I did it! Wow, I really did it! I made it to the top of the mountain, to the top 8 of MTG Arena, both in Preseason 1 (6th) and Preseason 2 (8th) and boy has it been an exciting ride. I want to take you on that ride, to the depths of what it means to grind your way to the top. If there’s any Magic article you should read, if you’re at all interested in the competitive scene- this one is it. I should warn you though. There will be no side-boarding tech involved, nor any illusions to dozens of cards from seasons past. Only a run-through of this new fan-dangled Bo1 meta that we find ourselves in, and how best to navigate that meta as you work your way toward top 8 in the world and (if the timing is right) to becoming one of the first 8 to be entered in the first ever million dollar Magic the Gathering tournament next month. Good luck on your quest and I sincerely hope you enjoy the ride!
Before I get into the technical aspects of what it means to wade your way onto the leader-board, I want to paint you a picture of what it’s like when I sit down and play this game. Simply put- it’s screaming, a lot of screaming. Sometimes out of excitement, sometimes out of frustration- but at the end of a long day- you bet your ass that I’m playing this game with a lot of emotion and, whether bad or good, it can seem like there is a lot more going on here then just a simple card game.
But for once in Magic, there is A LOT on the line.
Today was a day where there wasn’t a lot of screaming, however. For today was a day about testing (and the fact that I was playing in a Starbucks). Today was leaderboard day, top 100 postings, and unlike last weeks first official leaderboard (I was sitting pretty above a decent chunk of HOF’s at #42), I unfortunately did not make the cut, just barely missing the mark at about 108 overall once the cutoff hit. Now an outsider might see this as some sign of weakness, falling out of the top 100 does seem like a pretty big deal, but in reality, the nature of the Ladder is such that you can be 1,000 one day, and top 8 just a short few days later. Now this doesn’t mean you can’t stay in the top 100 with a good bit of solid play, I’ve found that once in the top 50 or so, if you just get on and play 5 games and 5-0, or maybe even 4-1, then you’re pretty much guaranteed your same spot (maybe a little higher or a little lower) the following day. To get in the top 8 requires a little more work, though, to do that you’re gonna have to be committed for a whole day (sometimes even two), and it requires some grinding to stay there. Lately, I’ve gone through a rough spell (wouldn’t be the first time), falling through the standings at a moments notice, ending up in the thousands from a bad days play.
Today wasn’t about winning though, today was about testing 20 different red decks against people that were very motivated to be on the leaderboard and seeing which of all the different variations seemed to stick. I basically brought a pile to the Magic shop today and ended up just missing being a top 100 player in the world grinding up about 300 spots in the process- I’m proud of that, I’m very proud of that.
I started out the climb today with 4 x Frenzy- my go to. If ever in doubt, I’ll play Experimental Frenzy. Lately, I’ve been in doubt, though. Not because of the power level of the card, but because of the hate that has been hounding it these past weeks. THE SECRET IS OUT. The printing of Mortify doesn’t help, but the fact that people are shoving them in 4x in Bo1 over Vraska’s Contempt hurts even worse. Experimental Frenzy, for the longest time, had been king (or queen). But either my ranking (or maybe it’s my play) had convinced me that a different route would get me to the promised land that I had fallen so far from in the past few days. Rekindling Phoenix is a card that has caught me eye lately. I don’t think it’s better then Frenzy by any shot, but I’ve seen that those mono-red players that are currently in the top 100 are doing so with not one, not two, but 3 or more Rekindling Phoenixes.
So I switched. And it worked, at least, better then Frenzy had. I did a clean swap 4 for 4 for science’s sake. Either this card was better or it was worse and there was only one way to find out. It performed admirably for the first few hours today (leaderboard day is GRIND DAY) and to make it you have to play ALL DAY LONG if you’re on the outside looking in. But I was committed and ready to complete the task at hand. And Phoenix knocked off about a hundred spots from my ranking before stalling in the 200’s or so.
The next variation I went with was Risk Factor. The strategy, unlike the Phoenix, wasn’t about just swapping one end game finisher for another. To build a Risk Factor deck in a pinch I knew I would need to change the philosophy of the deck entirely. This wasn’t about quickly grinding someone down before going off with a Frenzy. Risk Factor decks are much more nuanced then that, a slow burn that eats your opponents alive.
I downed the land count and I upped the spells count. Wizard’s Lightning is a card that I’ve been teetering and tottering over adding to my lineup for some time. It’s a card that got me in the top 8 for preseason 1, but it is not a card that I needed to get me to the top 8 in preseason 2. Now I don’t know other people’s experiences but there’s reason to believe that (at least as the top 100 is concerned) that other people have found success with a card that I’ve overlooked ever since spoiler season. Which is why, with a burn heavy Risk Factor Strategy in hand, that I decided to add it as a 2 of into my lineup.
And I’m glad I did. Not only did it go well with the burn strategy I was employing, but it also was helping me swallow up cards like Goblin Chainwhirler and Wildgrowth Walker that were oftentimes eating me alive. The versatility of the instant speed is nice too and pairs especially well with Risk Factor. I’m starting to think more and more that Wizard’s Lightning is a card that must be played, I’m just not sure of quite how many is necessary.
Now at this point you might be reading that title and squinting like that hand on his chin little emoji boy and wondering what the hell a failed run at the top 100 has to do with my two times getting into the top 8- and the answer is, everything.
How did I make it to the top 8 the first time?
By switching from Jeskai, to Drakes, to Mono-red on the way there.
How did I make it to the top 8 the second time?
By taking my old, withered husk of an unchanged Frenzy deck that had fallen out of the top 1000 a short while ago and finally innovating it with new cards (Skewer, Light up) that I had overlooked for FAR too long.
And how will I make it in to the top 8 a third time (if only I could be so lucky?)
By ignoring the present and constantly trying things until I come up with what is the future.
Will it be 4 x Frenzy like the two times before? Will it be 4 x Risk Factor which I’ve had (in a Borat voice if you would) be VERY NICE in my most recent iteration?
Or will it be some off the wall Jesaki deck that I’ve been testing (and perfecting) for some time now outside of the Arena’s main stage (best of 7 constructed events)?
Only time (and you, the meta) will decide what works. There is only one way to get to the top and that is by throwing your netdeck deck list out, reading the tea leaves, and seeing where there is a great big gaping hole in the meta to exploit.
I’m excited for the coming weeks and my chances to make a run at the top 8. These past weeks my goal has simply been to be in the top 100. I can’t wait for that to not be my goal anymore. Into the porcelain, shining arena I’m ready to go. And I hope to see you all there!
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