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Breaking Down

Written by Joshua Claytor on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Magic Culture, Standard

Breaking Down

Joshua Claytor

Joshua is the current content manager of Legitmtg.com and Puremtgo.com.

“You’re not good enough to be here.” 

“No one actually likes your content.” 

“How did you go from local end-boss to worst player in the room?”

“The people that watch you stream feel bad for you.”

Those aren’t things that people on Magic Twitter or the online community have told me.  Those are things that my brain told myself after I entered each event to qualify for the third championship qualifier.  After a fairly reasonable week one, the second qualification period was going to be a bit longer, and feature the newly released Core Set 21. 

My problem was I tried to be the smartest player in the room instead of building off what had been successful before the rotation.  I know I’m not good enough to play Temur Rec or Bant Ramp against those same two decks for long periods of time. 

It is not that I don’t want to play what’s popular, it’s that I firmly believe what my brain tells me now. I’m just not good at Magic anymore.  I don’t deserve to manage two sites because I can’t manage to top eight anything. I can’t manage to consistently do well anymore.  Sure I might spike a thing, like I did for Twitch Rivals, or run hot enough to top 16 an LCQ, but consistent finishes? 

The only consistent finishes I have anymore are mediocre ones. 

I wanted to change that so badly. I have put expectations that aren’t being put on me by people that care about me.  My friends don’t care if I win.  My bosses don’t care if I top eight.  My son and family don’t care if I play sixty one. 

They want me happy. 

My brain tells me I have no value unless I am doing well.  It used to tell me that I had no value unless I was with someone.  That changed, and eventually this part of the mashed potatoes in my skull will be defeated as well. 

Back then though, the only thing I cared about was being the smartest person in the room. Izzet Phoenix got some new toys to play with in Core Set 2021.  See the Truth and Crash Through are welcome additions, but the deck is hard to navigate in a sea of Teferi, Time Raveler and Elspeth Conquers Death.  One of them keeps Finale of Devestation from bringing back Arclight Phoenix and the other just straight up exiles it. 

My solution? 

I would just dodge those decks.

When I came up with that plan, I was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. 

I of course went 0-2 in the very first one. 

June 29, 2020 3 pm challenge
Izzet Phoenix
2 points earned. 
0 credits.

My next plan was to go with a Flash deck.  Surely if Teferi didn’t wreck the plans of Izzet Phoenix, what could possibly go wrong here?  Sure the deck wants to cast everything on the end step, and Teferi makes you also play Hearthstone, which isn’t even Magic, but if I were able to break the format, I would get more followers on Twitter, and people would like me. 

I beat Bant Ramp twice and then Sultai Ramp.  I clearly did it! 

Then I lost to Bant Ramp. 

Okay, maybe not. 

No one cared by the way. 

July 2nd, 2020 5pm Challenge
Mono Blue Flash
4 Points earned
20 credits.

After the promising results that I saw in that challenge, I decided to immediately run it back the next day.  I lost 0-2.  Once to Bant Ramp, another time to Orzhov Yorion. 

I immediately delete the deck file. 

July 3rd, 2020 3pm Challenge
Mono Blue Flash
2 points earned.
0 credits.

I hopped in to the next one, with a 100 card Sultai deck that had been flying under the radar.  Just because someone else went 4-0 with it did not mean I was going to do that.  In fact, I went 1-2. 

Bant Ramp was proving to be my nightmare.  Nothing I would play would regularly beat it, but I was already qualified for the next championship qualifier, and this time, surely I would get it right. 

July 3rd, 2020 5pm challenge
Yorion Sultai
2 points earned
0 credit.

The second championship qualifier was on July 4th, which was great, as my son was in another state visiting other family, which would have been on my normal weekend. 

I decided to run back Mono Blue Flash, but this time with main deck copies of Tale’s End.  This card would help out with a lot.  It countered the draw on Hydroid Krasis.  It countered the shark token on Shark Typhoon.  It counters Teferi, Time Raveler, Nissa, Who Shakes the World and stops Fabled Passage and Elspeth Conquers Death triggers. 

I was again smarter than the room. 

This time I would show them! 

I register, sit down for round one, and Nightpack Ambusher and friends from Simic Flash beat the hell out of me.  Temur Adventures got me in round two.  Round three Ugin, the Spirit Dragon made a mockery of me. 

I am absolutely beating the hell out of myself now.  Not physically, but mentally I am running myself down. 

Round four I beat Bant Ramp, round five I beat Simic Ramp, Round 6 I beat Bant Ramp, and suddenly I had run off three wins in a row, and could see a potential cash finish with a 5-3 record. 

I immediately played tight against Temur Reclamation and lost 1-2. 

To battle back from an 0-3 start and then just punt things away was to much. 

I dropped and raked myself mentally over the coals.  I would not be unscarred, and my intention was to hurt myself as badly as I could.  To piss myself off over my play and results to where it didn’t happen again. 

I thought I didn’t belong already, and I was proving to myself that that was true. 

Championship Qualifier 2
Mono Blue Flash
10 Points Earned. 

Time Period wrap up.
20 points earned
20 credit earned.

After freaking out over the city doing their fireworks I obsessively playtested with Will and on the ladder, looking for any possible edge I could get. 

None would be found, because I didn’t deserve an edge. 

I told myself that I couldn’t afford to waste time learning how to play Bant Ramp or Temur Rec, because no matter how long I played those decks I would be behind everyone else and let’s face it, I would have been the worst actual player on either of those decks. 

I needed edges that wouldn’t come.  I took advantage of my ChannelFireball pro account that was awarded to me through a top 16 finish to study deck guides.  Sideboard plans that I would have a guide for. 

They may not be best as a one for one exchange, but having that guide from a great player certainly helps.  Without a sideboard plan I would be finished. 

The third qualifying season of course started the day of the last championship qualifier, but after my poor finish I took the night off.  Fireworks didn’t help things, like I said early, and each explosion felt like it was punctuated with an attack on my abilities as a player. 

Despite all the reassurances, all the kind words, nothing that could be said would make me believe that I was capable of this.  I can’t remember the last time I even won four rounds in a row.

Yet I tried.  The warning signs were going off, mood swings, self loathing, the want to attack myself.  All of these were things I ignored.  I was pot committed and had already spent 180 dollars on events.  I had to recoup costs somehow.

Yet that was never promised. 

Will, Matt and Andy, bless their hearts put their faith in me, but I am not sure why.  I kept showing off why they shouldn’t.  Today’s Magic playing Joshua is significantly worse than the 2004 version. 

That version wasn’t very good either, but I spiked an LCQ and went 0-3 at a Pro Tour once.  Wizards sold a dream that many Magic players would never get to see, but at least I got there once, and no one could take that away from me. 

I still have the shirt from that PT, it’s ratty, filled with holes, and the picture is falling off the shirt, but it’s a memory that I associate positively with this game. 

I kept going though. I would knock out the qualification for the next weekend’s event and get it done early that way I could test without stress. 

I played Jund Sacrifice, because if I recall correctly, it had been recommended by yoman5 on tcgplayer.  It might not have been, it’s been a few weeks since I played.

I went 1-2, and was so incredibly miserable playing the deck. 

July 5th 2020 challenge
2 points earned.

I played in the next one with an Izzet tempo deck that went 3-1 in the one I had just played in.  I blamed it on matchups, and that might have something to do with it, but it was much easier to just shift responsibility for my play away to something I couldn’t control. 

July 5th 2020 challenge
2 points earned. 

The next day I thought I could respond to the aggro that I saw the previous day with something to beat it.  I picked up Selesnya Auras again, as having a giant life linking creature made it hard for the aggro decks to deal enough damage.  Of course, I lost to Bant Ramp and Temur Rec.  Wasn’t fast enough, but the field was shaking out to be aggro heavy. 

July 6th 2020 challenge 6pm
2 points earned.

I ran it back for the 10 pm event.  I promptly lost to Mono Black Aggro.  I got a bye, beat Orzhov Yorion and then my opponent couldn’t connect to me.  No game was actually played, and Starcity awarded us both with byes. 

I went 1-1 basically. 

July 6th, 2020 challenge 10pm
4 points earned
20 credits earned. 

I was two points away from hitting the threshold for the next championship qualifier.  I played Gruul Aggro, because I wanted to try to show off that I didn’t care and wanted to get some games in. I lost to Jund Sac and Bant Ramp and attacked myself, because despite “not caring” I wanted to do well. These were real dollars leaving my account to pay for these events, and I was not getting a good return on it.  I mean store credit is already a bad enough return, but it’s better than nothing right? 

July 7th, 2020 10 pm
2 points earned.

The last one I played in this season was strictly to buy as many qualifier points as I could.  I spent 20 dollars to play 4 color control and earned as many points as I deserved, which was 2. 

It was generous to say the least.

July 8th, 2020 6pm
2 points earned. 

I convinced the squad to run Jim Davis’s Simic Ramp for the third championship qualifier.  We all had it, we had a well done sideboard guide for it. 

I was ready and for once things started off well. I played a super tight three game set against Azorius Control that saw my opponent time out, but with me having a solid board presence. Round two I swept Bant Ramp. 

Then I lost 5 straight games to Temur Reclamation.  Only one was close, and it was one that I ended up losing to Brad Nelson. 

It was a crushing bummer to realize in real time that I had a not great matchup with one of the most popular decks in the event. 

I was still in contention though, but my spirit was just destroyed.  I let dropped and let Cassius have the computer.  I mean I already wasn’t going to win anymore, why deprive my son of fun right? 

Championship Qualifier 3
24 points earned
20 credit earned. 

Things went dark in my brain here, and the pressure for the next qualifier was off the charts for me.  I had to do well twice in a row to justify this, and I was going to do so. 

I was short points for the end of season event and was going to need to earn 20 or so to get that wrapped up. 

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