I’m back from my first international Mythic Qualifier Weekend Tournament and I am excited to share with you all that I learned battling against the top 4,000 ranked Magic players on MTG Arena. Before I get into how the tournament unfolded, I would like to give a little bit of background information concerning the criteria required to play in a tournament that is a one-trip ticket to a Mythic Championship. For me, the journey toward qualifying among the top 1,000 constructed players involved playing Esper control in the bo1 queue. In terms of hours required to get to that point, it was basically me playing every waking moment for a weekend to hit Mythic, and eventually the #4 slot, before teetering off and playing approximately 2 games every three days to finish out the season. That’s not very much Magic and right from the start, I’ve been pretty satisfied with the process that was utilized to qualify for a tournament where the top 16 players came home with a Mythic Championship invite.
Once I had qualified for the tournament (and once I was aware of all of the rules that accompanied it) I only had three weeks to test and decide upon a decklist. Although Esper was my calling card in the bo1 world, this tournament was going to be played as a bo3 and so any and all information that I had pertaining to a meta and attempting to control it was out of the window when there existed cards in this format that didn’t exist in the one I was coming from. Even so, that didn’t stop me from going all-in on Esper early in the testing process. I’ve never felt like I’ve held more powerful cards since I started playing the game and so the ole’ ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ ideology started taking shape. Unfortunately, early on it appeared that this theory wouldn’t hold true. The cards that seemed ‘great’ in the control mirror, and all-around great on their surface with the likes of Dovin’s Veto, and Teferi, Time Raveler that just happened to be in Esper colors also happened to be the undoing of Esper in that they caused Absorb to no longer be a playable card. If I didn’t take Absorb out I couldn’t beat Bant or Esper or other control decks. But if I didn’t leave Absorb in I found myself struggling with any semi-aggro deck that existed. As my win-rate stagnated around 50% despite trying a multitude of different variants on the decklist, I decided that it was best to hang my trusty Esper deck up for the biggest and first international Magic tournament of my life. Control, or at least, draw-go as I like to play appears to be off the menu in the current Standard climate.
One of the biggest distinctions I noticed immediately upon testing was the infestation of Wildgrowth Walker decks in the bo3 meta, a card that had largely been eradicated from bo1. What this really signaled was an uptick in mid-range that permeated throughout many different colors and archetypes. This was an important fact that I wished I had paid attention to because it ended up being a huge takeway from my first MCQW.
One deck that I always have felt preys on the Wildgrowth Walker and Hero Strategies is mono-red, an archetype that had seen an uptick in popularity with the printing of Chandra, Fire Artisan and, of all Planeswalkers, the enigmatic Lord Tibalt. And in that deck I found a home. Not just ‘cause it’s my favorite archetype. But because it was the only deck that was ranking me up the ladder. I hit 42nd which isn’t bad. I took down PT champs Nassif and Wyatt, the deck was doing some seemingly broken things and when the tournament started I was # 200 ranked. I felt good about that because the top 128 players made day 2. I wasn’t prepared but if I played brilliantly and the ball bounced my way I felt I had a decent shot at day two’ing this mega-tournament.
When I entered the Arena, I knew this was something special. This wasn’t some desolate landscape with chirping bird noises amidst a quiet ambiance or a dystopian Ravnican city back street like the Arena landscape typically was. This was an Arena, an actual Arena with spectators in the stands and a battlefield between us- and it looked a hell of a lot like the Roman Coliseum. Since this was a double-elimination tournament to decide the winner- the do-or-die aesthetic felt fitting.
And die I did. A quick, almost painless death that I’m still coming to terms with. I don’t want to get too into the matches. They didn’t go well and I found myself stranded with no gas left in the tank more often then I was really happy with. If you’re going to make something of yourself in this format I would suggest heeding the advice I have to give here. Play the long game. Every bad situation I found myself in was rectified pretty easily looking back. Play more Frenzy. Play more Chandra. Play more premium value engine cards that get you there.
I had 4 but I wished I had 5 mainboard. I also wished that I had done a better job of sideboarding more of them in. I kept thinking ‘run them over’ when in actuality I should have been thinking that phrase from the famed TV show Survivor that said ‘Outwit, Outplay, Outlast’.
The biggest takeaway from the tournament was in just how diverse this meta has shaped up to be. Sure you’ve got your popular tier decks but the top 128 is littered with a variety of interesting decklists and unique brews from Domri Gruul to Lannery Grixis. It’s more than the archetypes that have changed, though, the very way that we play the game has seen a recent upheaval. Whereas in the prior format, the key denominator was clear boards caused by uber-powerful board clears (think: Kaya’s Wrath). In this one, board presence is not only key, but tantamount to a players success. As indicated by an increase in the number of PW Superfriends decks, even control players appear to be unable to get away from this trend.
Where to go from here?
The first thing that I plan to do, now that I’ve blinged out my Tibalt, Rakish Instigators with painted glass tintage is to shore up the weaknesses that I found in my deck and add a few more premium ‘card drawing’ spells in the form of Frenzy or Chandra to make sure that I have ultimate late-game in this very plodding format.
Beyond that I intend to to investigate other archetypes and deck choices that I overlooked in the testing process. Sarkhan and Nissa set the pace for the damage race in a way that no 5-drop has since Glorybringer which makes Gruul seem like a very powerful place to start (Banefire anyone?).
Bolas is another card that has caught my eye in this recent meta. It feels out of place playing what seems best suited as a control finisher in a midrange shell but the results are in and they resoundingly point to the idea that Nicol Bolas is best suited for a midrange, zero maindeck counterspell build.
To Bluff or not to Bluff?
In my recent match against Wyatt Darby I came across a scenario where it was advantageous for me to ‘bluff’ to gain an advantage. It’s important to note that I wasn’t actually bluffing in this scenario as I had theGoblin Chainwhirler in hand to combo with the Ghitu Lavarunner to take out the 4/3 Jadelight Ranger. Whenever you can trade up and end up ahead on board, do so. So there wasn’t much to the decision for me. Of course, Wyatt, didn’t know that and so his decision to not block made me ponder about when and where to bluff. Unfortunately, I tried the same play at the MCQW with the exception being that I didn’t have the shock to in this case combo with Whirly Boi so I was pretty much leaving my whole tournament chance up for hopes against a Gruul opponent and well, they blocked.
My takeaway here was that when bluffing, context matters hugely. When I was playing Wyatt, I was going face. When I was playing my opponent at the online MCQW, I was attacking a hefty loyalty Domri that could be cleaned up with a removal spell. They risked the board by not blocking, it was a high leverage moment, and they had a lot to lose more than just a spectacle enabling. So it was right to block there to protect the board state. At the best I get them with a 1 for 1. In the future when I bluff, I think it would make the most sense to look for the lowest equity plays. This is burn so every point of damage matters. You miss every shot you don’t take just as much as you miss every shot you don’t make. In Magic, I’m learning, not every shot needs to be taken.
Plans of Attack
The issues that I’ve always had with sideboard plans is that so much of the process is completely context dependent. Believe it or not, the question I ask myself the most over the course of a Magic game is whether or not my opponent really likes expensive cards. The same logic goes for other fixations. If I see a Lyra in the maindeck of control, I’ll be thinking more creatures coming in sideboard. And if I see something new, some novelty, that has yet to be discovered, I instantly think trickery. The Immortal Sun, you say? There’s ordinarily some defining feature about an opponents deck that will clue you into their plan of attack. A Revitalize out of place and I ascertain that this player may be scared, packing more counterspells and playing even more re-actively. An extra PW maindeck where you usually don’t see it and I’m thinking about The Elderspell.
You can still have a basic plan of attack for each match-up that you run into, however, because some of the time what you’re looking at is stock. This is the sideboarding guide that I developed over my 3 weeks of testing and which performed quite well for me on the Arena Ladder on my way to the top 40 of Mythic:
Mono-Red Sideboard Plan
-4 Fanatical Firebrand, -4 Viashino Pyromancer, -4 Shock, -1 Chandra, Fire Artisan
+4 Lava Coil, +2 Dire Fleet Daredevil, + 2 Experimental Frenzy, + 2 Rekindling Phoenix, + 2 Legion Warboss, + 1 Fight with Fire
-3 Wizard’s Lightning, -4 Shock, -4 Lightning Strike, -4 Fanatical Firebrand
+2 Legion Warboss, + 2 Experimental Frenzy, +4 Lava Coil, + 1 Fight with Fire, +2 Rekindling Phoenix, +2 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator, +2 Dire Fleet Daredevil
Command The Dreadhorde
Keep in mind that these are very aggressive tactics for sideboarding that will most likely have to be evened out over time, or slightly altered during the course of a matchup. This plan is fairly dependent on running over your opponent in game one and expecting them to react fairly re-actively in game 2. I’m not expecting creatures, I’m expecting removal. If this plan does work and you find yourself having shown a large portion of your deck to your opponent, I would suggest sideboarding into a plan that is more heavy on removal in game three as your opponent will probably know what’s up by that point.
The Future of esports
I really enjoyed my first MCQW against other players who ranked in the top 1,000 in the world. The Arena thing might seem like a little touch but it made it all feel so real to me. It didn’t matter where I was, I was there, on whatever plane that was, playing Magic against the best players in the world for a chance at the dream of a Mythic Championship- what else could I ask for?
More, I guess. That’s really what I want. I want this eSports craze to get out of hand and I would love simply for more opportunities to participate against the best players in the world. It doesn’t even have to be a Mythic Championship on the line. Just a pot that everyone dips a small amount into and to the winner goes the spoils. With this we can develop a method for selecting the most deserving players that goes beyond as little as a 2 or 3 game sample size.
I’m excited for the future of Magic as an esport. Between the MPL weeklys, an influx of talent in the broadcasting boost, an increase in competitive opportunities for Arena only players and a clear direction that focuses primarily on the popularity of Magic Arena, the future can be very bright for Magic. I’m also excited to go for my next top 1,000 and a chance at another shot at my first Mythic Championship. My only problem with the whole process- I play Magic every day but my next shot is over 2 months away. *Sighs*
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