Beyond the Journey (into Nyx)

Brian Kibler goes over his testing ahead of Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, the “max pain” phenomenon he’s dealt with all year, and what he has to do to maintain his Platinum status and return to the World Championship.

Last weekend there was a Pro Tour. I did not win. That honor, as you almost certainly already know, belongs to the very deserving Patrick Chapin. My own
result was an entirely unexciting 115th place with a final record of 9-7. This left me with a third straight Pro Tour finish this year that has resulted in
zero prize money earned and zero additional pro points.

It’s been a rough season for me, all told, the worst that I’ve had since I started playing Magic competitively again five years ago. Not only have I failed
to cash at any of the Pro Tours I’ve played in, but I’ve only finished in the money at three Grand Prix this year, with a Top 16 finish in Detroit, a Top
64 finish in Sacramento, and a Top 32 finish in Minneapolis a few weeks ago being the only tournaments since the World Championships last summer where I
actually took home any prizes outside of my appearance fees.

It’s not that I’ve been doing terribly. Other than Dublin, where I had the single worst Pro Tour performance of my career, I have actually had reasonable
finishes at many of the events that I’ve played in – just not good enough to actually win anything. I was one match shy of the money in both Valencia and
Atlanta, missing Top 100 for the extra pro point in each of them on tiebreakers. I similarly made Day 2 of most of the Grand Prix I played over the course
of the season, only to lose my last match and fall just outside the money. With how big Grand Prix have grown these days, the records needed to actually
win anything of note have gotten pretty insane, which can lead to playing every round of a huge tournament and ending up with nothing to show for it.

I’ve jokingly called this “max pain” whenever it’s happened to me throughout the year, but many truths are said in jest. While I love playing Magic, I find
it much more frustrating to make Day 2 of an event and then have things fall apart than to just go 0-3 and be done with it. And while I’m generally good at
keeping things in perspective and recognizing that getting unlucky and losing is just something that happens sometimes, it’s harder to brush things off
with “sometimes you just don’t win” when there haven’t been many times that you have won recently, either.

This particular tournament was one that I had hoped to do well in. I love Block Constructed. It’s my favorite format by a fair margin, in part because it’s
generally the least explored and thus the most open to new ideas and in part because the smaller card pool means more opportunities for unappreciated cards
to shine. With the way sets are designed nowadays, though, I think the latter factor may no longer be the case. The current design paradigm puts a ton more
power into cards that are aimed at Constructed than cards that aren’t, which means that we end up seeing more and more decks that are just piles of the
best rare and mythic cards across however many colors the mana fixing in the format can support.

I spend most of my playtesting time looking in different directions from the pile-o-good-cards. The problem was that my testing time for the Pro Tour was
unfortunately quite limited. I was able to get out to Las Vegas two weekends before the event to test with the rest of my team at Eric Froehlich’s house,
but came home that Sunday night until heading to Minneapolis on Friday. I had recommended against attending the Grand Prix because I didn’t want to lose
that much testing time, even though I was in fairly dire need of pro points myself, but the general consensus was that people wanted to play, so we went.

Ultimately, that meant that my actual playtesting time was limited to one weekend in Vegas, where we mostly drafted and built some initial Constructed
decks, and Monday to Thursday leading up to the Pro Tour. I spent most of my time trying to build various Constellation decks, since I was very impressed
by the power of Eidolon of Blossoms, but ultimately didn’t have enough time to find one that worked.

I was fairly certain that the format was mostly going to consist of Sylvan Caryatid/Courser of Kruphix decks. Sylvan Caryatid was probably the single best
card in the format, providing mana fixing and acceleration in a world where those effects were not easy to come by. On top of that, the lack of a real
sweeper in the format meant that the usual drawback of mana creatures was largely nonexistent. Once you were playing with Caryatid, Courser was almost an
automatic inclusion, and it, too, dodged the vulnerability to wrath effects that it has in Standard.

A world without wraths felt like it ought to be my playground, but Elspeth puts a bit of a damper on the excitement of ramping into big monsters, since her
soldiers can block them indefinitely or she can just sweep them away herself. That’s how I ended up excited about Eidolon of Blossoms. It was a card that
could take advantage of the mana acceleration of Caryatid and the sweeperless nature of the format to generate big advantages that Elspeth was ill-equipped
to deal with, and could do so with the backup of cards like Doomwake Giant and Herald of Torment that are naturally well-positioned against the
sure-to-be-ubiquitous Planeswalker.

This is what one of my early decks looked like:

This deck was pretty good, but not great. The big problem was that it was heavily reliant on particular cards, most notably Eidolon of Blossoms. The deck
had too many cards that were relatively low-impact on their own, like Nyx Weaver or Pharika, and not enough raw power. I’d tried a version that splashed
white for Banishing Light and Elspeth as well, much like the deck played by eventual finalist Nam Sung Wook, but generally preserved the heavier
enchantment theme from which he deviated more heavily.

I also tried a more aggressive approach, again with a heavy constellation theme, this time built around graveyard themes and Strength from the Fallen.
Strength allowed the deck to have some incredibly explosive starts that could be hard for some decks to beat, certainly, but the graveyard package took up
so many slots in the deck that there was very little room for interaction. I found that the Strength from the Fallen deck had a hard time beating other
linear aggressive decks, most notably W/U heroic, which seemed like a nearly impossible matchup, and ultimately scrapped that as well.

I wanted to work more on different version of Enchantress – mostly the midrange version with removal, since it seemed more capable of lining up well
against the decks I expected to see in the event – but ultimately ran out of time. Most of the team was fairly set on BUG by the time we got to Atlanta and
wanted to spend most of their time testing matches involving that deck, so I couldn’t always find people willing to play against my various brews. It
certainly didn’t help that I was playing with a ton of proxies, which is always annoying, but becomes vastly moreso in a deck where the cards in graveyards
can be almost as important as those in play.

I actually bought all of the cards on Magic Online and was going to try to get some games in on Wednesday morning after I got back from the gym, but as
soon as I finished buying and trading for them, I got the notice that downtime was going to start any minute. With just a few days left until the
tournament, no clear vision of what I wanted my deck to look like, and no one else really interested in working on it with me, I decided to just scrap any
kind of Constellation deck and play the BUG control deck the rest of the team was playing.

I think BUG was a fine deck, though not a great one. Across the team we only won about 58% of our matches played with it, which certainly isn’t a
spectacular record. I was almost dead average among us, with six wins and four losses in the Constructed portion.

I think we would have been well served to play an additional land over one of the Planeswalkers or the Dissolve, and I think we should have played Drown in
Sorrow in our maindeck to have a better chance to beat aggressive decks in game one, especially on the draw. Three of my four losses came against white or
red aggressive decks that Drown in Sorrow would have been incredible against, and in two of those matches I drew Bile Blight in Game 1 and it wasn’t nearly
enough. My other loss was to Paul Rietzl in the mirror, in a match where my draws were so bad I only managed to play a single spell all match despite it being a control mirror.

While my Constructed record was mediocre at 6-4, my draft results were pretty bad at just 3-3. I actually felt like I drafted quite well in both of my
pods, reading the colors of the players around me successfully. In the first draft, though, despite the player to my right being U/R, I barely managed to
get anything out of Theros for my B/W deck, first-picking a Leonin Snarecaster, second-picking a Disciple of Phenax, and third-picking a Temple of Deceit
when there just wasn’t anything in the packs. My deck there ended up quite poor, but I drew well, and with some clever sideboarding managed to end up 2-1.

My second draft was quite frustrating. I started off U/G with my first few picks, but noticed that white and especially black were open, and ended up
switching colors quite late in Pack 1. I got massively rewarded, picking up multiple Asphyxiates and a Bile Blight along with other quality cards in Pack
2, and then getting triple Tormented Hero and Ordeal of Erebos, among others, in the third pack. I showed my deck to a number of other players like LSV and
BenS and they commented that it looked like an 8 or 9 out of 10, which made it all the more annoying when I only managed to finish 1-2 after flooding out
twice in my first match and mulliganing into three of my six Plains against Jeremy Dezani and then drawing two more and dying before seeing one of my
eleven Swamps. When I showed him my deck after the match, even he shook his head and laughed. “You did not deserve this.”

Like I said near the start, I totally accept the variance that comes in Magic. Sometimes you draw the second Whipflare, or the third Galvanic Blast, and
you win, and sometimes you flood out or get mana screwed and you lose. I get that. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck when it keeps happening to
you all year long, and that’s kind of how I’ve felt for a while now, which makes all the opportunities that I might have squandered throughout the year
hurt that much more.

There are certainly things I could have done differently this year that might have led to me doing better. I could have stopped trying to play green
creature decks when Lifebane Zombie was everywhere in Standard. I could have drafted more to prepare for the handful of Limited Grand Prix I played. And
there are definitely times that I could have mulliganed better, or played better, or sideboarded better.

But I didn’t and here I am. I have 21 pro points this season, which means that I need another 24 in order to make it to Platinum again. That means I need
to pick up four points between GP Atlanta this weekend and GP DC next month to give me a chance of making Platinum, even if I make Top 8 of the Pro Tour in
Portland in a few months. Thanks to being in the Hall of Fame, I have the luxury of not worrying about having to stay qualified, but there’s a big
difference between getting a free flight and hotel and a sizeable appearance fee at every Pro Tour and…well, not.

One thing that the Hall of Fame does not qualify me for, however, is the World Championship. So far, I’ve done well enough to earn a spot in the new Worlds
tournament every year that it’s existed, but this year I’m not even close. With the pro points I have right now, I’d have to outright win the Pro Tour in
Portland in order to qualify for Worlds this year.

So I guess that’s just what I’m going to have to do…