, Kamiel Kornelissen rose from his Hall of Fame catacombs to Top 8 the event with the very first version of our deck, which Frank Karsten had showed him.

This tournament was the first in Sam Black’s insane run, and it was won by frenchman Jeremy Dezani playing Mono-Blue:

[deck]Main Deck
21 Island
3 Mutavault
4 Cloudfin Raptor
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Judge’s Familiar
4 Master of Waves
4 Nightveil Specter
2 Omenspeaker
4 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Tidebinder Mage
1 Bident of Thassa
2 Cyclonic Rift
1 Disperse
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
Sideboard
2 Aetherling
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Mutavault
3 Negate
1 Pithing Needle
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Triton Tactics
3 Wall of Frost[/deck]

Both France and Mono-Blue Devotion dominated that Top 8, losing only to each other in both categories. Makihito Mihara made his fifth Top 8, second in a row, likely consolidating his Hall of Fame for next year (he certainly has my vote now), and Wafo-Tapa also improved his chances with yet another Top 8, though for some people his ban is a barrier that can’t be breached simply by doing well in more events. Paul Rietzl had his fourth Top 8 and is also likely a strong contender now.

The other interesting story from that Top 8 is Kentarou Yamamoto’s mono-black deck, which spawned the use of [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] in Standard:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Mutavault
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
16 Swamp
4 Temple of Silence
4 Desecration Demon
1 Erebos, God of the Dead
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pack Rat
2 Devour Flesh
4 Doom Blade
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
4 Underworld Connections
2 Whip of Erebos
Sideboard
1 Devour Flesh
4 Duress
1 Erebos, God of the Dead
4 Pharika’s Cure
1 Pithing Needle
4 Xathrid Necromancer[/deck]

During PT Theros, they also held the induction of the 2013 Hall of Fame Class, which consisted of Luis Scott-Vargas, Ben Stark, and William Jensen. This is certainly one of the best classes ever on skill level, and it has the peculiarity that all those players still play and routinely show the world why they belong in that club. All three certainly deserve it a lot and I was very happy for them, especially for Luis who has been such a good friend of mine over those past years, and it was a shame I didn’t have the opportunity to add anything to his Hall of Fame induction video.

At the end of the PT, they announced the increase of slots in the World Championship, from 16 to 24. I think that’s a great change; I’m certainly biased in this, since increasing the number of slots makes it easier for me to qualify, but after both playing and watching I did feel like the tournament could afford more players, and 24 is not too many, especially with the increased prize pool that comes with it.

The only slot I do not like is the one for the captain of the World Magic Cup winning team. I feel like, if you play a team tournament, the team wins or the team loses. By rewarding one player from the team, you make it seem like he did more, or was more important, and I don’t like that. It’s especially egregious if the captain happens to have a horrible record in the tournament itself but the team wins anyway.

Grand Prix Hong Kong

By October, Shuhei Nakamura won GP Hong Kong, which would almost go unnoticed in Shuhei’s long list of accomplishments if it didn’t make him the first player to ever win a GP in each of Magic’s five macro-regions. Shuhei has been a feature of the game since I’ve started playing competitively, never making any waves but always quietly finishing well in every tournament, and I’m very glad he was the first to reach this milestone, congrats Shuhei!

Grand Prix Santiago

In November, we had GP Santiago. The tournament was very well run and a blast to play in, and I again played Esper, which I (again) thought was well positioned. I finished in the Top 64, which was OK. The highlight of the tournament for me was a feature match in which my opponent cast a stolen [ccProd]Aetherling[/ccProd] (through [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd]) and then attempted to blink it when I cast a removal spell, resulting in an [ccProd]Aetherling[/ccProd] for my side, though I lost that game anyway. The tournament was won by Luis Navas, playing an innovative deck with a mana base taken straight from Ravnica Sealed:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Crypt
8 Mountain
10 Swamp
4 Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
4 Mogis’s Marauder
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Rakdos Shred-Freak
4 Spike Jester
1 Thrill-Kill Assassin
4 Tormented Hero
3 Xathrid Necromancer
2 Doom Blade
4 Lightning Strike
4 Madcap Skills
Sideboard
2 Burning Earth
2 Dreadbore
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Rakdos Guildgate
4 Thoughtseize
2 Whip of Erebos[/deck]

Commander 2013 and Grand Prix DC

Around that time, the new Commander set was released, bringing a bunch of weird cards and [ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd]. [ccProd]True-Name Nemesis[/ccProd] is actually not any good in Commander, and it’s also not very interesting, which makes me sure the true purpose of putting the card in the set is to annoy me. It’s rapidly become a Legacy staple, and it makes for some very uninteresting games in which a player is basically playing solitaire. Nonetheless, it has warped the format and caused people to play things like [ccProd]Zealous Persecution[/ccProd] just to deal with it. Owen Turtenwald used it to great effect in his first win at GP DC:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Arid Mesa
1 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
4 Tundra
3 Volcanic Island
4 Wasteland
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Stoneforge Mystic
2 True-Name Nemesis
1 Batterskull
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Ponder
4 Spell Pierce
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
Sideboard
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Meddling Mage
2 Pyroblast
1 Red Elemental Blast
2 Rest in Peace
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 True-Name Nemesis
1 Wear Tear[/deck]

Next weekend saw Owen winning yet another GP, this time Standard with Mono-Black. Sam Black also had his tenth Top 8 in a row or just about, marking a run that rivaled Yuuya’s from two years ago.

Grand Prix Vienna

After that, came GP Vienna, with the particularity that people under 18 could not enter the event due to local regulations. While the prohibition itself is obviously a problem, the fact that people learned that the day of the tournament makes it especially bad. Imagine preparing for weeks, mentally, emotionally, and financially investing yourself into something, and then actually traveling to another country only to find out that you can’t play in the event. At least they’re compensating people a little bit now, from what I’ve heard.

Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth

Then, came GP Dallas-Forth Worth, amid a blizzard, won by Marlon Gutierrez piloting a version of mono-black splash white for [ccProd]Blood Baron[/ccProd] (and a [ccProd]Sin Collector[/ccProd] and some [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd]s), which had been played by Andreas Ganz to a Top 16 finish in Vienna:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Godless Shrine
4 Mutavault
1 Plains
12 Swamp
4 Temple of Silence
4 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
4 Desecration Demon
4 Pack Rat
1 Sin Collector
4 Devour Flesh
2 Duress
4 Hero’s Downfall
2 Last Breath
4 Thoughtseize
2 Ultimate Price
4 Underworld Connections
Sideboard
3 Dark Betrayal
1 Doom Blade
1 Duress
3 Lifebane Zombie
3 Pharika’s Cure
1 Pithing Needle
1 Shrivel
2 Sin Collector[/deck]

That marked the end of the year, though the season is only just beginning—there are three more Pro Tours and, though some players have a solid lead on the Player of the Year race already, there are still many opportunities for everyone else to get points (or so I hope, anyway).

Best of 2013

Now, for my “best of 2013” awards!

Deck of 2013: Jund

Though I want to say Esper, I think it really was Jund. Jund was good in Standard, it dominated Modern and it was even playable in Legacy (some people think it was good but I don’t believe them). The deck had good early game, good late game, powerful spells, good sources of card advantage, it was just all-around good and its finishes across all formats reflect that. There’s even a new Standard Jund build by Matt Costa, though whether that is any good remains to be seen.

Card of 2013: Sphinx’s Revelation

[draft]Sphinx’s Revelation[/draft]

I’ll accept other nominations here—[ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd], [ccProd]Thragtusk[/ccProd], even [ccProd]Jace, Architect of Thought[/ccProd]—but I don’t think any other card was solely responsible for an entire archetype as [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd] was. Sure, [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd] is played in Modern and in Legacy too, but if you take it out, those decks still exist. It’s a good card, but it’s not a linchpin. [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd], on the other hand, is the archetype—without it, every control deck in Standard in the last year falls apart, so I think it merits this award. And no, I wouldn’t play [ccProd]Opportunity[/ccProd].

Honorable mention: [ccProd]Judge’s Familiar[/ccProd]. 4-of in two Pro Tour winning decks!

Up-and-coming player of 2013: Shahar Shenhar

Shahar came out of nowhere and then won everything—Grand Prix, Worlds—ok, that’s it, but it’s still very impressive. The only thing Shahar is truly missing is a PT Top 8, but he’s clearly on his way there. Watching Shahar play is very interesting to me, because we disagree on so many lines and we have such different playstyles, but what he is doing always makes sense from his perspective after he explains it.

Player of 2013: Reid Duke

It’s weird to name a player who did not Top 8 a PT in that time period, but I think Reid’s earned it by consistently doing well in every tournament. You could consider for example someone like Sam Black, but I think Sam’s accomplishments are stronger in our memory because they are more recent and more concentrated, whereas Reid has been a feature since the beginning of the year.

Tournament of 2013: GP Vegas

Can’t match 4500 people. But watching Worlds was more interesting.

Commentator of the year: Luis Scott-Vargas

I like many of the commentators, but I think Luis is by far the best. He knows more than everyone else and he presents things in an interesting way—coverage is actively better whenever he is in it and I’m glad he was “picked up,” even though that might come at the expense of him playing sometimes.

Goals

Now, onto my goals for next year! First, let’s see how I did this year; last year I wrote:

I want to play in the Players Championship and in the World Magic Cup.

Well, that didn’t work out.

I want to do better in Pro Tours.

Hrm, nope.

I want to perform better in Limited GPs.

I haven’t actually played many Limited GPs this year so, while I can say I didn’t particularly do better, I didn’t have many opportunities.

I want to get better at videos.

I think in that I did succeed. I’m certainly nowhere near perfect, but I feel like I got better—I now have a better sense of what I need to explain and what I don’t. I also did two videos on match analysis (one on the MOCS Top 8, another on my match vs. Willy at the PT) that had pretty good reception. Hopefully I’ll keep doing them and I’ll keep getting better at it.

So, overall, my year was sort of a gigantic failure in terms of goals met, though I kind of already knew that. For next year:

I want to be Platinum. It’s hard to call yourself a professional Magic player when you’re not Platinum, and if I have any hopes of continuing to do this as my job, then I must reach that level. If I do, I like my chances of getting to play Worlds next year, since there are two Latin American slots now. That would probably get me back on track.

I want to improve my playtesting method. I was not happy with my deck choices this year, and I think a big part of that is that we, as a team, have fallen behind in our playtesting ways. This past year we misjudged the metagame way too often for my liking and I want to change how I, and how we as a team, approach testing so that we can stop that from happening again.

I want to do commentary. I’ve never done it officially, but I’ve always liked that sort of thing, and I think I’d be good at it because of the way I think—I’d like to give it a try.

That’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and see you next week!

PV

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