Second Place And Sideboard Slots

Second place feels like a punch in the gut. Brad Nelson describes the aftermath of the Team World Championship and what he feels he should’ve done differently in Standard. Learn from his mistakes at the Standard Classic this Sunday in Charlotte!

I’ve been doing this for almost a decade now: going to tournaments hoping for the best, and never preparing for the worst. Never thinking about how hard it’s going to hurt if these poorly constructed Cobbled Wings don’t get me to the sun I’m searching for. Not about what to say to my audience if things don’t go well. Only thinking about the coveted first-place trophy, and sacrificing everything I have to try to make that a reality. Never once concerned about the aftermath that may come.

After years of doing this, I can say it doesn’t get easier.

It’s currently Tuesday night. “Spent” is the only way I can describe myself. The physical and mental drain that is the World Championship has left me incapable of pretty much everything. I’m not smiling, but also not sad. I’m easily frustrated, but nothing actually matters to me. I stare aimlessly at the TV, uninterested in what’s on, but couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Eventually I’ll fall asleep as my body and mind get the rest they need from such a chaotic weekend. Knowing I’ll be asleep soon is my only catharsis.

I’m my ego’s defense mechanism.

I was crushed on Sunday, and still am to this day. For the past three years I’ve gone to more events than needed just to put myself in a position to qualify for this tournament. After doing so, I wind up struggling to stay afloat during the event itself, questioning if it’s even worth striving to be a part of it. The wounds eventually heal, and with them the painful memories. The vicious cycle is completed, and ready to be repeated.

It’s not appealing to take losing pessimistically. Nobody wants to hear about it. You’re supposed to take both winning and losing with grace. Generic comments like “I’ll get them next time” or “maybe next year” are expected from the losing side, “It was a tough fight” and “he/she played great” from the winning side. I don’t actually know where those rules came from, but social media has confirmed them enough times for me to believe it.

I’m not supposed to say that losing to Musashi was one of the most soul-crushing moments of my Magic career. That I wanted that more than anything before, and came up short. I’m just supposed to say “next year,” even though we were so very close this year. I’m just supposed to make my feelings a Cliff’s Note, and then move onto which sideboard cards are best for this weekend’s events.

“How poetic.”

I didn’t know the Team Competition was going to matter so much to me going into it. The format chosen for the playoff was “odd,” but that was outside of my control. All I could do as a competitor was try to win whatever they chose, and that’s what I did. We took an early lead, and at one point were only a mere game away from victory. Soon after, we were three games behind, needing to win them all.

We didn’t.

It wasn’t easy to start off strong in the main event, only to end up with a string of losses that left me once again on the outside looking in. It was even harder to be there without my best friend Brian Braun-Duin. Emotions ran high as the losses accumulated, but there wasn’t much I could do. I only won three die rolls on the weekend (including the Team Playoff), and two of the ones I did win were pretty irrelevant, as they were against U/B Control in Standard.

It just wasn’t my weekend. I shook the hands of all six members of Musashi, and left the venue.

The Magic World Championship is a tough tournament. Not just in the competition it provides, but in the physical and mental toll it takes on a person. Each loss can easily be explained, as you are playing against a great Magic player every round, but that doesn’t make them easier to swallow.

It made things much worse that the list I decided to play was bad. It beat Ramunap Red, but every Temur Energy deck should do that. In fact, not playing Ramunap Red was the only solace I found after the event unfolded. Ramunap Red truly was a terrible deck choice.

Here’s what I played.

Early in testing I experimented with cards like Censor and Essence Scatter. I even said at one point that I wouldn’t register this deck without at least one Essence Scatter. I guess my convictions aren’t as strong as I thought they were.

As time went on, the deck looked more and more like this. We found Confiscation Coup to not be that great in the mirror, and decided to play a high density of planeswalkers so that we could “juke” the competition that leaned too heavily on the overpriced Mind Control. We thought this tournament was going to be about what cards you shouldn’t play, and less about the “new” tech. The biggest example was Confiscation Coup, as we found it not to be that important in the mirrors we were playing. It turned out to be better when backed up by Torrential Gearhulk and Essence Scatter.

Long story short, we were wrong.

Peach Garden Oath’s Temur Energy deck is beautiful. I’ve thought about playing one Glimmer of Genius, and two Torrential Gearhulks in my sideboard a time or two, but never actually pulled the trigger. I also never once thought about trying it with Commit // Memory. I lost to two members of their team, and I still can’t decide if luck, skill, or sideboarding was the decider. In the end I shrugged it off, and decided to let it not matter. At least not for now. They had a better list than I did, and that’s something I needed to accept.

Splashing The Scarab God in this event ended up being a poor decision. For starters, it’s not good against Ramunap Red or U/B Control, but to make matters worse, most of the “mirrors” you would play had already warped their deck for it in anticipation. I’ve never even liked splashing it myself, which made it even funnier when I looked back and realized I never once activated that card’s stupid ability. I’m just lucky I built in the ability for the deck to sideboard it out in any matchup it wanted to.

I ended up going 3-5 in Standard, which is embarrassing when you take into account my nickname “The Standard Master.” Now, that doesn’t bother me too much, since 2011 taught me the hard way what happens when I don’t reach the expectations others have of me. I will say it still bothered me personally. I should have done better, and for whatever reason, my initial lists for the tournament would have been just that. Somehow, someway my lists slowly got worse and worse for this event. Seriously, if I played my first version of the deck, I would have had a better tournament. How sad is that?

The World Championship is in the past, though. Credit where credit’s due. PGO showed up with a wonderful list, and Wrapter, Gerry Thompson, and Sam Black showed up with a great choice. They deserved more credit than we did. Hopefully I get another chance to compete in this tournament, as my wounds will have been licked by then.

It may seem like I’ve been down in the dumps all day, and truth be told, I have. It’s tough to put everything you have into an event and come up short, but don’t confuse my emotional state with the feeling of entitlement. I don’t feel like I was slighted in any way. I just believe it’s important to let tough losses hurt. Why mask the pain when you can refocus it to become stronger than before? The best foundation to rebuild is often the one found at rock bottom. I want this event to sting so I never underestimate my competition ever again. My decklist was bad for this event, and I have nobody to blame but myself. All I can do now is learn from this past weekend, and move forward.

Moving forward is a pretty epic weekend on the East Coast. For starters, Nationals is in Richmond, VA, which will showcase both formats played last weekend at the World Championship. If Standard and Limited aren’t your thing, then the SCG Tour has a Modern event at #SCGCHAR.

Let’s start with Standard, as that’s the format most players are here to learn about. The World Championship showcased a very specific metagame where U/B Control and Temur Energy ruled the roost. Ramunap Red was played by a very large percentage of the field, but it didn’t put up a good showing. Finally the frustrating debate can be concluded with Temur Energy beating Ramunap Red.

So what does this say about Ramunap Red? Well, I’m under the assumption that the deck is a terrible choice moving forward, but at the same time will still see considerable play. There aren’t many options at the moment, and there are enough players out there that still have hope. If you’re one of them, it’s important to realize that Temur Energy is a very bad matchup, and those who play this deck will make sure to have enough cards to keep it that way, at least for the next couple of weeks. There just aren’t enough decks out there to force anyone to make Ramunap Red a weak matchup.

U/B Control also will be something the masses will pick up, but Temur Energy players will most likely be more prepared for the matchup. Cards like Jace’s Defeat and Carnage Tyrant will see more play than they did at the World Championship. I don’t know if this spells the end of the world for U/B Control, as they can play Vizier of Many Faces to help fight the uncounterable Dinosaur. These cards will still make the matchup more difficult.

Temur Energy will most likely continue to be the best deck. Sure, decks like Abzan or Esper Tokens will pop up, but it’s not proven yet if they can compete in the metagame. Temur Energy of course can, as it’s very likely the energy mechanic is a little too unfair not to play. It just comes down to always having the right tools for any given weekend. This weekend, it may be important to have a higher density of counterspells in the sideboard. Sure, Negate didn’t look that good at the World Championship, but there’s a good chance players are looking to exploit that by playing token-based strategies this weekend.

My prediction moving forward is that there won’t be many new archetypes coming into focus. Both The Scarab God and Hazoret the Fervent are insanely good threats with limited answers. On top of that, the energy mechanic may easily be the best thing you could possibly be doing. All of this boils down into a format that’s difficult to exploit. Reading small shifts and understanding how to tune your strategy will take precedence over brewing brand-new strategies. Finesse is going to be the name of the game for a very long time.

The only random deck that may interest me is some variation of Mardu Vehicles. Essence Scatter is very popular right now, making cheap Vehicles sound appealing. Here’s a list that Seth Manfield was working on for the World Championship before finally deciding to play my terrible variant of Four-Color Energy.

I personally may end up playing some Tokens variant at Nationals if Brian Braun-Duin and I find something interesting, but odds are I just end up playing some form of Temur Energy without a splash. I don’t know if I will go down the PGO path and play Torrential Gearhulk, but that does sound like a ton of fun, and after such a rough weekend, that’s exactly what I need. It’s just going to be tough to convince me that Temur Energy doesn’t have the highest chance of winning every tournament.

In the world of roshambo, Temur is Rock, and everything else is Scissors.