PV’s Playhouse – 2009 From Paulo’s Perspective

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Thursday, December 31st – For his final article of the year, Paulo looks back at his own personal highs and lows of 2009, sharing victories and defeats with his typical brutal honesty. He reflects on the lessons he’s learned, and looks forward to a successful 2010.


Today I am going to write yet another one of those 2009 retrospectives. However, instead of writing about the entire year in MTG, I am going to focus it on everyone’s favorite subject – me! (What? It’s not your favorite subject?!)

Jokes apart, there are probably a lot of people who would write about the year as a whole better than I could ever do, so I will stick with what I know better than anyone else: myself.

2009 was a slightly different year for me, in that it was marked by some very long trips instead of the usual short ones. My first trip would encompass Rotterdam, Kyoto, Chicago, Hanover, and Singapore, making it the first time I was away from home for longer than a month.

Rotterdam went terribly. I opened a so-so deck, decided to go for an aggressive approach that did not really work, and ended up not making Day 2. The trip, however, was really great, because I got to travel with two big friends of mine from Brazil that rarely attend these tournaments. I also met a friend from Canada there, and we hung out for a while. I did not particularly mind failing in Rotterdam… I mean, of course I wanted to do well, but I was not horribly upset, since I had four more tournaments in the same trip. I remember when I was younger I played one tournament a year, so it was pretty depressing if that didn’t go well, but in this situation I knew I’d have plenty of chances to make up for it, so I wasn’t overly bothered.

Then came Kyoto, and going 2-4 there bothered me a little. I was undecided on what to play the day before the event, and ultimately I chose to play the deck with which I was most familiar. In the end, I think I made a good choice in deciding to play Faeries, but I got really unlucky in my first two matches (two Mono-Red decks, clearly the worst deck in the format, and in both I had terrible draws), and I was just so angry at the situation. I mean, why couldn’t they play against WR or WB like any normal person? Why did they have to play against ME? I completely messed up my first two draft games, and then I dropped.

I learned a valuable lesson in Kyoto: sometimes things happen that are outside your control, and you lose. Sometimes there is just nothing you can do. You cannot, however, let that change the way you play your upcoming games, as you’ll lose even more… my two draft games were not outside my control. The Pro Tour is designed in such a way that you can get unlucky in four matches and still make Top 8, and even if you don’t make Top 8 you are still playing for a lot of cash. I should not have given up just because I lost my first two matches to weird circumstances.

The trip to Kyoto was great, though. We went to Nara with a couple of other Magic Players and had a very good time. I also got to know Martin Juza a little better, and he would end up playing a big part in my travels this year, since I stayed with him in the Czech Republic for some time between trips.

After Kyoto, I went to Chicago to play Legacy. I stayed at a friend’s house, and he made me feel very welcome. I got to meet a lot of his friends, who were nice people. Whenever I travel and stay in hotels, it is good because I get all the comfort – someone is always going to make my bed, clean the bathroom, change my towels, and if I want to eat I just have to go downstairs or order pizza – but staying at someone’s house is equally nice, not only because you don’t have to pay but also because you get a grip on what living in that country is actually like. I don’t think I would have tried Chicago Style Pizza if I wasn’t staying with someone local, for example.

The weather was also a new experience. I had been through negative-degree temperature before, when we went skiing, but it was completely different having to walk from the metro station to my friend’s house when the weather was below zero. In Geneva, what had been absurdly beautiful and funny was a liability in Chicago.

The tournament went pretty well. We built a UBGW Counterbalance deck that was not much different to every other Counterbalance deck. The deck’s record was pretty impressive, with 5 out of 5 players making the Top 64 in a GP (actually two Top 64, one Top 32, one Top 16 and one Top 8) with more than one thousand people. In the end, Nassif took it all with the same 60 we were all playing, but with a slightly different sideboard. I finished 53rd, beating everything that was not a Blue mirror.

Throughout this tournament, I kept mulliganing hands that had one land and a Brainstorm, or one land and Top, because I have a gigantic aversion to keeping one-landers and hoping to get there, but then someone pointed out something pretty clever – if I was going to mulligan those hands, I couldn’t play 20 lands. The deck was built so that people would keep those hands. If I was going to mulligan all of them, I would need more than the 20 I was running. The lesson I learned concerned playing on autopilot, so to speak. I was so used to mulliganing this kind of hand that I did not realize that those were normal hands for the deck! I was using my insight from previous games, but the circumstances had changed, and I failed to adapt. When I went to play the deck again, many months later at the World Championship, I increased the number of lands.

After that, I flew to Prague, with Martin, and we went to his house in Plzen. Martin was pretty sick at the time, which was unfortunate, but I managed to go outside by myself at times and got to know some of the local lifestyle. We met his friends and drove to Hanover, and after 6 hours of nonstop Czech speaking we got to our destination, where I would have two surprises waiting for me. One, we were not going to be paid in cash (speaking of which, I still have my $200 voucher and I have absolutely no idea what to do with it), and two, I’d have my own bed! I could not remember the last time that had happened. The overwhelming majority of time, there are more people than beds in the hotels I stay.

The tournament itself went well, though I was unhappy with the way I played the Mono-Blue Faeries deck I stole from Martin. I thought that since I was so used to playing Faeries in Standard, and so happy playing control decks in general, that I didn’t have to playtest much, but that clearly made my results worse. I knew how the deck worked, but some situations I just hadn’t encountered before, due to not playing the format (though I guess I cannot be blamed that much, since I had played a Sealed, a Draft/Standard, and a Legacy tournament before that, so I had to make a choice of formats to dedicate my testing). One card that I would have used much better if I had practiced more, for example, was Stifle. There are just so many things you can do with it, and I couldn’t think of all of them on the spot, and ended up missing a few.

I would have another opportunity, though – Singapore, which was also Extended. I traveled with Martin Juza and Manuel Bucher, and we were very likely playing Mono Blue Faeries again. The trip was very pleasant – one of the best I had in all of 2009, non-Magic-wise. Martin and Manuel are two people who like to sightsee too, and once in Singapore we met Zac Hill, Gaudenis, Sam Black, and Brian Kowal, and we had a good group to both play Magic and get to know the country. They are also people I generally hadn’t hung out with before, so I got to know them a little better.

As far as Magic went, by the time the tourney came I was playing my deck to a much higher level. I was extremely confident in my result – I knew I was going to make Top 8. It was, after all, the last tournament of the trip. I had ran out of continues. I am always of the belief that, in the end, everything works out. If it hasn’t worked out, that is because it is not yet the end. Something similar happened last year: I got to Worlds in Memphis and I needed to make Top 8 to stay Level 7, which for me is a huge difference due to the absurd plane ticket costs from Brazil, but I was never really worried – I was very confident that was going to happen, and I promptly went 14-2 to make it. This time in Singapore was the same; of course, it was not the end of the year, so not my last chance, but it had been a five-week trip and I hadn’t done excitingly well in any of the events. I needed something to make me feel better, and I knew Singapore would deliver it.

It didn’t.

I played for Top 8 in the last round, but lost to Sam Black playing the mirror. It was quite a hit… I mean, Top 16 is still a pretty good result, and no doubt I’d have been thrilled if that had been the first of my five events, but it was the last, and that result honestly didn’t cut it for me. I was happy, but also disappointed. I do think I played my deck very well, though.

One good thing that came out of this trip was that, after rooming with Manuel and Olivier, I decided I could also try to write weekly. Before then, I had only written a couple of articles a year, and I had always been scared of not having a subject to write about. Though sometimes I am still scared of that, I think thus far I’ve managed it reasonably well.

I came back home with a taste of sour grapes, and then had to wait until May for my next marathon: Barcelona, Seattle, Honolulu, and Sao Paulo. I normally wouldn’t go to Barcelona to play a GP, but since I was going to Seattle and I had a place to stay in Barcelona, that made the ticket reasonably cheaper than going straight from Brazil, so I decided to go.

Barcelona and Seattle ended up being pretty awesome, and gave me back all the confidence I needed, since I made Top 4 at both events. Both my losses in the Top 4 were mirrors (Swans and Faeries, respectively) to people I believe are good players, so I wasn’t particularly mad about any of them. I also learned how to deal with the disappointment, so to speak, when the Swans deck leaked. I went through both ends of the Happiness/Sadness spectrum and back in less than a week. It took me some time to cool my anger with the whole situation (you really have no idea how disappointed I was… no, really), but I see now that I overreacted and I was rude to some people who did not deserve it, so I apologize again.

Then came Hawaii, and it was a disaster.

The problem with Hawaii was that I had no idea what to play. I hated all the decks, and when I found one I liked remotely, one that had the support of people I trusted, I just went straight for it, happy that I had finally found something to play. I did not challenge the deck, because I had no idea what I would do if I won the challenge. I believe that might have happened to every single person who played the deck – everyone was afraid of pushing the deck to its limits, since that would mean having to find another deck if it broke. In our case, the limit was sideboarded games.

Of course, if we had had a lot more time, then we would have identified the weakness and came up with something better (at the very least, a better sideboard plan). This is the problem of those tournament marathons… how do you manage to travel to three different events in three weeks, and then have awesome decks for all three of them?! I think we all have something to learn from Tomoharu Saito in this respect.

I didn’t take my 1-4 in Hawaii as a pretty big blow, though. I had just made Top 4 at two GPs, which is the equivalent of a Top 8 finish in pro point terms (though obviously not in monetary terms). I am actually not sure I lost because of the sideboard we had. It seemed that nothing was going right for me. I had mana problems in all my matches, and I think I didn’t play very well in some of my games. If you take LSV, for example, you’ll see he won all of his game 1s (I think) and then lost all his sideboarded games, so we can clearly see what caused him to lose, but, as far as I was concerned, I just lost every game.

The trip to Hawaii was very good, and I got to see some parts of the Island that I hadn’t visited in my first trip. After that I flew to Sao Paulo, which was also awesome in its non-Magic aspect, because I got to show my foreign friends what my country was like (though to be honest, I hate Sao Paulo… and, according to what they told me, so did they). I also went to more steakhouses in those three days than in the previous five months combined!

As far as Magic goes, I decided to play Faeries again – you know, it couldn’t hurt, as the deck was very powerful and I knew how to play it better than most people. My friends came up with a five-color Cascade/Command deck which boarded into LD that actually looked pretty cool, but I didn’t have time to actually test it, so I just stuck to Faeries. Their deck performed well, with a Top 8 and a Top 16 finish, and I ended up in the Top 24. This was just fine, but also left me with some sour grapes because I wanted to do better in the GP in my country.

Sometime between events, the news of the rules changes came out, which I didn’t really like. It turns out that these changes, with the benefit of hindsight, resulted in close to no changes in how actual play proceeds (and also that no one says Exile), which was my point precisely. Why would you spend time, money, people, and effort in both developing something that changes nothing at all? Sure enough, the new rules did not ruin Magic, but they didn’t really help it either, so they had no reason to exist (and this is just my opinion).

My next event would only come more than a month later: Brazilian Nationals. I’ve always had a soft spot for my Nationals, and it is a very important event. First because, unless you live in Japan, your Nationals can be considered the easiest GP ever created. Second, because you get to play teams and represent your country! There was somewhat of an argument about whether I love the game or not in forum discussion this week, and I think my enthusiasm for National competition kind of shows that I do. It’s just so… awesome! It is even more awesome when you get to play with great friends.

Nationals itself went very well for me. I decided to play Faeries yet again, and I was rewarded with this sequence of matchups: Mirror, 5cc, 5cc, 6 rounds of draft, scoop (at the time I was 9-0 and already in), scoop, Elves. Then in the Top 8 everything worked out perfectly, and I got paired versus Time Sieve in the quarters and then Time Sieve again in the semis. If you know what you are doing, you can’t really lose to Time Sieve. Last time I made Top 8 at Brazilian Nationals I was playing Enduring Ideal, and I got paired versus UG Graft in the first round, which was probably the best matchup in the format. It seems that fate conspires for me to do well in Nationals Top 8s, unlike in Pro Tour Top 8s. I met Carlos in the finals, which meant we would have an awesome team regardless of who our third turned out to be.

After Nationals, I flew straight to GP: Boston, where I also stayed with friends… not at one friend’s house, but at two (one before and one during the tournament). The tournament didn’t go very well. I opened a mediocre sealed, but I also misunderstood the format by building GW and trying to out-big-creature people, and I went 1-3. I could have gone for a more controlling UW Build, but at the time I didn’t take the format to be as bomb-oriented as it was. It was Manuel Bucher who would open my eyes to this. He looked through my pool and asked how I expected to beat the multiple bombs my opponents were definitely going to have with my GW deck, bombs to which I had no answer. Then he pointed out that although my Blue cards were not bombs, they were the next best thing: they dealt with bombs. Cards such as Cancel, Essence Scatter, and Negate were simply much better in this format, and I could have played them over random Craw Wurms.

Lesson learned, I got my Brighton pool, and I tried to build in a way to make use of all my bombs (and I had a lot) while being able to deal with theirs. Though my pool was insane, and my deck insane as a consequence (I might have misbuilt it, but it was good anyway), I lost my last match for Day 2. Sealed was rapidly proving to be my new worst format. Sometime ago, there was no sealed event in which I did not make Top 20, and nowadays it seems I can’t win a match in the format.

The time I spent in England was among the best I’ve ever spent anywhere. I stayed at my friend Peter’s house, and Peter, Daniel, and his girlfriend Elizabeth, plus all of their friends, made me feel very welcome. It was almost as if I had been living there for five years, and was already great friends with these people. I know I’ve thanked you three already, but since I’m on the topic, I might as well thank you again. I can say I left Brighton well-versed in a lot of British topics, from the things they do, to the things they eat (Elizabeth, if you happen to read this, I finished both bars of rock a while ago!), to their politics, to their history, to how their study system works; again, the kind of things you never really get to see if you are not with locals.

I left Brighton and went back home to wait for my next trip, the journey that would encompass both Austin and Tampa. I prepared for Austin more thoroughly than for any other tournament this year. I talked to a lot of people and played A LOT, mainly with my Brazilian friend Paulo. We were lucky to find the Dark Depths deck early on, so we could work on it for a very long time. This ultimately didn’t lead to a version that was very different than anyone else’s, I might add, but helped me understand how to play and sideboard with the deck. All my preparation paid off, and I made Top 8 at that event, only to have a somewhat frustrating quarterfinal exit again. I do think, though, that just like with pretty much all my quarterfinals, I played very well. I think I probably deserved to win that match, but I guess I am slightly biased. I also did not regret my choice, as the deck was pretty good for that tournament. Imagine if I had been paired versus the Hypergenesis deck in the quarters, for example… that would have been a walk in the park.

After that came Tampa (almost). My deck was okay, but I quickly went 0-3 drop. I didn’t get to do any sightseeing or anything like that. My friends went to the amusement parks in Orlando, but I was feeling pretty sick so I didn’t go with them, and I’ve been to them plenty of times anyway. There isn’t much more I’d like to see in the U.S., if truth be told. It seems to me that my trips to the U.S. are more businesslike, though trips to anywhere else are always a lot of fun (and Hawaii does not count as the U.S. for this exercise).

I returned from Tampa with the thought that I had to playtest Standard. I pretty much knew both other formats from Austin, but with Standard, I was pretty clueless. It turns out I would have done better by focusing on the other formats. After all my testing, the only thing I could conclude was that Jund was the best deck and, as the Borg would say, “Resistance is futile.” I played a lot and couldn’t come up with a good mirror plan either. The only thing my excess playing achieved was that I was immune to the “must cut Putrid Leech” disease that seemed to infect all my friends on the day of the event.

As I played a lot of Standard, I did not play a lot of Extended or Legacy and, well, my record reflected that. In Legacy, it turns out I could not have done any better than I did, but in Extended it harmed me doubly. First, because I did not have the best list for the team portion, and second because I made a lot of small (and some not-so-small) mistakes when playing. It took us four matches in the team portion to realize we needed a different manabase – two hours of playtesting before the event would probably have showed us that and given us the win we needed.

The good thing about Worlds was that I did not feel much pressure, as after I made Top 16 at Minneapolis, I was locked for Level 8. In the end, I finished 61st in the individual standings, and we placed 5th in teams (#$%^&*), which was good for Level 8 with 6 Pro Points to spare (but not good enough to catch Yuuya). The time in Rome after that was awesome too, but I’ll not bother repeating what I said last month.

So, the year ended, at least as far as Magic was concerned. I think the big lesson of the year for me is that practice does bring rewards, and I do reap what I sow; in the tournament for which I practiced the most, I made Top 8. For the one I didn’t, I went 1-4. This is a very comforting thought. It tells me that I am in control, at least a little. I don’t know about you, but whenever I read a player profile in which the interviewer asks “who did you practice with?” and people answer “oh, I didn’t, I picked up the deck today, didn’t even know what the cards did,” it makes me really angry. I am looking at you, Andre Coimbra… though I know that, most of the time, these people are lying and just want to look smart, because apparently they are better if they win without practice. (I’m not looking at you this time, Coimbra, don’t worry… I know you really did not practice much). So, if it also makes you angry, rest assured. Whenever I won this year, it was because I practiced.

This year was also good in that I still believe the mantra of “everything is always good in the end; if it’s not good, that’s because it’s not the end yet.” 2009 was yet another year in which I had a very bad start, but things worked out in the end, probably because I got the memo that I could not just show up and win things without a deck.

Overall, I can say the year was very good for me, Magic-wise. I picked up enough points to make the level I needed to reach, I was part of the National team again, and I got to meet a lot of very nice people in very nice places. I can wish for nothing better from 2010.

Okay, who am I kidding? We can always wish for something better… so here is my wish list for 2010, in order of desire:

1) I want to win a Pro Tour.
2) I want to be Level 8 again.
3) I want to be part of the National Team again.
4) I want to go to the Australian GP, which I had to miss this year.
Honorary Mention: I want to be the Player of the Year.

Will those things happen? I don’t know. Can they happen? They sure can, and I’ll work as hard as I can to make them a reality. I will very likely not go to all the GPs — with an almost zero-percent chance I’ll make the Japanese ones – but I might go to the European ones, depending on how I do in the early events, and what my college situation is by then. I will definitely go to Oakland at the beginning of the year, and maybe Madrid after that… I hope to see you there!

I hope you’ve liked this article. See you in the New Year!