The 10 Things I Want To Do With Magic In 2019

Ben Friedman isn’t settling for just one like most of us: his New Year is more a complete revolution with all the ambition he has! What do you think? What are your intentions for Magic next year?

It’s been a wild year. From the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and
Bloodbraid Elf on the heels of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan to the
announcement of the full-scale transformation of premier-level tournament
Magic towards an Esport via Magic Arena, we’ve had our fair share of
newsworthy Magic events. From the supposed iron grip of Lantern Control on
Modern (and associated calls for banning Ensnaring Bridge) to the supposed
iron grip of Ironworks (and associated calls for banning Krark-Clan
Ironworks), the game itself stays dynamic, though some common themes never

It’s no secret (if you’ve seen my Twitter recently) that I’ve been
significantly less ecstatic with my play experience with Magic Arena
compared to many of my peers thus far, but I’m still tentatively optimistic
about the future of Magic for 2019 and beyond. There’s a lot to get excited
about, both in the game itself and in the peripherals that surround it
(Organized Play, streaming and professional opportunities, and the growth
of the player base).

With so much change on the horizon, and so much of it still not perfectly
clear, I wanted to take this week to focus on some personal goals for the
next year, to set some actionable steps that aren’t contingent on a
particular configuration of the Pro Players’ Club or a specific sponsorship
deal. It’s going to be another big year and it’s time to try to develop new
habits and new avenues for growth.

1. Try to Qualify for the Players’ Championship

StarCityGames.com runs quite an attractive tournament series for those
looking to make a name for themselves and make a few bucks while playing
Magic’s most popular formats. Since moving out west, though, I haven’t made
attending those tournaments a priority. Every time I wanted to go to an
Open, there was a Grand Prix that I felt compelled to attend or a Pro Tour
I needed to prepare for. This year, though, with the return of the Players’
Championship, I’ve decided to take a bit more time and devote some energy
to making a run at this prestigious tournament. Andrew Jessup, my roommate
and recent SCG Invitational champion, said he thought we could find a
skilled third player and maybe win a Team Constructed Open or two this
season, and I admire his confidence so much that I’m going to make an
effort to step back into the SCG Tour ring and show some of this new crop
of players how we did things back during the Obama Administration.

Who knows? Maybe the Garlic Naan Oath will be the dominant force on the SCG
Tour in 2019. I’m excited to try to make it happen.

2. Try Playing More Unexpected One-Ofs in Cantrip Decks

I’ve taken a page out of Tom Ross’ book and started believing in the power
of narrow, powerful, unexpected singletons in decks with a healthy amount
of card selection. Chart a Course, Discovery, Opt, Mishra’s Bauble, Street
Wraith, Brainstorm, Ponder, Preordain, and Faithless Looting all offer an
increased chance of accessing cards that can occasionally offer
game-breaking effects. I’m usually a stringent subscriber to traditional
Magic precepts about playing the greatest number of the best possible cards
in one’s deck, but the power differential between the best different
threats or answers has flattened enough in the last few years to change
that theory.

Most people who play Magic are simply pattern-matching, trying to compare
the current game to a historical backlog of games in their memory and using
that to shortcut what their next play should be. By playing similar but not
identical cards, one can exploit that habit in the way Magic players think
and gain a massive advantage.

I’m ready to go outside the box a little more this year and see where that
creativity leads me.

3. Try Streaming Again

This is the first among a number of different goals associated with the
expansion of Magic Arena and the attempted re-imagination of Magic as an
Esport. The Pro Tour system is undergoing a complete renovation, and it
seems like the way forward as a pundit and professional player is to make a
variety of types of content and develop a devoted audience.

To that end, pending updates from Wizards of the Coast on what Professional
Magic entails, it will be time to resurrect the Twitch stream and begin
sharing my Magic Arena exploits with the world!

4. Try Podcasting

Similar to streaming, I expect Magic podcasts to remain a valuable part of
the ecosystem of media out there for fans to enjoy. I’ve been a guest on
several Magic podcasts, but never published my own. I expect to be
essentially the house dad for a house full of Magic players in 2019, and a
podcast is the next logical step in promoting one another.

5. Try Releasing Video Content

Again, with the renewed focus on streaming as the primary channel for
promoting competitive Magic, it seems like video content is showing no
signs of slowing down as the best form of Magic media. I’d be a fool not to
respect the importance of a YouTube channel linked with other social media
platforms replete with video deck techs, live look-ins to tournaments with
round-by-round updates, guerrilla marketing, and cross-promotion with other


Video is the easiest content to spread virally online, and memorable short
clips can quickly become mainstream cultural sensations. This is how Magic
can expand its reach by an order of magnitude.

6. Try to Hit Top 32 in the World

Given the outsize attention paid to the contracts awarded by Wizards of the
Coast to their best professional players, it seems only natural that the
goal of any middling professional player should be to make the next step up
to that higher level. I’m looking forward to earning my spot at the top, as
it finally seems like the rewards are commensurate with the energy required
to chase them.

This is the goal most likely to change depending on what WotC decides to do
with their 33-64th best players (of which I consider myself to be a
card-carrying member, for better or for worse). I hope and expect some sort
of “Triple-A” system to develop for games between the underdogs and some of
these newly minted Magic Pro League players.

7. Try Spending Time in the Local Magic Community

Most professional Magic players experience a certain degree of distance
from their local community. At a certain point, there’s such a large gap
between the Magic experience of a professional player and a local
enthusiast that the professionals start pulling up and away and stop
investing time in game stores. I know that once I started experiencing
success at the higher levels of play, I stopped going to my local game
store back home on any regular basis, preferring to spend that time online
or in Facebook group chats preparing for the next Open or Grand Prix. The
change to PPTQs also contributed to the decline in professional
participation at a local level, as many pro players couldn’t even play in
the flagship events of the various shops in their communities.

I’ve spent enough time in the ivory tower of group chats with other
competitive players. Given the rise of Magic Arena, there’s some concern
that local stores will see their competitive scene dry up almost entirely.
I’m re-dedicating myself to spend at least a couple of nights a month
playing in local events and encouraging the growth of the paper tournament
scene. It’s time to be a little more accessible and humble.

8. Try Meditating Between Rounds of Large Events

Too often, we just end up in the same inane discussions about the same
worn-out topics with the same people between rounds of high-level
tournaments. I’d like to make better use of my time than that and intend to
try a few different things to see if anything makes a difference in my
mental state or performance. Meditation and light exercise are foremost
among those options, and as much as people talk about the best techniques
for staying sharp outside of the game itself, there’s little visible
practice of these at tournaments. If we’re going to be breaking old norms
in the coming year, this is one I’d like to try and document how it affects
my performance.

9. Try Learning Ironworks Before It Gets Banned

The deck pushes all the same buttons as Second Sunrise combo. Massive,
intricate, solitaire-style turns, resilience to many common avenues of
hate, high levels of consistency. It’s even better because Ironworks has a
Sai, Master Thopterist sideboard juke at its disposal and interaction baked
into the combo pieces. I suspect that Krark-Clan Ironworks will be banned
at some point in 2019, but I’d like to give it a shot before that happens.
A deck that seems relatively likely to be targeted in a ban seems like it
might be powerful enough to be worth playing in at least one Grand Prix
before that happens. In a massive race against time, we will see if I can
learn the deck before the new year so that I can confidently play it in
Oakland. If not, of course, I’ve always got trusty Grixis Death’s Shadow in
my back pocket.

10. Try Trusting Myself on Deck Selection Before Big Events

I, like most Magic players, second guess myself when it comes to choosing a
deck before a big event. I revert back to common wisdom or scare myself
into playing a deck I’m not as experienced with or rationalize ignoring
what my own testing results showed me. Magic is not quite a science, and
there’s value in treating it like an art form where what’s right for one
person may not be right for everyone. As I’ve gotten long in the tooth, my
years of tournament experience have led me to believe that it’s okay, even
beneficial, to stick to one’s guns once the time crunch has started to
create pressure. There’s rarely a need to make a last-minute audible to an
aggro deck that your teammates are high on but that you can’t win with.
There’s rarely a need to panic and upend weeks of preparation. The best
thing you can do is make a small amount of reasonable sideboard hedges if
something has come up that absolutely changes the calculus on the best deck
to play.

Know yourself. Know what you’ve spent time playing and tuning. Don’t throw
that experience out the window because of one last-minute published 5-0
decklist from MTGO. Have a rationale for your decisions beforehand, and
then simply trust yourself. This year, one of my biggest goals will be
trusting myself to play the deck I picked based on weeks of preparation,
not minutes of panic. I’ve improved on this over the years, but 2019 will
be another year of progress towards the unattainable goal of complete Pro
Tour zen.

With a brand new year comes brand new goals. Magic is maturing into a
full-fledged career path in a lot of ways, and not all of them coincide
with the 32 contracts associated with the MPL. It’s a time to try new
things, to throw a bunch of different ideas out there and see what sticks,
to break with old norms and be wildly creative. The pie is growing, and
there’s room for many more people to have a slice. Success is going to come
in a lot of different forms in the coming years, so I’ll be stepping out of
my comfort zone and trying some new things. I highly recommend that you all
do the same in some aspect of your Magic or non-Magic lives. I expect it
will pay dividends.