From 2013 To 2014

Adrian Sullivan returns with a reflection on what took place in the past year, from SCG Open Series events and Grand Prix to his day job, and a look forward to the year ahead.

Overall, 2013 has been a pretty exciting year for me. As I write this, it still is 2013, but by the time you read this, we’ll be in the New Year. This seems as good a time as any to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next.

A couple of people sent me messages on my Facebook page asking where my articles were the last few weeks. They were apparently bad Facebook users because they didn’t read the post that mentioned I’d had minor surgery—all four wisdom teeth extracted—so I was largely out of commission. I was deeply grateful to my esteemed content coordinator, Cedric Phillips, for letting me bow out last week.

The pain-drug induced article that I’d begun making a “fun” Christmas-themed Naya Control deck out of Brad Nelson’s excellent Naya Control build was getting pretty ugly; Aurelia and Borborygmos didn’t really feel like good “reindeer,” and I was struggling with whether Anax and Cymede best represented Prancer and Vixen or Donder and Blitzen. This of course could only be resolved by watching Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, but that didn’t get very far. What can I say? Post-surgery meds!

That minor blip aside, it was a good year. There are so many ways to break it down, but I think I’ll hit it chronologically.

StarCityGames.com Events

I started out the year with the SCG Open Series in Milwaukee in April being my first big event (more than 300 people). I’d intended to go to many more events, but I just kept finding myself unable to travel or already scheduled as a commentator that weekend. Milwaukee was a close enough drive, and my friend Jonathan Brostoff offered me a place to crash, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to take the relatively short drive to battle.

I didn’t do great in the Standard portion, but I ended up in 30th in the Legacy portion with U/R Delver, the Delver-Burn variant with Price of Progress rather than the more controlling builds that would emerge in the coming months. I was incredibly happy with the deck, though I found myself defeated twice by Tarmogoyf based decks. This match versus Neil Milligan I think illustrates the problem:

I wrote a bit more about this in an article shortly after the event, but the key problem of that matchup definitely felt like it was Nimble Mongoose backed up by a relevant deck. Back then I couldn’t find a solution that I really liked, but these days we have an answer in True-Name Nemesis, a card that makes me really strongly consider going back to this Delver-Burn style of deck.

It would be six months before I’d be able to play in another SCG event, once again in Milwaukee and once again staying with my friend Jonathan. This time I didn’t do great in the Legacy portion, but I did finish in fourth place in Standard with Adam Jansen’s R/W Aggro list. I’m not sure if that deck’s time has come and gone as metagames shift to and fro, but I do know that while I think it was the best deck in Standard for a little window there I don’t know that I would play it tomorrow.

2013 also marked my last year doing commentary for SCGLive. I was the original SCGLive commentator, and I very much loved doing the work. From the beginning it has been wonderfully rewarding, and it was exciting to be a part of shaping what SCGLive was. I’m very proud of what SCGLive has become, and when I look back on not only 2013 but the years before that, I smile at being a part of it. While it is some of the most taxing work that you can ever do, doing commentary is a wonderful way to help contribute to the community, and I’ll certainly miss it.

SCGLive made the decision to shrink the lineup, and something had to give. They have chosen a great crew of commentators, and I know that they are going to be more than up to the challenge of putting together a great show. I know that I’m more than open to being a part of the commentary lineup for SCGLive in the future, as well as for Wizards of the Coast should they be interested. If those opportunities present themselves, you’ll definitely be seeing me in the commentator booth again.

As far as playing in SCG events in the coming year, one of the opportunities that is definitely being afforded to me without commentary work on my schedule is a much wider range of dates to go play in events. I won’t be able to make the SCG Open Series in Indianapolis this coming weekend, but I do hope to be able to make the events in Columbus, St. Louis, and perhaps Nashville.

I’ve been playing a lot more Magic overall since I left grad school, and I feel like my skills are getting sharper every month. It takes a lot of work to rebuild your top-level skills; it doesn’t ever end really, but it feels really rewarding to see that payoff in your play. A large part of that is to go to as many high-level events as possible, challenging yourself to get to—as Patrick Chapin would say—that Next Level. And speaking of those events . . .

Grand Prix & Beyond

I only attended two (TWO!!!) Grand Prix in 2013. That is far less than any other year that I can think of in my recent Magic history. A part of it is has just been bad timing of events for my own life, and another part has been budgeting—there is only so much flying I can do on my own dime.

Those two events were pretty radically different experiences.

Grand Prix Detroit (Modern) was a pretty disappointing affair. I was out of contention pretty early with a modified version of Brian Kowal’s U/W Midrange Control deck from Grand Prix Chicago. I loved the deck honestly, but one set of plays really was instructive in how I wasn’t playing optimally. I was playing against G/R Tron, and they immediately destroyed every target they could find with Nature’s Claim in game 2. In game 3, I mulliganed into a mana-heavy hand, and I dropped a Stony Silence (my only real card of value) on turn 2, which was immediately destroyed.

My friend Adam Jansen, who was watching, was very sure that I should have dropped the sole Talisman of Progress in my deck instead despite it opening up an opportunity for my opponent to potentially drop and use a Chromatic Sphere. "With your draw, that guy was going to beat you unless you got really lucky or he messed up. He might not have done it, but you should have given him the opportunity to use a Nature’s Claim on your Talisman just in case he would do it and it was his only one." At this point there’s no way of knowing whether or not it was my opponent’s only Nature’s Claim or not, but Adam was definitely correct in his assessment of the value of trying to bait the error in that situation.

For me, it’s pretty exciting to still be able to learn fundamental skills twenty years into playing the game. So many of us were incredibly proud of Adam for his Top 8 of that event, and I definitely carried his thoughts with me at my next Grand Prix.

That event was Louisville. I came armed with what I’ve been calling BUG-Rock. I ended up in 47th place at the GP with the deck, which shared an incredible amount of cards in common with the talk of the event: the Roanoke crew’s redux of Mono-Black Devotion. Their deck was certainly better than the one I brought to the event, but there is something exciting about coming to an event with a rogue list and seeing it shine. Gaze of Granite is still a card I like a great deal, and it was a riot to play it at a high-level event. I’ve updated the deck before, and I’m sure I’ll do it again.*

One of the other things I was really happy about with that day was that it felt like I was being pretty sharp with my play. There was a pretty intense match against Mono-Red Aggro that I almost lost (and really should have); I reviewed the video of that match more than a few times, and I’m really happy with the different choices I made throughout the match. I’m certain that there were many plays throughout the day that I could have made that might have been better at different moments, but for the most part I felt like I was playing pretty tight.

The other two events from this year of note were the WMCQ event I attended in Chicago and the 50K event in Columbus. While there were disappointments at both events, I’m still really pleased by them overall.

At the WMCQ, I played Esper Planeswalkers, a four Sorin, Lord of Innistrad deck designed by Brian Davis. I made a few modifications to the deck, but it is at heart, Brian’s deck. Playing it at the WMCQ, it had the feel of one of those hot-knife-into-butter decks, and I would end up in the Top 4 of the event before I was defeated by Brandon Nelson (who in turn would be defeated by Daniel Cecchetti). I would go on to play the deck to several more Top 8s on the PTQ circuit, including one heartbreaking loss in the finals to a friend of mine playing a different deck (Naya Midrange Aggro) of my design.

The 50K event had a sweeter end for me; I was knocked out of the main event but ended up winning the 5K event, defeating Dave Shiels in the finals. I was once again piloting Adam Jansen’s R/W Aggro list, and it was exciting to basically have a field full of decks actively hoping to dodge me at the top of the field. This was the last major event of the year for me, and it was a real joy hanging out with old friends like Melissa De Tora and having Adam Yurchick give me a gentle ribbing for dancing in my chair after a victory.

For 2014, like for the SCG circuit, I know I’m definitely planning on just hitting as many higher-level events as I can. I don’t know if I’ll hit them all, but right now the GPs that are on my radar are Mexico City, Richmond, Cincinnati, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, Portland, Los Angeles, Nashville, and New Jersey. I don’t expect that I’ll be able to make it to all of them, but I certainly hope to am definitely going to whatever other events I can as well.

I look at my tournament results, and while I haven’t been Sam Black or Owen Turtenwald, I’ve really happy with my finishes. There is certainly room to improve with them, but it’s an effort I’m definitely interested in undertaking, particularly when it comes to finally requalifying for the Pro Tour and making it to that twentieth PT. This is certainly a huge goal of mine for 2014, whether it is through the GP circuit or through the PTQ system.

Qualifying for the Pro Tour is much harder than it has been in a very long time. For most parts of the country, it’s probably harder than it’s ever been. One of the things I’ve been very happy with when it comes to my quest to succeed tournament Magic in 2013 has been my deck selection. While there have been a few times where I felt like I made missteps, they were largely quite minor. I was willing to play something wildly rogue or something incredibly traditional; I played control, I played beatdown, and I played midrange. When I looked over my Sealed decks and my drafts, I’m largely happy with the decisions that I made.

A big part of this has been making sure to take time to give myself reality checks and to talk to people, actively looking for their critiques of a Sealed build, a deck choice, or a play. At the last PTQ I attended, a younger player asked me what the key was to getting better, and I think that being willing to listen combined with applying critical thinking is one of the best ways to grow both in Magic and in life. I’m certainly grateful to all of the people that helped me succeed in Magic this year, whether they are long-time collaborators like Brian Kowal and Ronny Serio, they are people like smartest Sealed Deck guy I know Matt Severa, or they are any of the other countless friends I’ve made in the game over the years new and old.

I think there is a reason that many of the most successful Magic players you’ll meet are actually quite skilled socially. The first person I thought of when I was writing that was Reid Duke. I don’t know Reid very well, but he’s always impressed me with just how honorable and standup he is. In Magic, the game is so complex that trying to succeed on your own just seems like a Sisyphean task; being a good person like Reid practically ensures that people will be there to help give you good advice or lend you a supporting word during a difficult tournament, and those things can make all the difference.

Back In The Real World (TM)

Professionally speaking, it’s exciting to see just how rewarding that my day job as Director of Communications for a large hobby gaming distribution company has been. I have a ton of tasks, but one of the things I do is create a really cool print magazine, Meeple Monthly: The Game Insider Magazine for the hobby gaming geek and aficionado. We’re just starting our second year of production, and it’s awesome to see all of the hard work pay off. This is the preliminary cover of our newest issue:


Our first issue was 24 pages of great stuff, and this most recent one is 40 pages of awesome. In the coming year, I know it’s going to grow even more. We even have a booth at Gen Con!

I think it’s always important to not just live in the present but also take time to reflect on the past and do what you can to plan for a future that is as good as you can make. Whether or not you make the goals you set for yourself is less important than striving for them. Growth is always worthwhile, and I intend to spend 2014 much the way I spent 2013—actively doing what I can to make this year better than the last.

Until next week,

Adrian L. Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter

*Here is my current list for BUG Rock:

While this deck is fine, I don’t currently recommend it for this metagame unless you are in love with the Ana shard (BUG). Cheers!