Shake and Bake

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Shake and Bake

Tim Bachmann

Hailing from northeast Pennsylvania, Tim has been playing since Mirrodin, and has been playing competitively since Dragons of Tarkir. With aspirations of playing on the Pro Tour, Tim plays in as many PPTQs and GPs as he can.

Magic is a funny thing. A lot of people in the world that play Magic may have dreams like mine, to make the Pro Tour, to top 8 a Grand Prix, to top 4 an RPTQ, to top 8 an SCG Open or an SCG Invitational. You can tell how many people want this by attendance numbers at Grand Prix, Opens, PPTQs, IQs, etc. Without the hope and want of this glory, these events wouldn’t have such high numbers.

As mentioned, these are also my dreams. I also know that I’m good enough at this game to make these dreams a reality. I have the right support system among friends and family. I have the right mindset (most of the time). I have the playskill to do these things. There is just one large factor that I’m unable to get on my side it seems. Luck.

Magic is, at its core, a very high variance game. Each game of Magic requires two people to make many decisions. The person who is best able to make the most amount of correct choices within these games is typically considered the better player. However, that doesn’t make that person the winner of the game necessarily. There’s always that one card your opponent can draw to get them out of some position they are in, or there was one turn in a game where you drew the wrong card that caused your gameplan to fall apart.

Up until now, when someone had asked me what Magic was, at a high level, my go to was to tell that person that Magic was “like chess, but you get to pick your pieces.” This is a fallacy though. This expresses that you get to determine which pieces you get to use in each round, and how you get to use them. Tom Ross actually said it better. Magic is “like chess, mixed with poker.”

You do get to choose which chess pieces you get to play with, but you are not always able to see them all in each game, and that’s something that a lot of people don’t understand about this great game. They’ll get really upset and frustrated when they lose to someone, whether that someone is perceived to be a worse player, or playing a deck that is supposed to lose in the matchup.

Even the game’s greatest players don’t have better than a 70% win rate. They still lose about one third of the games they play, and these are the likes of Jon Finkel and Kai Budde. To expect that your average FNM hero will win any game of Magic he or she plays is ridiculous, and is something I feel I’ve overcome a lot in the past year.

But it still doesn’t feel great. It doesn’t feel great when you’re in your third PPTQ finals within 14 months, and you aren’t as lucky as your opponent. It doesn’t feel great when you play your heart out, go up a game against a poor matchup for your deck, and then just have it all fall apart in two quick games. It doesn’t feel great when it doesn’t play out at all like the games you’ve tested in the matchup.

But that’s Magic.

I extended my hands, said good games, dropped my head for a minute in a tidal wave of emotions, lifted it back up, told my opponent it was nice to meet him, and wished him luck at his RPTQ. There was nothing he did that caused me to be upset. There was nothing I did to cause me to be upset. I played great. He played correctly. I just got unlucky.

For reference, here’s the list I played at this PPTQ:

I chose to move back to Bant Company. After two weeks of playing the 4c Combo Rite deck, I noticed one thing about my metagame, people played the HECK out of Languish. They loved that card, and I did not like playing against it with the Rite deck. In those 2 weeks with the Rite deck, I was able to top 4 a PPTQ, but scrubbed out of one the following week, because I just played against every black deck in the room, and a creature based synergy deck is just no good when everyone is killing your things.

I was thinking of playing the Bant Humans list, but I saw on Magic online, someone did really well at a PPTQ with a tweaked version of just regular Bant Company, which led me to think about why I ever left the deck at all.

At the time I picked up the Rite deck, I was afraid everyone would move to tokens, which itself is not a deck I find myself interested in playing. That wasn’t the case though. Everyone stuck to their Languishes, and while I did top 4 a PPTQ, it wasn’t fun to navigate through six rounds of board sweepers and cheap interaction. However, playing that deck did teach me just how absurd playing with Eldrazi Displacer is. When I went back to Bant, I knew I could beat the Languish decks. I knew I also had a shot against any other deck, and knew the bad matchup was G/W tokens. I threw the Eldrazi Displacers in the deck, and we went to work. Testing against my teammate Ryan on G/W Tokens seemed fine. Every time I drew Displacer, it was just good enough. I felt like I had broken the matchup with this card. I also felt that this past Saturday was the day for me to win the PPTQ.

I ended the Swiss rounds in second place with a 3-0-2 record, defeating U/R Flash Flyers, W/B control, and Esper Dragons, unintentionally drawing with W/B control, and intentionally drawing with my opponent in the last round of Swiss.

I beat Mardu in the Quarterfinals, and defeated W/B Control in three incredibly close games in the Semis, against the same player with whom I had the unintentional draw. It was the perfect field for Bant, and I felt like I had nailed the metagame.

The finals had me playing against G/W Tokens. Game one was pretty much how the playtesting games went out. I played to the board early, kept his board clear with Dromoka’s Commands and Declaration in Stone, and Reflector Mages, and he wasn’t able to establish a board presence.

Game 2, he was on the play, and just got ahead of me. I wasn’t able to keep up. The same thing happened in game 3, where his Evolutionary Leap just was able to find him each of his Archangel Avacyns and Hangarback Walkers, and I found my Eldrazi Displacers far too late for them to matter.

While it was really difficult to get through this weekend after such a hard loss, I’m coming to grips with it now. It’s just really upsetting when you set yourself up for success and then lose because the exact cards you added to your deck for the matchup never showed up on time (Eldrazi Displacer, why you leave me!?). I should be proud of my second place finish at this near thirty man event. But as I was explaining to my wife and friends Ryan and Joe, top eights have lost their luster. I am able to regularly top eight most events I play in at the local level, and for that I’m happy. Becoming a consistent player is nothing to shake a stick at. And I know my time will come. I’ll have my opportunity to win one of these things again.

I am definitely good enough. I will be on the Pro Tour before I die, I’m sure. I just keep thinking of the words of the great Ricky Bobby’s father, Reese Bobby, and they help motivate me.

“If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Also a special shout out to area grinder Michael Derczo who flew to Costa Rica, and had a great Grand Prix, making the top eight. Good luck back on the Pro Tour!

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