I feel like Fblthp probably feels every second of every day. I have no idea how I got here, I wasn’t expecting to get here. I’m glad I’m here, but like, at what point during this life did I ever expect that I was going to end up on top of Nicol Bolas’ head. But there can be do doubting that I am here- at the Magical shrine of greatness- ready to find out if my offering is worthy.
I knew I had entered the sacred dojo, or rather, that I was in the right neighborhood a couple of months ago. It was the first series in a number of battles that I’ve deemed my ‘Battles Against Brian’ or as most of you know him, BBD. This was a watershed moment for me as a Magic player, and one that I’ll never forget. For starters, I’m a fairly new player. My first prerelease was Eldritch Moon. My first (and one of two) PPTQs was during Kaladesh, and I’ve really only played Magic at the FNM level. To be playing ranked play with one of the greats and to find myself ranked above that player was something I wouldn’t have imagined just a few months ago. I was a nobody in the Magic community. I’m still a nobody. On top of all of this, BBD to me was the first Magic professional that I ever looked up to (or even heard of). I still remember my excitement when I first came across his World Championship winning decklist. “Look at that”! I exclaimed to my brother, the person who had convinced me to get into Magic with him in the first place. “6 cards off! I’m 6 cards off from the World Championship winning deck”!
The irony in this statement being that 4 of those 6 cards that I excluded were the eponymous “Collected Company”. But still- there were a lot of humans in that set, and so, as someone who had just received my first Magic cards only a month before, to have my first deck be 6 cards off of what members of the Hall of Fame were doing without ever hearing of a deck aggregator site seemed like a pretty impressive feat. Early on in this Magical world, I felt like I had arrived.
My first battle in the Arena dojo was a unique lesson in humility. Up till then I had been running amok in the first Standard season, hitting top 8 on my first try with Mono-Red and all but burning down the house since I had gotten there. Where a lot of other players were making stints in the top 100, I was making a home #eman2therescue. Even so, in that battle with Brian I was doing anything but running the tables as it started out like any other doomed scenario that I had encountered before. Turn 1, I play a red creature. Turn 2, he kills that red creature. Turn 2, I play a red creature. Turn 3, he kills that red creature. *Fast Forwards* Turn 5- Brian Ixalan’s Bindings my Experimental Frenzy. GGs! For obvious reasons, I was pretty livid. It was Blood Moon all over again. My Frenzy was locked out. Not destroyed, not taken care of, my engine was locked out and the game was over before it even started. It’s funny looking back at the game. I remembered thinking to myself how annoying Brian’s deck was when you compared it to my deck. Lifegain.dec= 4 Dovin’s Acuity. 4 Revitalize. Mortify. Binding. If there were ever a list of cards that was centered around DESTROYING my OP Frenzy deck, Brian had found it. Nice anti-red deck, I thought to myself.
Little did I know that was the beginning of a changing tide. A slow-motion axial tilting in favor of lifegain and removal heavy strategies that began to trickle into the format more and more each and every day. Mono-Green Stompy decks with Wildgrowth Walkers in them. Midrange decks loaded to the tee with Mortifys. Hell, Fungal Infection was seeing play for crying out loud. The outpouring of hate slowed my roll but never really stopped it. My Experimental Frenzy deck was a head full of steam and I was piloting it in a way that would make your head spin. I bluffed a lot. I kept a lot of one-landers, and I took some very conservative lines that are atypical of your average red player. The numbers bore out my methods, and for two seasons in a row I hit the top 8 and began to believe in my skills as a player. Of course, that didn’t stop Brian from getting the best of me that day and so my first lesson against the pros was a lesson in humility. If your deck is over-represented in the meta, someone will make a deck that can humiliate it.
It wasn’t until a while after that that I found myself paired against another ‘name’ in the industry. Up till that point most of the more well-known players were toiling around in the wasteland that is ‘no.free.mulligan’ best-of-three while us frontierfolk were pushing forward in the uncharted and not at all diverse best-of-one format. Although our rankings might have been crossing every now and then, our paths were not. One day that all changed. I logged on to play some Arena, but unlike in previous installments, my opponents were a murderers row of well-known very prominent players in the industry. Game one- Huey. Game two- Seth. Game three- Brian. There were some days where I was more likely to play someone I knew then someone I didn’t. Apparently, the members of the MPL had started their bo1 streaming season in preparation for the Invitational, and it appeared that I would be one of their algorithmically assigned sparring partners.
I brought my mettle to those matches. Well, some of the time. Other times I was just closing my eyes and repeatedly smashing my creatures into a Lyra Dawnbringer but for the most part, my games against the top players in the world were a resounding success. Something, something #reddeckwins. Having so many of my games streamed on Twitch offered me a unique viewpoint into how others perceived my decision making process. If I played someone I knew, I would always go back and watch the Twitch broadcast. Sometimes it was just to marvel at my own play or to boast to anyone that would listen, ‘hey y’all, watch me generate 40 mana and cast 10 spells in one turn against Huey Jensen!’ Others, I was opening up an Indiana Jones style sarcophagus to find out what exactly went wrong. One of the biggest lessons I learned? Don’t bluff all the time versus good players- they’ll pick up on it. Another important lesson- look at the blockers from their point of view, not from yours.
Also threats, also understanding as a control player which 4 cards are going to kill you, and most importantly, understanding patience. My style of play tends to speed up those around me. But not the great ones- their feet are stuck in stone.
Finally outside of the hive-mind of my own brain- I began to learn Magic. Huey Jensen was unwittingly giving me advice on how to be a better Magic player. Ditto for players like Seth Manfield, BBD, and Wyatt Darby. Wyatt was pointing out how my instant speed control-killer deck was failing at always being instant speed- thanks Wyatt! That learning led to a lot of winning and somehow, someway, when the first ever Magic Arena Leaderboard was posted in the second season (or was it third), I found myself sitting pretty at number 42 in all of the land. Looking at the names on the list, and I once again thought to myself- I think I’m going to make it.
Next came part II of my battles against Brian. This match was a bit different from the one before it. It didn’t end on turn 5- which was nice. Also, we were in a control mirror match and not an anti-deck vs the deck it was anti-against, which was also, nice. Although our versions of Esper were both in the same colors (and both were control), their wasn’t much else about them that was all that similar. Little did I know at the time but BBD was in the process of developing his patented ‘ Heinous Dovin’s Acuity deck’. I have no idea where the name comes from but there can be no doubting the anal tendencies of the deck. Play Dovin’s Acuity. Play Revitalize. Return Acuity- rinse and repeat. It was an interesting deck- and certainly one as a newer player that I was all but guaranteed to overlook. As the season rolled on, however, there was no denying the prowess of this heinous deck. More and more I saw it in the top 100- and more and more I was losing to it as an almost primarily red player.
But back to our control match-up. As the game droned on so did our life totals climb to the ceiling. At one point- Brian hit 69 life. I emoted ‘nice’.
Did he not notice?
Didn’t find it funny?
Seconds seemed to move to hours, but, eventually, finally.
Two things still stick out to me from that game. The first was in my decision to hold onto a bunch of Mortifys. My reason for not killing his Dovin’s Acuity was pretty cut and dry. My bit of thinking on the matter revolved around the card Search for Azcanta. I figured that Search was a much more potent threat, and although I had A LOT of Mortifys in my deck at the time- I still didn’t want to risk even one Search getting underneath me. Of course, in retrospect I think that was incorrect. I had FOUR Mortifys in my deck and it was turn 6 and he still hadn’t played a Search for Azcanta. I feel by that point the proper play is to get rid of the engine and attempt to shut the whole thing down. The other thing I learned revolved around how Brian ended up winning the game. By Mastermind’s Acquisition’ing and searching out a Clear the Mind. Mill strategy aborted. Ctrl+ Alt + Concede.
As the season drew to a close Esper Control began to completely dominate the top 100 meta. A red player at heart, I fully switched with a few weeks left to go in the season and never really looked back. And I’ll never forget those matches. By the final week- I found myself playing Seth 3 times a day, Javier at least once, Huey several times whenever he was on, and any name in the industry you can think of (Nelson, Shahar, Yellowhat). My win-rate was awesome. My skills were improving, and by the beginning of last season, I felt that I’d mastered the control deck in ways I was never sure I could. Here’s the Teferi Control list that I played to Mythic and top 12 in the world in 2 and a half days this season. And here’s to the future of Magic the Gathering as an eSport.
Teferi Control By Ryan Tyson
Follow Ryan on Twitter @realgoblinking
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