Bring on the Cake

Written by Billy Mitchell on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Bring on the Cake

Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell is an L1 judge and competitive player from the Philadelphia area. Outside of Magic, Billy is a high school math and science teacher. He can be found on Twitter @badluckbandit.

I have done a lot of things in my life that I have been proud of. Any many, many things that I am not. But last Sunday I added one thing to the “proud of” list.

I want to look slightly inward but I know everyone loves decklists and insights so I’ll start there and then move on to the gooey, emotional stuff.

Super Cool Magic Stuff

The main deck here is the same I’ve been playing for weeks now if you remember my last article. The change from the previous iteration of the sideboard was the removal of a Greenbelt Rampager, the 2 Lifecrafter’s Bestiary, Nissa, Vital Force, and a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship for 2 more Nature’s Way and 3 Sorcerous Spyglass. All of the changes come in the sideboard to better fight the more recent additions to the metagame.

Mono-Red Wizards

+2 Aethersphere Harvester
+2 Thrashing Brontodon
+3 Nature’s Way
-4 Merfolk Branchwalker
-3 Vine Mare

My philosophy here has changed a lot. If you try to just keep blocking, you will eventually die to burn spells because they can easily get underneath in the developing turns. Greenbelt Rampager is a great card for blocking but doesn’t do it efficiently enough. Most games you lose here will be to an early Soul-Scar Mage so the plan is to minimize its impact on the board. The Nature’s Ways get rid of it early on while allowing you to still have pressure. You need to block but I personally prioritize killing Bomat Courier and Soul-Scar Mage over anything else in combat.

UB Midrange

+1 Vine Mare
+1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
+2 Vivien Reid
+3 Nature’s Way
+1 Sorcerous Spyglass
-2 Greenbelt Rampager
-2 Merfolk Branchwalker
-2 Thorn Lieutenant
-1 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
-1 Heart of Kiran

A major turning point came for me when I realized I always lost to The Scarab God. It was the only constant. They would play it; sometimes I would fly over it and I would sometimes attack through it but a lot of times I would get brickwalled and die a slow, painful death. Normally UB doesn’t have significant pressure prior to The Scarab God and a well-placed Nature’s Way will normally wrap up the game by allowing a Vine Mare or Rhonas, the Indomitable to trample over a Champion of Wits. I will normally only use Nature’s Way on The Scarab God unless it’s a dire situation. This deck has limited interaction and the match tends to lean on that exchange.

Turbo Fog

+3 Sorcerous Spyglass
+2 Thrashing Brontodon
+1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
+2 Vivien Reid
-2 Greenbelt Rampager
-2 Thorn Lieutenent
-1 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
-3 Blossoming Defense

U/W Control has already been a problematic matchup. The rise of Turbo Fog (and the corresponding resurgence of U/W Control) meant that I would need a plan if I ran into Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Again, most games you lose involve Teferi doing disgusting things while you fairly beat your opponent’s face in. Sorcerous Spyglass does a lot to fight the planeswalker but not everything. You still can’t overextend your creatures in combat or you’ll run into a Settle the Wreckage. The decks have also been picking up Cleansing Nova so try to hold extra copies of Sorcerous Spyglass in hand.

More Magic Stuff

This is my fourth Regional Pro Tour Qualifier and I finally feel comfortable playing against this caliber of opponent. While I have been able to win the PPTQs relatively consistently since focusing on them, I was getting pounded every time I entered the RPTQ. For those who haven’t played in an RPTQ yet, the level of competition in the room is much higher than any local event you could play in and is comparable to playing day two of a Grand Prix or the later rounds of an SCG Open.

The RPTQ was a perfect storm for me.

  1. I was playing Standard: I played Standard in the Team RPTQ but this is the first time I played a “normal” Standard format. Even better…
  2. I got to play Mono Green! Mind you I always could have just played it but I think the deck was in a good spot this weekend. The UB Midrange and Mono-Red Wizards deck have taken up a larger percentage of the metagame and removed some of Mono Green’s natural predators.
  3. I got to play locally: I played in New Jersey about 40 minutes away from my house. That means I got to sleep in my own bed the night before, drink my favorite coffee in the morning, drive my own car, and park in close proximity to the venue and already knew where the bathroom was located, all of the best local food venues, and even most of the competitors. This is as close to a hometown advantage as I’m probably ever going to get.

Without going too far down the gameplay rabbit hole, all of my matches were close but in my favor. After 5 rounds, I was one of two undefeated players and was able to double draw into top 8 as either the first or second seed. Both positions guaranteed I would be on the play for the quarterfinal match that would decide if I qualified for my first Pro Tour. It also gave me two hours to sit and wait for my match.

TWO HOURS!!!

If you haven’t waited for a potentially life-changing moment before, you might not understand how time can stretch and contract in order to inflict maximum psychological damage. When I presented my senior seminar, I was fairly positive that I lost some of my slides and that I was 10 minutes short of the expected goal. When I proposed to my wife, let’s just say she took her fair share of the game clock to make a play. In the two hours while waiting for my match that would decide my Pro Tour fate, it felt like an eternity. I tried to keep myself busy with lunch, dog photos, and watching my friends play their matches.

In the end, I played my final match against my friend David Reed. I have known David for years now and he was always been a pleasure to play (and normally lose) against. On this day, an early Ghalta in game 1 and some air off the top for him in game 2 allowed me to stay. Eventually, David extended his hand and I was headed to the Pro Tour.

The first thing I did was start desideboarding. The second was cry. I have played this game for 17 years and put so much time and effort into Magic. This game has been a labor of love. I have been a part of almost every facet of this community and I feel like eventually my time would come. But every day, I think I believed a little less that I would ever make the Pro Tour as anything but a spectator. Finally making the Pro Tour makes me feel like the struggle has been worth it.

All the late night drives from distant Grand Prixs. All of the uncomfortable hotel beds. All of the nights away from home. All of the exhausted Monday mornings at work. All of the missed celebrations and social gatherings. In that moment, I felt the enormous pressure that I have been putting on myself for 17 years float away. And finally, with nothing weighing me down, I was able to cry and enjoy that moment of accomplishment.

Cake

When I was in college, I was researching Magic academically for decision analysis and relating it to games such as chess and poker. As a result, I was reading everything I could find. One of my favorite articles and one I think everyone should read was “Pieces of Cake” by Brian David Marshall. In the article, he speaks of a New York tradition in which the winner of a major event would buy cake for everyone involved in their success. I always wanted to do that but I’m not sure how feasible it is to get cake to everyone. Regardless, they deserve cake and I’ll try to sort out the details later.

First, cake to all of my opponents for great matches. A special shout out to David Reed for being so gracious in defeat and to Greg Chen for qualifying for the Pro Tour after his loss in our round 5 pseudo-mirror.

Second, cake for Eric Perry and Joe Dejoy for lending me the Sorcerous Spyglasses a few days before the event. I had been looking all week and could not find any copies to purchase. Eric was very helpful in bringing them on relatively short notice. Joe Dejoy helped me with some last minute sideboarding plans and helped convince me to add the third Sorcerous Spyglass to the board.

Third and finally, cake for all of my travel friends over the past few years. I would be foolish if I didn’t think that I would have gotten here without their help and support. So Michael Mapson, Ian Flinn, Alex Smith, Chris Medykiewicz, Josh Southwick, and Chas Hinkle, thank you again for everything.

Now I have about 10 weeks to figure out what I’m doing for Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. While it’s easy to sit back and try to enjoy the ride, I’m planning on winning that Pro Tour so I have a lot of work to do. Expect to see a lot of content from me as I prepare for the event I’ve been dreaming of for most of my formative years.

God, I love this game!

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